Welcome to The Final K - post-weekend stories and notes on athletes, teams, coaches and races to be published mid-week during the 2011 cross country season.
10/31: District 10 mulled switch to road race | 10/24: Kennedy Weisner and Barrett Kemp have arrived at the top via different paths | PA's 67 Watch List for NXN and Foot Locker | Great Valley won't surprise anyone at Districts. Surprisingly. | 10/19: Three reasons why Pennsbury could very well repeat: O'Connell-Wedekind and Gray | 10/8: Dustin Wilson is aiming for one race - hopefully, two | Pottstown dropped XC this year. But two coaches wouldn't let that stand. 10/1: McGovern's Hot Streak is on a Path Less Traveled | 9/24: Courtney Smith gives Soccer the Boot | Front-running Style sets Grove City's Daniel Jaskowak apart | Cardinal O'Hara's Band of Brothers | 9/17: Meghan McGovern on the Right Track to Prepare for a Chamionship Season | Dynamic Hatboro-Horsham Duo Team Up on the Competition | PA's 67 Watch List for NXN and Foot Locker | 09/10: Maria Seykora Uses the Little Things to Stay Consistent | Amy Darlington Returns to Form at PTXC-3 | 09/03: Moran and Mount Lebanon Sweep | State College Looks to "Bring it Back" | Weisner Replaces Nerves with Excitement | Pre-Season: PA's 67 Watch List for NXN and Foot Locker |
District 10 Mulled Switch to Road Race
by Phil Grove
Mother Nature has had her way with the 2011 cross country season, forcing a number of delays for regular season invitationals in central Pennsylvania and then leaving many districts with course conditions that were the worst many have ever seen at best to extending the state qualifiers into another week.
District 10 officials were prepared to take things a step further, notifying coaches three days before Saturday’s championship races at Buhl Farm Park that a 5K on asphalt and concrete was a possibility.
“I sent a message out Wednesday that this could turn into a road race,” tournament director Jack McIntire said. “The road race was a serious consideration if we couldn’t make a functional regular cross country race. District 10 gives me that latitude.”
When officials arrived Friday to set up the course, the extremely wet grounds at the park in Sharon forced them to modify the start, noting that the normal location would not have stood the test of four races. The end result was moving the starting line closer to the first and most challenging hill on the layout.
“(Friday) was a nice day and the sun was out when I left here after we did all our work, but we had to move the starting line up about 150 yards, enlarge the loop on Kite Hill and add another 35 meters (to the loop to get 5,000 meters),” McIntire said.
He noted that preparing the course normally takes four hours, but that coaches and district officials needed more than seven hours to finish the job. Plus, the golf cart used to haul stakes to mark the course got stuck in the mud.
After four races and hundreds of spectators had turned the saturated grassy areas to a thick, deep mud that tugged at the heels of your shoes, the mess left coaches split on what could have been a spike-less run for Hershey.
“Our team loves this stuff – believe it or not – so we were pretty excited that they were going to let us run on a grass course,” McDowell coach Becky Glus said. “Literally my prayer was that we would get to run on the grass because I thought if we ran on the grass, then we would be alright. So we were.”
Ted Miller of North East was less supportive of the decision to leave the racing flats behind.
“It would have been a lot safer,” he said. “Make a 5K out of it on the road. At least nobody’s going to get hurt. Our No. 1 man hurt his back over here. It was bad, very sloppy. Too many turns for 200 runners, even on a good day.”
The last time the district course was used was September 24 for the Sharpsville Blue Devil Invitational. The park is also host to dual meets that follow different paths.
Great Valley won't surprise anyone at Districts. Surprisingly.
by Don Rich
Photos by Don Rich.
When not running cross country, your top guy is a 4:11 miler.
You have eight sophomores who started 2010 as part of a pretty talented freshman class – and two of those freshman made it onto your state-qualifying varsity squad.
Those freshmen then went into outdoor and five went under five in the mile. One of the other three played baseball instead. So five of seven under five is pretty good.
Your team surprised a lot of people in the fall of 2010 when you came into the always loaded District 1 AAA meet and captured the fifth and final team qualifying spot.
All pretty cool stuff.
Especially when your number one guy was coming back all last season from summer surgery for a separated shoulder he got while off-road biking.
But the team rallied around each other. The freshmen were mature beyond their years. And you made it all the way to Hershey where you finished a respectable 11th.
Your 4:11 miler was not happy with his non-medal place… but considering he didn't start running until Labor Day, and his first cross country race of the season hadn't been until the end of September, he did pretty well.
His sophomore year hadn't gone as planned either. He was one of the unlucky ones who got the Swine Flu. He made states, but just like at Districts, his 2nd and 3rd miles had been strained.
Expectations are an elusive thing. Especially when you have the talent to be among the best in a sport.
Expectations had been a bit higher in 2010 than finishing 11th. Especially with the talent present, and coming from a program that has made it out of District 1 five times since 1993, when they finished 4th in PA. (1993, 94, 98, 2001 and 2010). Head Coach Paul Gring says the freshman class on the 1998 team which finished third, reminds him the most of this group.
Expectations were high again for 2011.
Ahh, those expectations.
Your 4:11 miler is a senior. No Swine Flu or bike trails in sight. He is showing the promise of the past two years… all while navigating the college selection process and those expectations.
Ned Willig is that 4:11 miler. When he started in XC as a freshman, he considered himself a harrier. Then success on the track turned the left-turn seasons into his favorites. But still, XC has its perks. And a fast miler has some advantages when racing on any surface. 800 meters to go and the guy next to you is thinking you have the turnover he may not.
Sophomores Kevin Burk, Kyle Kilroy, Matt Willig, Matt Cates, Thomas Doran. Kneeling from L to R is: Peter Flanagan, Ryan Norris and Garrett Zatlin.
Six of the eight sophomores are varsity starters (at various times during this season), Matt Willig (yep, and he and his brother have two younger sisters-both runners)… Garrett Zatlin, Kyle Kilroy, Peter Flanagan, Ryan Norris, and Tom Doran. Matt Cates and Kevin Burk have contributed to the effort, and are no less a part of this incredible, and crowded, sophomore class.
Obviously Ned Willig and the eight sophomores aren't the only members of this team. Ned's two co-captains include fellow seniors Aidan Cunniffe and Demetrius McCary; along with juniors Billy Wolffe, and Daniel Dudt. As the saying goes, it takes a village.
And during 2011, this village has needed everyone to contribute.
Back to those expectations.
Ned is healthy. And he's working harder than ever before, doing the little things, like proper stretching, warm-up, cool-down and core. (He credits assistant coach Nicole Jones with making the warm-ups actually interesting.)
But the ultimate success of the team depended a lot on the continued contributions and emerging performances of the rising sophomores.
The young'uns were highly motivated. So highly motivated in fact, that in the spring of this year the group collectively signed up for a cross country camp. No worries there… except it was during the first week of official practice for 2011. Not something the cross country coaches signed off on.
So the self-motivated rising sophomores showed up at their first post-camp practice with various nicks and bruises.
Ahh, those expectations.
Defacto Caption Billy Wolffe (JR) and SR captains, Aidan Cunniffe, Ned Willig and DeMetrius McCary
Not to worry.
Head coach Paul Gring has been to this rodeo before. And his assistant for the past seven years, Nicole Jones, has been a consistent force in helping to implement a distance philosophy that works.
Patience would be a key. And that is a trait that Coach Gring has in abundance.
Co-captain Aidan Cunniffe says that the biggest thing that Coach Gring has done is not change his style. "He's so consistent. He's really good at not letting things get to us."
Ned had experienced the steadying influence of his coaches as he was gently guided back to racing shape in 2010 off his surgery. Distance was decreased, and he finally started to understand the purpose of the training. "We have really great coaches year-round."
The team needed that steadying influence this season. Especially with some of the projected key sophomore contributors on the sideline or seeing limited training from the first day of practice.
During their four main invitationals in 2011, they would use 11 different varsity runners, six of the sophomores.
Ned was not available for the first meet on September 10th at Abington. He was taking tests for college. The team took 5th, and four sophomores - Willig, Norris, Doran and Flanagan helped in the 4th to 7th spots, with upperclassmen Wolffe, Conniffe and Dudt running top three for the team.
The team got Kilroy and Zatlin back for the Division 2 race at Briarwood on September 17th. They won with a spread of 91 seconds. Ned won the race, with Wolffe 4th, Kilroy 6th, Conniffe 14th and Matt Willig 16th. Norris and Zatlin rounded out the varsity that day.
Things started turning more toward those original expectations on September 30th at Paul Short in the Brown (hot) race. Sophomores moved up higher into the scoring. Ned captured 12th, and then it was Matt Willig, Zatlin and Kilroy running 2-3-4 before Wolffe finished the scoring. The spread was a very strong 48 seconds.
The final test before the district meet would be the Ches-Mont championships held at the Westtown School. The conference is by almost any measure among the best in the state. The Henderson boys are annually at or near the top. Coatesville has a similar record, but also boasts a Nike Team Nationals championship in 2006. And while the conference now has two divisions - one for smaller schools (of which Great Valley is one), and one for the larger schools; they race together.
Before the 2010 league meet, Henderson boys coach Kevin Kelly told Gring that with the look of his freshman, he had a state-qualifying team.
This year, Henderson is again strong. And Great Valley is gaining ground.
So coming into Ches-Monts, Gring's team was optimistic. They were missing one of their key sophomores, Kyle Kilroy; who is hopeful to be back for Districts.
But that's where leadership steps up, and senior captain Aidan Cunniffe would fill the 5th spot, giving the team a 1:11 spread off the winning 15:58 by Ned Willig.
Sophomores Matt Willig and Garrett Zatlin came in at 16:33 and 16:38, respectively, with Junior Billy Wolffe going 16:49. Their 16:38 team average matched Henderson, but the places told a score of 32-40 in favor of Henderson.
Nonetheless, the result was clear. The team is better than the the 2010 version. And at full strength, could compete for the District 1 title.
What makes these sophomores different than the (pun intentional) run-of-the-mill group?
Co-captain Demetrius McCary - a 2010 transfer from Upper Darby - thinks it has a lot to do with the coaching. Gring is now in his 30th year guiding the high school XC program, and has coached middle school track since four years before that. So he knows the kids who are joining his team. And more importantly, they know him.
McCary is a sprinter and the 400 leg on the DMR that made the Championship of America race at this year's Penn Relays. He's running cross to get his 400 time way down.
Because the XC coaches are not able to arrive before the 2:50 PM start of practice, the captains have to start the stretching, and warm-ups. "The younger guys listen really well. They ask us for advice," says McCary. "And that makes our job easier. They really want to learn race strategy - and they listen."
Cunniffe concurs. "They understand how to find each other during a race, and then push each other to be competitive."
He says the prospects for this group - even one this dependent upon its sophomore class - are good because they focus on their own races. "Coach Gring has taught us it doesn't matter what other people think. Just what we think."
Gring admits it has been tough this season to keep the moral up. But he likes the fact that the guys really do get it - that becoming an effective team is not so much about quality as it is about attitude. "Get along. Compete, but remain friends."
He's really pleased with their showing at Ches-Mont, despite missing one of their top five. "This will remind people how strong we can be, and what we are capable of."
Ned Willig, the #1 man with the 4:11 speed, is one of the favorites for the district title. Good health, and growing confidence will do a lot for a runner. The Ches-Mont win was especially significant. "While XC really makes me miss the mile, after today, I think I can run with everyone."
Ned isn't just running to lead his team. He's also trying to stay ahead of one of those friendly competitors - his sophomore brother Matt.
When he was coming back from the 2010 surgery, he found himself at the district race passing Matt at the halfway point. "I didn't realize he was ahead of me. He broke all my middle school records, so yeah, I'm trying to stay ahead of him."
"It pushes us both."
Maybe all the way to another year at the state championships in Hershey.
PA 67 Watch List for NXN and Foot Locker contenders - Update 10/25/11
by Jayson Jackson
1. Cardinal O’Hara
2. Mount Lebanon
3. West Chester Henderson
4. North Allegheny
5. La Salle College
6. North Penn
1. Dustin Wilson, Chestnut Hill
2. Daniel Jaskowak, Grove City
3. Drew Magaha, Upper Moreland
4. Logan Steiner, North Allegheny
5. Sam Hibbs, Hatboro Horsham
6. Conner Quinn, Hatboro Horsham
7 (tie). Dan Savage, Cardinal O’Hara & Dylan Mountain, Altoona
1. West Chester Henderson
4. Downingtown East
5. North Hills
6. State College
1. Angel Piccirillo, Homer Center
2. Victoria Gerlach, Pennridge -
3. Meghan McGovern, North Penn -
4. Paige Stoner, Pottsville
5. Margo Malone, North Hills
6. Shannon Malone, North Hills
7. Hannah Grossman, Strath Haven
by Phil Grove
Photos by Phil Grove
Kennedy Weisner and Barrett Kemp have arrived at the top via different paths
With apologies to Charles Dickens, the fall of 2010 was A Tale of Two Cross Country Seasons for a pair of this year’s brightest Class AA stars.
It was the best of times for Elk County Catholic’s Kennedy Weisner, who made a name for herself on the state level with a runner-up finish in the Class AA race in Hershey. For Barrett Kemp, well, you know what is left. Health-related issues sapped him of his strength, and he finished 156th overall and Oswayo Valley's No. 3 runner as the Green Wave was 19th in the AA boys team standings on the first weekend in November.
Fast-forward 11 months, and Weisner and Kemp are among the runners making strong cases for podium finishes on the Parkview course in 2011.
“She had a great summer, and that’s to her own credit,” coach W.J. Fernan said of the Elk County Catholic standout. “More mileage is how her training has changed specifically this summer. Within the season, we are working a little more on speed, knowing from track that she responded really well to the speed work.”
At this year’s Ridgway Invitational on Oct. 8, Weisner and Kemp walked off with top individual honors in near meet-record times. Added bonuses were team titles for both of their schools as they look to have full squads advance to Hershey from the District 9 meet.
“Usually it’s us and Elk County Catholic vying for the top two places,” Kemp said of the boys’ AA team race back at Ridgway on Oct. 29. “So we were really looking at (the invitational) to see where we stood in comparison to ECC. We have a definite chance. We got second place (in District 9) last year. We’re looking to return to states.”
In addition to starting her team’s scoring off with a low number – most often a No. 1 – Weisner said she enjoys keeping her teammates motivated.
“I just want them all to do their best and work hard,” the sophomore said. “I try to encourage them all and want them all to feel good about themselves. We really want to get back to states and try to do really well.”
Last year, the Crusaders finished 11th in AA. Fernan said his ECC girls squad is on schedule to reach its season goals.
“We don’t really talk too much about any specific meets, we talk about progress as a whole and sometimes you have to take a step back, train a little harder for a little while,” he said. “If that means you don’t race quite as well on a particular day, it’s worth it in the long run. They all buy into that. I have very few problems motivating any of them.”
Oswayo Valley coach Jennifer Hoffman also is pleased with the progress of her standout junior and the rest of the Green Wave.
“We have been looking for a district title since (my husband) Josh and I started coaching five years ago,” she said. “Every year we are closer and closer. Last year was unfortunate that Barrett came down with (an iron deficiency) because we lost by only three points.
“Second place is still pretty good and it took us to states. This year (winning district) is our goal, and we just need to make tiny little tweaks along the way. We feel that we are in contention, and the boys want it.”
Weisner and Kemp added to their cases for individual accolades in November with big efforts last May at Shippensburg. Weisner ran 2:14.95 and 4:59.29 for a pair of runner-up finishes in an 800-1,600 double. Kemp was the No. 3 finisher in a tight 3,200 with a solid 9:33.78 clocking and also advanced to the 1,600 final with a 4:27.65.
Kemp pointed to a “beautiful summer” as the kick start for the 2011 harrier campaign.
“It was a little wet but after that spring, it didn’t feel wet at all,” he said. “I put in 40-50 miles every week as best I could. It’s making for a good year so far.”
by Cory Mull
Photo by Don Rich.
Three reasons why Pennsbury could very well repeat: O'Connell-Wedekind and Gray.
The palpable success of a cross country team is often measured by its best runner.
That, however, would be misguided thinking.
The true sense of a team is always found on the strength of its hind legs. So even though the third, fourth and fifth runners on a team are usually the forgotten ones in a lineup, they rarely go unnoticed by coaching staffs.
Because ultimately, wins are not solely determined by the front-pack leaders.
They're dictated by the crop fills out the scoring.
Never has this theory been so true than for the 2011 Pennsbury's girls' team. The defending state champions are defining their squad by their selection of elite lead-pack runners and effective back-leg finishers.
We all know the merits of Sara Sargent, a PIAA Class AAA champ as a freshman and a top 10 finisher as a sophomore. Junior Ann Herman, a top 25 finisher a year ago, is technically the team's fastest runner this season. She owns Pennsbury's top time with an 18:34, which is a top 20 mark in PA so far.
Paired together, Herman and Sargent are arguably the state's best tandem. But without Erin O'Connell (19:21), Elizabeth Wedekind (19:26) and Erica Gray (19:54), this team wouldn't be nearly as good.
In fact, without O'Connell, Wedekind and Gray, Pennsbury wouldn't even be in contention for the state title again. Currently, as far as statistics are concerned, PA#2 Pennsbury is trailing PA#1 West Chester Henderson in time.
That's why the development of the back end is so crucial with the SOL Continental Conference Championships nearing on Friday.
"In previous years," Pennsbury head coach Don Little said, "we had Sarah up front, then Annie, then the three. They just never really got together as a pack. They were solid in their own right, and clearly we won states, but it's something we always tried to do. We want them to run together. And it came together with these three at once."
Ultimately, Pennsbury's dynamic has been different in 2011. A front-heavy squad that relied on the strength of its top pair -- and as far as year's are concerned, an slightly easier Class AAA field -- is now a team that relies on the pack of its 3-4-and-5.
Gray has a tendency to start out fast. O'Connell is a freshman who is still learning the ropes. And Wedekind fits somewhere in the middle. Somehow, still, they always find each other by the end of the race.
It's often predicated by how the runners strategize on the course.
"When they do reel her in," Little says of Wedekind and O'Connell often pulling Gray in, "then they really work with each other. I have them taking turns, with one person having to make a decision.
"They'll say, 'Let's go up and get the next girl. Let's pick it up for 10 meters,'" Little said. "'Or they'll say, 'Let's do a start off the turn.' And whomever it is, whomever goes, it's one of the other two girls to pick up the slack and make the decision, let's go at this point."
Team chemistry has been a building block for Pennsbury's foundation. Without the clear understanding of each runner's potential and maximum effort, races could be lost. This team somehow has melted together at the right times and at the right moments.
Little knew before the season, with his team coming off a state championship, that he would have to combat complacency. He remembers reading an article from a peer in 2008 that revealed the difficultly of that task.
So he made sure to contact his team before the summer.
"They had to be familiar with the situation, the concepts and they had to make sure they were not complacent," he said. "I talked to the girls about how teams would come back with an agenda to beat us."
Ultimately, however, Little had to deal with a disappointing start to the campaign. At the PennTrackXC invite in September, Pennsbury was beaten by league rival West Chester Henderson. While not entirely surprising, it lit a fire underneath the team.
"It didn't sink in until the PennTrackXC meet," Little said of the work he had to accomplish. "I was out coached. This was obvious proof that our team wasn't good enough yet."
With the regular season looming in the rear window, Little is now in the process of fine-tuning his squad for the final meets.
It's worth noting that Gray, Wedekind and O'Connell haven't been overlooked. The final three have always received the same workload that Sargent and Herman have accomplished.
The times in which each task have been completed, however, have been the sticking points.
Little has always believed, though, that balance will ultimately seize the right culture. A balanced team is reflected in practice. And with the right practice strategy, unfortunate results can be turned into positive ones.
So when Pennsbury looks to rebound off its narrow loss to West Chester Henderson in the next few weeks, he'll be looking for a renewed effort from his team.
Just how well Gray, Wedekind and O'Connell register places might determine how well Pennsbury finishes in those meets.
It's something Little hardly questions at this point.
"I do think if we stay healthy, then going into the state race, we can compete with anybody," Little said.
by Lex Mercado
Photo by Charles Stone.
Dustin Wilson is aiming for one race - hopefully, two.
One of the special things about cross country is that runners only get one opportunity to achieve their goals. If a goal is to be a league champion, you have one race in which to do it. If someone wants to win a state championship, they have just the one opportunity to win the gold. If someone wants to qualify for the Foot Locker Finals in San Diego, they only get one shot to achieve. Because it's all or nothing, One of PA's top male runners this season has had to exercise a whole lot of patience.
Chestnut Hill Academy's Dustin Wilson has achieved a lot so far this season in the eyes of the average fan. He's won two of PA's biggest invitationals (Briarwood and Paul Short), and he finished 3rd at Manhattan, running with one of the best runners in the country. Looking back at those performances, Wilson picked up on some things that he can improve on to make himself better.
"I've kept a heavy training load all season, and after so many weeks it starts to really take a toll on my ability to race," said Wilson. "At Manhattan, I was hoping to run in the 12:20s on Sunday, but I shouldn't have expected such, considering my lack of speedwork this far into the year. I think I kept calm throughout the start, but after Edward Cheserek and Tim Ball broke away on the downhills in the woods I started to fall off my planned pace."
Wilson had also hoped to break 15:30 at Belmont Plateau and also hoped for a cooler, drier day at Paul Short, but that didn't work out for him. However, he still managed to win. Most runners will run such invitationals to prepare for the PA postseason. But for Wilson, a two-time Inter-Ac champion and the defending Independent Schools Champion, this part of the season is seen in his eyes as an extension of the regular season when it comes to his training.
"I'll continue regular training through next week, and maybe in the next two weeks I'll begin to do some shorter, faster workouts," said Wilson. "I think holding off on high quality work has kept me healthy, taught me patience and has better prepared me for cross country. My freshman and sophomore years I distinctly remember doing 200s and 400s much more frequently than last year."
Wilson has reached this point in his career through success and putting himself out there in these big races. The 2011 season has been seen as Wilson's opportunity to atone for missed opportunities. At the 2010 Foot Locker Northeast Regional Championship, Wilson was in position to qualify for the Foot Locker finals, but the final part of the race got away from him.
"My finishing speed last year wasn't what I would've liked," said the number 2 Northeast returner. "Specifically, I think I need to work the final two straights a little bit better. A race like Manhattan was great practice for closing the final 600-800 meters of a race."
He will have a couple more opportunities to prepare before the big day. Monday, Wilson will look to win his 3rd consecutive Inter-Ac championship at his home course at the Philadelphia Cricket Club. On October 29, Wilson will defend his Independent Schools State title at Belmont Plateau and also look to break 15:30, a feat that has only been accomplished once in history. Finally, he will have his shot to reach San Diego on November 26 at Sunken Meadow in New York for the Foot Locker Northeast Championships. Everything he's done has been geared towards this final opportunity. He's had to be patient with his training in order to realize the one goal that he came so close to achieving last season.
"The goal this postseason is to keep all of the summer's strength I've worked on for 14 weeks and get fast enough to be competitive on the national level," said Wilson. "I think that an extra year of running and a little bit more experience in large, competitive races (Paul Short, Briarwood, etc) will carry me through to Nationals. I think it's been a conservative approach to track work. I'm hoping that after I drop mileage in a few weeks I'll start running closer to my potential."
His potential top form may add his to the growing list of elite PA runners who have had the opportunity to run in the Foot Locker Finals in San Diego.
by Don Rich
Photos by Don Rich. Shoes and Team photos courtesy of Mary Ann Hill.
Pottstown dropped XC this year. But two coaches wouldn't let that stand.
Like every school district in the state of Pennsylvania, Pottstown spent the summer looking for nickels and dimes in couches, under desks and probably even on the street. What they were really searching for were ways to keep programs alive. When it became apparent that they were about $3 million short of the nickels and dimes they'd need to keep everything going, they started looking for cuts.
Under the category of sports, they found two targets. Cheerleading and cross country.
Needless to say; and this is totally tongue-in-cheek; the outcry over having a football team without its cheerleaders was probably deafening. The program was reinstated.
Cross country was not.
To be clear, cross country participation in recent years at the high school level had been steadily declining. So much so, that in 2010 they only had three athletes on the team.
And the coach of that team had accepted an administrative job in one of the district elementary schools.
So the writing was on the wall (and in the dirt).
Cross country was cut. It was declared non-existent. And that was that.
2011 Team Captains: Lina Saenz, Travis Garner and Frank Scaltrito.
One of the three team captains; all seniors; heard the news in August from a friend and thought the friend was kidding. Frank Scaltrito had been one of those three from 2010, and he was especially disappointed because he had decided to forgo soccer this fall to concentrate on cross country.
He learned that the cut was not a joke when his mother informed him that his former coach had called to say the program was history.
Co-captain Travis Garner; a 400 and 800 specialist on the spring track team; had planned to run cross to get stronger for the oval. He had done indoor as a junior for the first time, and had dramatically improved his 800 time in the spring. He was not happy with the news, either.
And girls' captain Lina Saenz, who had run track all three years of high school, had been encouraged by her spring coaches to consider cross country for building endurance and strength. She had heard the news of the cut from the boys on the team, and simply figured that that was that. No cross country.
But outdoor coaches Mary Ann Hill and Mark Agnew had other ideas.
Hill had been the cross country coach from 1989 to 1994. Her teams had numbers between 20 and 30, and even won a championship. The birth of a child forced Hill to turn the fall coaching duties over to someone else, but she kept coaching indoor and outdoor track. She has been the head Track Coach for the boys for 24 years.
Throws Coach and Assistant Boys' coach Mark Agnew has been with the program for the past five years.
Hill had been through this kind of thing once before. In 1995, the school cut its support of the indoor track program.
When sophomore Amber Piechota was approaching two miles in the JV race,
captain Lina Saenz leads teammates and coach Mark Agnew in spelling her name.
But that didn't stop Mary Ann from keeping it alive.
The coaches have had some support for the indoor program over the years. Some of the indoor meets waive the entry fees. And they raised money to take a top guy to nationals one year. But they basically volunteer their time as coaches. After all, it was for the kids.
So when Pottstown High School dropped cross country this season, coaches Hill and Agnew didn't hesitate a second.
They called a meeting.
From Scaltrito's perspective, the time between when he heard about the cut and heard about the meeting was virtually nothing at all. "They (coaches Hill and Agnew) jumped right on it," Scaltrito says.
Scaltrito says from the moment the meeting started, "there was no question - we're going to have it (cross country)."
Saenz wasn't able to make the meeting, but when she heard that the coaches had formed a school club for cross country, she was there for the first day of practice.
Coach Hill is thrilled to have her eight girls and ten boys on the team.
She is especially happy that the three captains heeded the advice of their coaches and are taking advantage of cross country to build strength for track. "Our 4x800 missed districts by one second. I told them that if they put in the effort, they would not have trouble next time."
Freshman Tory Dugan is part of the resurgance.
For her part, Saenz is seeing incredible improvement in her cross country times. The Wednesday before their home Harrier Invitational, she improved by over two minutes. Saturday's heat hit her pretty hard, but she was happy for freshman Tory Dugan, who has been helping her push the pace in races this fall.
Coach Hill took care of cleaning all the teams shoes
following the rather muddy PTXC-3 on September 10th.
And Garner is really pumped to see what all his work can do on the flat course at Lehigh for District 1 champs. He started the season in the low 20's, and then dropped to the low 18's. He wants to get into the 17's by season's end.
Both he and Scratrito helped the Pottstown boys even win a dual meet this season when they topped Phoenixville. "Totally unexpected," says Hill. It was just by a single point, 27-28, but they'll take it.
The day after the meet, fellow students at Pottstown told Scaltrito they "didn't even know you guys were running."
While the athletes are happy to have their program back - unofficial and all - coach Hill is all smiles with the rewards that she is seeing.
She was only able to travel to one invitational this year; PTXC-3 on September 10th. And even with all its water and mud… the team had a blast.
Their home Harrier Invitational - started and managed for 26 years by Pottstown running legend Lawrence Harvey - was their only other invite before league meet on the 19th, and district meet on the 28th.
The three captains are especially proud of the rebirth of the team… and despite being the odd team out when cuts were made, they are proud to be Pottstown Trojans. "We represent Pottstown every time we race," says Garner.
And even though he, and his fellow captains will not be here for the 2012 team, Garner sees the program as not only surviving, but thriving. "Over the next years, they will realize our cross country team has talent and they may have to make us official again."
Thanks to Coaches Hill and Agnew, they now have a chance.
The 2011 Pottstown High School XC Team that will compete at the District 1 Championships, October 28th
by Lex Mercado
Photos by Don Rich, Charles Stone and Kyle Brazeil.
McGovern's Hot Streak is on a Path Less Traveled.
At the halfway point of the season, many fans have a good idea on which teams and individuals will contend for the big trophies and honors when the post-season comes around. Most athletes and teams earn this recognition through performances in some of the big meets PA has to offer. Others, like North Penn's Meghan McGovern, do it with big performances away from the PA scene.
The North Penn senior has gone on a major tear all over the Mid-Atlantic the past couple of weeks. Since we last caught up with Meghan after her Briarwood performance, she went to the Six Flags Safari Invitational in New Jersey and earned a 2nd place finish to MileSplit US#1 Julie Macedo of Charter School of Wilmington (DE). The next week, she went south to Delaware to run the Salesianum Invitational, a course known for its very hilly layout. A 2009 champion and a 2010 bronze medalist at Brandywine Creek State Park, all McGovern did was better all of her previous successes and set a new course record of 18:42.8. McGovern reflected on her record and the course.
"The Salesianum course is very challenging and has some difficult hills," said the new record holder. "Going into the race I was not looking to run a specific time, but I was focused on pushing the uphills and taking advantage of the downhills. Overall, I felt really good throughout the race and I am really happy with how I did!"
McGovern looks at all of these races as opportunities to challenge herself against the best the region has to offer. Running on these familiar courses has helped her improve her confidence going forward. Without a major state championship to her name thus far, she is hoping this momentum can last for the next month.
"So far this season I have had the opportunity to run against some great runners which has really pushed me," said McGovern. This has given me the confidence that when the post-season comes I will able to compete with the top runners I will face. Leagues, Districts, and States will all be competitive races and I hope to run the best race I can in each of them."
Next up on her travels is a Sunday trip to New York and the huge Manhattan Invitational at Van Courtland Park, a place that has also been very good to her. In 2009 and in 2010, McGovern has walked away with a gold medal on the 4K layout in one of the varsity races. The course plays to McGovern's liking because of the challenge that it presents.
"The Manhattan Invitational is one of my favorite meets of the year. It is nice to have a 4K race for a change and run against many teams we don't normally face," said the two-time champion. "I enjoy the course because most of it is through the trails of Van Cortland Park with a few rolling hills."
The hilly courses have prepared McGovern for the big state championship on November 5 and the Foot Locker Northeast Regional on November 26. McGovern's out-of-state hot streak may allow her to electrify the PA post-season and beyond!
by Cory Mull
Photos by Patty Morgan and Don Rich.
This Band of Brothers Goes by the Name Cardinal O'Hara.
HERSHEY -- Two days before the Cardinal O'Hara High boys were set to run at PIAA Foundation, they found themselves wearing black.
A teammate's mother had passed away, so the team huddled together the only way they knew they could. Bonded by brotherhood.
Let's get this straight, this Cardinal O'Hara team is more than just a band of runners. These guys are like family.
It was only more evident this past Saturday, when after capturing the Varsity Gold boys' race at Hershey Parkview -- a course that had been bruised up the day before -- the team came together and began to heal.
Emotionally drained. Physically exhausted. This team hadn't thought one second about quitting, about giving up.
And not only did District 12 power Cardinal O'Hara claim the team title, scoring 79 points between a scoring time spread of less than 30 seconds, but in the process they beat a long distance rival in WPIAL juggernaut and PA#1 Mount Lebanon by just six points.
"We just wanted to notch the win," said O'Hara's lead runner, junior Danny Savage, who was holding the flu, though raced through it and finished in 17:00. "Me, I wanted to be up there a little more and beat the guy from Mount Lebanon, but with me being sick and everything, I'll take it."
Two runners were sick, another was hurt and a freshman stepped in out of nowhere. The first five -- Savage, Chris Pastore, Kevin James, Mike Bilotta and Ernie Pitone -- all crossed the finish in under 17:30 minutes.
"With a team like Mount Lebanon and guys like [Hatboro-Horshma's] Connor Quinn, Sam Hibbs and [Upper Moreland's Drew] Magaha and all those individuals, we were looking forward to that," said the junior Pastore. "We were getting it done during the week and it paid off.
The larger goal was obvious. Cardinal O'Hara needed this race. This very well may have been a defining moment of the season.
Was all their hard work going to pay off? Were they as good as the rankings -- which had them at PA#3 -- said they were? Were they even going to show up?
"It was always in our mind we would come," Cardinal O'Hara head coach Tom Kennedy said. "I think cross country, like any sport, you have to take what comes and keep things in perspective and priority. It was never an issue if we would or wouldn't go."
But truth be told, Kennedy worked his team hard the week before Foundation. He took them to their limits, forcing them to grind out the miles, despite everything that was going on around them.
"You have to do it," Savage said of the workload, which added up to 70 miles the week before. "We have a lot of pressure on us, but even if you're sick or hurt, you have to be up there and doing what you can for the team."
Christian Ostrowski, the fading but not forgotten man who finished sixth on Saturday, held the deepest heart all week. It was his mother who passed. And he was the O'Hara runner who was dealing with the biggest injury -- startling back pains that affected his race in Hershey.
Ostrowski had fought through the pain the week prior at Briarwood, an invitational the team had easily won. He ran a season-best 16:44 and finished fourth on the team.
But during the week, he re-injured his back, which he first sustained last winter in wrestling and then re-upped in January.
"His mother passed away this week, so everyone was at the funeral and that was tough for Christian," Kennedy said. "He's tight with a lot of guys on the team and it was very personal for a lot of guys on the team. We had a lot going on."
That's where the freshman comes in.
Kevin James, a diminutive harrier with a buzzed haircut and deep-set eyes, carried Ostrowski's weight, finishing third on the team at 17:24.
The finish wasn't exactly a revelation for Kennedy, who tends not to promote freshmen to his varsity, but it was eye-opening.
"I think the way we look at it, you're going to be where you're going to be on the team," Kennedy said. "And he's running well. I have to be honest, I don't like having freshman on my varsity. But this kid leaves me no choice. He's too good."
James could be the missing piece. Or he could be the cushion O'Hara needs to look deeper in the postseason. This team has three juniors, three seniors and one freshman in its top seven. The experience is self-evident. A district 12 title isn't the question anymore. The state meet is the bigger picture.
All seven could get under 18 easy, and the best five are pushing for sub-17 by the end of the year. That's what has Kennedy thinking big.
"We've never won a state championship," he said. "That’s stuck in us. We've been second a few times in track. Third a bunch of times in cross country and track. To tell you the truth, it's getting a little old."
There's little pause when Kennedy talks about his team's goal. The ostensible reality is that a state title isn't very far away. This team has all the pieces to get it done...outside of beating stalwarts North Allegheny and West Chester Henderson -- and of course, Mount Lebanon.
But most of these runners have been training for over two years together, some with three years experience.
"The kids wouldn't tolerate it if that wasn't their goal," Kennedy said. "The kids performances and commitment over the last three years has demanded we make this the goal. We were third at states last year and I'll be honest, I was happy. But the kids were unhappy.
"It was one of the worst rides home ever. All these unhappy guys after a third place at states. That tied our school best in AAA. But they didn't care. So for me, their performances and dedication have demanded that's the way it has to be."
And so how does it happen?
How does O'Hara make sure their state quest becomes a reality?
For this team, this band of brothers, it all comes down to commitment.
"You can always know that if you have a bad race one day, the guy right behind you is going to step up and take your place," senior Jake Sacchetti said, "and you won't lose points."
"It's a lot of pack running," he added. "We emphasize that in distance runs and practice runs. And so we try to stick together and draw from each other."
Training has helped this team heal. It has helped them come together, to bond, to relate in a way that many teams don't experience.
Racing has helped this team unite, to build and to look forward.
Now all that's left is achieving a goal that's right at the tip of their fingertips.
by Phil Grove
Boardman Photos by Phil Grove.
Front-Running Style Sets Grove City's Daniel Jaskowak Apart from Pack
There's a new sheriff in Mercer County - and quite possibly western Pennsylvania - and his name is Daniel Jaskowak.
The junior has been laying down the law early in the 2011 season with a front-running style that has yielded a pair of easy-looking victories over quality invitational fields. Jaskowak has his sights set on lofty team and individual goals from now until Nov. 5 in Hershey.
"I think he's got the attitude this year that he wants to be a front runner, and it does take some time to learn how to be a front runner in this sport," Grove City coach Mike Sample said. "He's taking it upon himself to make sure that there's not going to be anyone to beat him unless that person is better than him."
For some, Jaskowak's breakthrough race - and victory - was this year's Red, White & Blue Invitational against perennial WPIAL (District 7) powers Mount Lebanon, North Allegheny and Baldwin and scores of other teams in Pittsburgh's Schenley Park. Jaskowak disagrees, saying there really wasn't a defining moment for him.
"I broke 16 (in a 5K) for the first time over the summer," he said. "Ever since then, it's kind of been setting goals like 15:30, 15 whatever. Did I expect to win (Red, White & Blue)? I was hoping to.
"Like I told my coach, I saw the kids from Mount Lebanon, Baldwin and North Allegheny, and I said it's going to be a good race today. We'll see what happens. I was expecting at least top 5. To win was very accomplishing."
Like many, Jaskowak was introduced to cross country as a seventh-grader and showed immediate signs of talent. He was Grove City's No. 1 junior high runner at the Slippery Rock Invitational, finishing 12th overall and the fourth seventh-grader in a field of more than 400. The following year, he was fifth at the same meet and won his school's invitational by 17 seconds.
Despite his early success in the sport, Jaskowak noted it was not a given that he would be on the cross country team as an Eagle freshman.
"It came down to a decision on what to do in high school - soccer or cross country," he said. "I had a really good eighth-grade season in cross country. I knew I had something going on there. On the flip side, soccer was good and I enjoyed it, but my talent was in the running. That's how I based that decision."
As a ninth-grader, Jaskowak qualified for the state meet by finishing third in Class AAA District 10 in 18:11, behind former teammate Jake Kildoo's 17:23 and the 17:39 from former Meadville standout and current North Allegheny No. 1 runner Logan Steiner. His first trip to the state meet was a learning experience - 107th place in 17:35.
In the spring of 2010, Jaskowak recorded bests of 4:37 in the 1,600 meters and 10:08.82 in the 3,200 but did not qualify for Shippensburg. That was the only time, thus far, when he has not qualified to compete against the state's best.
"I see myself more as a cross country person," Jaskowak said. "Strategy fits my running style. I tend to run off other people, I feel that's a lot easier in cross country. In track, it's more off of time. This year you might hit the times or you might not. Track is a little tougher. I need to get in the right mental state for that."
Last November, Jaskowak was 50th overall at Hershey in 17:01 as the Eagles - behind Kildoo's fourth - finished 13th in the team standings. In the spring, Jaskowak put together a 4:23.35-9:48.94 double in late April, won his district's 1,600 in 4:27.57 and was eighth in his 1,600 heat at Shippensburg in 4:24.62.
Sample noted that his current No. 1 runner benefited having a standout such as Kildoo for a teammate.
"At the end of last year, Danny tried to train with Jake and do some of the things that Jake was doing, but I think really Danny needed to believe in what his abilities were," he said. "When Jake graduated, he looked around and (said) 'I've got to do it on my own.' I think it made him a stronger runner. He still has teammates he runs with and trains with and he's made them stronger too, but he took it upon himself. He said I'm the man now and I've got to go out there and do it. And it's paid off."
Jaskowak does not have far to go to see the benefits of taking control of races early and often. He is the latest standout distance runner to walk the halls at Grove City. First was Mike McWilliams and then Kildoo, who is a freshman running for Notre Dame.
McWilliams won a pair of state Class AA cross country titles along with two PIAA 3,200-meter run wins in Class AA before being a four-time All-American in cross country at the Irish. And last year, Kildoo finished an Eagle career that included three District 10 cross country titles, a fifth overall in 2010 at Hershey and two podium finishes in the 3,200 run at Shippensburg.
While his closest competitor at Red, White & Blue - Mount Lebanon's Alex Moran - admitted that Jaskowak was not on his radar before the race, Sample said Jaskowak's accomplishments thus far have come as no surprise.
"We know about him. we've known about him," Sample said. "I think when you're stuck between Pittsburgh and Erie you're kind of forgotten about. Danny has been around. He just hadn't had the race that was going to put him up there."
On Sept. 17 at the Boardman Spartan Invitational in Ohio, Jaskowak said he "went out fast ... and settled into my pace." The result was a 15:43.51 clocking - the fastest time of the meet - that moved him to No. 5 all-time on the Boardman layout and pushed former Eagle McWilliams out of the top 10.
"He has a totally different attitude this year," Sample said. "He's got the work ethic that is as good as any good runner I've had, and that includes Jake. They know about him now, and they are going to be keying on him. He's got to be one of the top 10 in the state."
While Jaskowak might be his own runner, his style and that of his predecessor at Grove City are identical.
"Danny doesn't want to come from behind or find out what he needs to do," Sample said. "He wants to be out there in front every race. That's the way he's going to approach every race this year - be the front runner."
by Cory Mull
Cover Photo from PIAA Foundation Invite. Photo below from Foundation. Both by Don Rich.
Courtney Smith gives Soccer the Boot...
HERSHEY -- It's a common switch for high school athletes with the long distance twitch.
Substitute a ball and a pair of cleats for some low-weight distance treads.
You find it a lot in cross country, actually, former soccer players who gave in to the allure of long distance running. Some didn't have the skills to cut it on the pitch, so they found that killer instinct over 5,000-meters.
Some had it and decided to race anyway.
In most cases, it doesn't matter how you got there... just that you did.
Unionville sophomore Courtney Smith is the latest example of this trend. The tiny runner, maybe 5-foot-3 on a good day, is making waves just three races into her career. She gave up soccer to pursue her love of running.
"I wanted to give cross country a try," Smith said. "I really love running."
On Saturday, she nearly took one of the biggest early-season meets of the year, finishing second at the PIAA Foundation Invitational at Hershey. Had it not been for a late-push by former PIAA AAA champion Sara Sargent, Smith would have her first gold medal.
"I was really happy," said Smith, who made the Varsity Gold race an exciting event to watch up until the finish. "I did better than I expected."
That she did.
Smith finished in 19 minutes, 12 seconds, just five ticks off Sargent's winning time. But remember, this was Smith's first hand at Parkview, largely considered one of the more difficult course in the state.
Maybe the mystery of the course did her well, or maybe it was her inexperience -- and her lack of fear.
Any way you cut it, Smith was up to task against a loaded field with a slew of former AAA medalists. She beat Pennridge senior Tori Gerlach, who was 11th as a junior a year ago.
And she out-raced same-class sophomores Paige Stoner of Pottsville and Regan Rome of Dallas. Both earned state medals a year ago. Stoner was last season's runner-up in the large school division. Rome was in the top 20.
A broader discussion could go on for days.
Why are young female runners so good, so early? Sargent won the states in AAA as a freshman. Graduated Liberty harrier Jessica Cygan, who's competing at William and Mary, did the same as a sophomore in 2008 -- she was runner-up as a freshman.
Stoner was just shy of the mark a year ago. And if not for an early season injury, perhaps Lower Dauphin sophomore DeeDee Shea is inserted into the conversation, too.
The PIAA has a history with this. In the last five years, two underclassmen have won the AAA state meet. Then again, in the last five years, no underclassmen have won the AA meet.
Maybe it's just a coincidence.
This year, Smith could either help continue a growing trend of successful young runners, or work to smooth it back out.
That's the question.
In Smith's case, her inexperience continues to help her style. She doesn't over-think the race. She lets her instincts take over.
"Cross country is more about maintaing pace and that's where I'm a little inexperienced," she said. "Sometimes I go out too fast or I don't know where I'm supposed to be, but I end up finding out."
In her first dual meet a few weeks before, Smith uncorked an impressive 19:41 and won the race. She followed with a 19:26, earning another victory.
That could be the most valuable tool looking ahead: knowing -- and believing -- that she can win.
"I wasn't expecting to do this well," Smith said. "I was hoping to get a medal. So I was really surprised during the race. Where I was, I kept expecting a huge group to pass me. I'm really happy."
Smith credits graduated runner Lauren Mills, who acted as her inspiration last year. She also says cross coach Marc Lacianca has taught her "everything she knows."
It always helps to have a good coach.
Then again, knowing when to hang up the cleats for racing flats also deserves mention.
by Lex Mercado
Cover Photo from Briarwood Invite. Photo below from Briarwood Invite. Both by Don Rich
Meghan McGovern on the Right Track to Prepare for a Championship Season
North Penn's Meghan McGovern entered this season as one of the top runners to watch in 2011. She has very strong personal bests and has some big performances that have stolen the show at many meets. Now in her senior season, McGovern is looking to add on to her resume with some state gold. As one of the girls featured in our preseason Q&As, McGovern gave us an update on her season thus far.
So far in 2011, McGovern won the Central Bucks East Invitational for the 2nd straight year with a time of 18:59 in muddy and wet course conditions on September 10. This past weekend at the Briarwood Invitational Championship race, McGovern ran 18:21.1 to finish 3rd, a 35 second Belmont Plateau personal best for her. McGovern stressed that during her first race, her goal was to start well and let the early momentum carry her.
"I try to keep the same game plan regardless of the course conditions and run the best I can, while adjusting as needed during the race."
A strong early season start with less than ideal conditions carried her into the Briarwood championship race. A year ago, she ran 18:56, and this year, she saw it as a state preview because of the challenging hills and the incredible competition. Right from the start, McGovern knew she was going to be in for a tough race.
"From the start, there was a pack of five runners that stayed together throughout the first mile. This group spread out as we conquered Parachute Hill. I fell behind a bit, but was able to make up some ground on the downhills and going into the third mile I was in third place, which is where I would finish."
Her time of 18:21.1 was 35 seconds better than last year's performance, indicating that she's right where she wants to be for late September. McGovern is also a big team player, and is looking at her performances as a way to motivate the rest of her young teammates. With four of her teammates running lifetime best performances, the momentum from Saturday will carry forward into the rest of the season.
"It was great to see everyone dropping time, even on the challenging Briarwood course," said the senior. "Despite some early season health setbacks, a lot of the younger girls on the team are stepping up and we hope to continue to work hard and be competitive as a team."
Their next competition will be the Six Flags Invitational in New Jersey, where McGovern will be the featured PA runner in the field and her team will be one of a handful of PA girls teams attending the event.
"It is the first year we are going to this meet so we don't know what to expect, but it sounds like a fun and competitive race. We are all looking forward to running through the animal safari. It should be a great race!"
But with all the fun comes the real goal for McGovern, and that's a championship season. McGovern has put some extra work into her training and into her early season meets so that she can end the season on the highest of notes.
"This season, I have been focusing on the little things, such as stretching, lifting, etc, that can add up and make a difference. In addition, I have also been trying to push myself to the next level in our workouts and races," said McGovern. "I have been feeling strong in our workouts and I am excited to see what I am able to accomplish. My goal is to be at my peak for the championship portion of the season and I feel these early races are helping me prepare to reach this goal."
Her early season performances would indicate that she will be in the mix come November 5.
Dynamic Hatboro-Horsham Duo Team Up on the Competition
by Lex Mercado
Cover Photo from John Sharp Viking Invite. Photo below from Briarwood Invite. Both by Patty Morgan
When competing in a race, most individual front runners are going head to head with runners in a similar position. They're the top guy on their team challenging other #1 runners from other teams, and they're all trying to win and help their team. It's challenging going up against one elite runner from a team, but when there are two elite runners from the same team on your back, it can be a long day for the competition.
Hatboro Horsham's Sam Hibbs and Conner Quinn have become a dynamic 1-2 combination that has made it difficult for their challengers. In three invitationals this season, Hibbs and Quinn have finished 1-2 in two of them, and in the 3rd, they went 1-4 and were separated by only two seconds. Although Hibbs has won all three races, he credits the chemistry he and Quinn have established as a big key to their dominance.
"Practicing with someone that is pretty close to the same level as me is definitely something that gives me an advantage over most of my competitors," said Hibbs. "Being able to know that I always have someone there to push me helps me in races and in practice."
In a sport where most elite runners have to go solo when executing a game plan, having someone else there close to you in a race makes that execution not seem so daunting. Conner Quinn talks about their game plan at Briarwood and how he credited practice to being able to execute and achieve a 1-2 finish.
"At Briarwood we both know that the course is an extremely difficult one," admitted Quinn. "We took it out pretty fast knowing that there were hills in the woods. We made our move in the woods and broke away from the rest of the race there, which is what we planned on doing. Practicing together helps a lot with races because during workouts we feed off of each other as well as in races. We can run together and use our individual strengths to help us train better as a duo."
Both Hibbs and Quinn are very talented runners with impressive resumes, which include cross country state medals in 2010. Their ability to race together has not only made them strong state title contenders, but it also has made it easier for Quinn to run with a different approach than in years past.
"I would say our running styles are pretty similar this year, but in years past we had much different running styles," said the Briarwood and Centaur invites runner up. "My freshman and sophomore year I used to sit back and make my push in the last two miles; meanwhile this year I find myself in the front from the gun."
Hibbs adds, "I can rely on the last 800 meters of a race if I have to to come up with the victory, but Quinn needs to be able to put a move on earlier and try and run the kick out of other people."
Training together on a daily basis has narrowed those racing differences and the two of them have been able to use each other for motivation to get through tough parts of a race. But in a sport where most champions are made based as much on their mental toughness as their physical toughness, Hibbs is totally aware of how hard it is for the opponents to face he and Quinn.
"I think one big advantage of team work is that it helps to make other people give up," said Hibbs. "When you see two people from the same team pass you I think that it definitely makes you lose a little motivation and that is very important when it comes to big races."
Both Hibbs and Quinn will be looking to take that mental advantage to the PIAA Foundation Invitiational this Saturday. With all the hills that the state championship course throws at the runners, Hibbs says that the way you run those hills will determine your final outcome.
"We know that we need to really work the hills on the second mile 'cause they are what really make or break your race at that course," said Hibbs. "It is an advantage that Conner and I are both pretty good hill runners so we will look to use that to help us hopefully get another 1-2 finish."
Quinn, on the other hand, believes that in order to continue their streak of 1-2 finishes, it's all about execution in training.
"We plan on continuing our steak by doing what we have done all season, which is run our workouts and distance runs together like we have all season long," said Quinn. "Practicing together helps a lot with races because during workouts we feed off of each other and then we take that into races."
Until someone can figure them out, be prepared to see these two guys run side by side in their white jerseys across many finish lines ahead of the pack for the rest of the season.'
PA 67 Watch List for NXN and Foot Locker contenders - Update #1 9/20/11
by Jayson Jackson
1. West Chester Henderson
2. Cardinal O’hara
3. Mount Lebanon
4. North Allegheny
5. North Penn
6. Council Rock North
1. Dustin Wilson, Chestnut Hill - 17th at last year Northeast Regional, top PA returnee #2 returnee overall. #3 AT solo 15:39 on 9/17 at Briarwood in Championship race.
2. Daniel Jaskowak, Grove City- Undefeated on the season and in both PA and Ohio.
3. Alex Moran, Mount Lebanon - #1 man on #1 team in state. Narrow loss to Jaskowak at Red, White, and Blue Classic
4. Dan Savage, Cardinal O’Hara -3rd to Wilson and Chaminade runner at Briarwood
5. Sam Hibbs, Hatboro Horsham -Undefeated on the season. Didn’t race championship section at Briarwood, so no showdown with Wilson and Savage.
6. Conner Quinn, Hatboro Horsham-Always within five seconds of Hibbs
7. Quinn Devlin, Downingtown West-Yet to debut
1. West Chester Henderson
3. Downingtown East
4. Governor Mifflin
5. Archbishop Wood
6. State College
1. Angel Piccirillo, Homer Center-Won PTXC 3 in 18:39 and followed it up with a #2 All-time performance at the Harry Groves Spiked Shoe Invitational in 17:36
2. Victoria Gerlach, Pennridge - 18:18 at Briarwood for #3 All-time
3. Meghan McGovern, North Penn - 18:21 at Briarwood for 3rd
4. Paige Stoner, Pottsville - 2nd to Gerlach at Centaur Invitational
5. Maria Seykora, Academy of Notre Dame- 18:45 at Briarwood for 4th; 3rd at PTXC 3
6. Sara Sargent, Pennsbury- 4th (PTXC 3)and 5th (Briarwood) place finishes to start the season, but still one of the best championship day runners in the state.
7. Amy Darlington, Liberty - Off to a strong start to the season, with a victory and 5th at PTXC 3.
Seykora Uses the Little Things to Stay Consistent
By Lex Mercado
Runners who do not get to compete in PIAA need to search a little harder to find the best competition in the state. With the opportunities limited, there is a sharper learning curve from competing in the private school division to the PIAA. But every few years, someone from the Independent ranks makes some loud noise in the state and puts herself, her team, and the private schools on the map. Notre Dame's Maria Seykora has played this role for virtually her entire career.
Seykora has been one of the best runners in PA since she first arrived at Notre Dame in 2008. Her performances have helped put Notre Dame on the state map. She's run big personal bests since her freshman year and she's earned some big wins and raised many eyebrows. Seykora has never been afraid of competition, and Seykora says that the key to being ready for that competition has been to avoid falling apart by working on little things beyond running miles.
"My coaches have guided my training in order to prevent me from burning out," said the Notre Dame senior. "I haven't gone over 50 miles per week, but I have gradually approached this number. Instead, I push myself hard in workouts and I get plenty of rest before meets. I also stretch to prevent injuries and coach Laura (Heilman) put together a program of core, arm, and leg exercises to help me build strength."
Her strength work has allowed Seykora to avoid any major slumps in her career. Seykora had been known for being the aggressor from start to finish. She had achieved success with that strategy, but with the competition improving each and every year, she has had to make adjustments. Seykora has made it a priority to focus on pacing herself in races in order to improve. PTXC 3 was an example of some of the challenges she faced pacing at a muddy PTXC 3 course.
"At the start, I went out in what I thought was a good pace, about 5:50 for the first mile, and I tried to maintain that pace throughout the race," said Seykora. "However, the second mile of the course had a lot of mud and water which made running this pace more difficult than I expected. Because of this, the last mile was harder and I ended up running a slower pace at the end."
Despite her fantastic 3rd place finish, Seykora stated that she'll have to work on maintaining a consistent pace throughout the race no matter how good or bad the course conditions may be. Seykora also believes that previous success will lead to current and future success. In her career, she has been part of some very strong cross country and track teams at Notre Dame, including two 2nd place team finishes indoors and she was 5th in the Penn Relays mile a year ago.
"I want to carry my success from track into cross country. I want to be able to improve on my places and times like I did on the track. I want to run sub 18 minutes and I plan on competing at Foot Locker Northeast this November and hope to do well there."
Running on hilly courses like she will this coming weekend at the Briarwood Invitational at Belmont Plateau will certainly help her chances of doing just that. The Plateau is a place where Seykora has been running races since she was a 4th grader. In one of her final appearances on the course, her key to success is focus.
"It's a tough, hilly course. But I have to be focused on pacing myself well enough so I can finish strong. I like the challenge of the course and I look forward to running against a strong field."
The little things that have put her in the elite class will serve her well in her final season.
Amy Darlington wouldn't go as far as to call it a slump, but there was no denying the numbers.
By Cory Mull
After such a promising sophomore campaign, when the current Liberty senior placed 13th at the PIAA Class AAA meet, won her District 11 race and recorded a season-best 18:46, it all went downhill as a junior.
The times dropped. And so did the confidence.
"We kept thinking she would race into shape, but it never really kicked over," said Liberty coach Mark Will-Weber, who saw the growing pains first hand. "And I think at some point, whether she admitted it or not, she was thinking, ‘I can’t wait until track.'"
All the significant benchmarks she achieved as a sophomore, like winning the Lehigh Valley Conference and district meets and medaling at states, weren't there as a junior.
By the time she reached states -- and we should at least credit her here, because even at her worst she still qualified for states -- Darlington reached a point where she was just glad it was over. And it did end abruptly, with the Liberty standout finishing 55th place.
"It was so bad, I was just like..." as she trailed off on Saturday.
Fast track to September.
Darlington placed fifth in the PTXC-3 Varsity Girls' race, nabbing a 19:16 time that was impressive considering the course layout -- rain soaked terrain, ankle-high waters and mud for days. On a good day, with good conditions and a fast course, that time would have undoubtedly been in the mid-18s.
Just the week before, at the Lions Invitational, Darlington scored an 18:23, which won the race by over a minute and gave her a measure of confidence back.
It was a far cry from her opening to the 2010 season, when she lagged from the start.
So how'd she get her swagger back?
Perhaps that All-American tag had something to do with it.
Will-Weber says Darlington isn't the type to hang on to the past. She moves forward, whether it's from a bad race or a bad test.
The strong-minded Darlington, who has strong thighs and muscular arms -- atypical by traditional standards -- utilizes a positive attitude.
That was the key to her resurgence.
"When cross ended, she took a big look in the mirror and said 'I’m going to have a great track season,' Will-Weber recalled. "And by December, she was ready. She’s the kind of kid that if things go wrong, it won’t destroy her. She usually bounces back and wants to make for up for it."
Over the winter, she got her legs back. She ran more and gained the stamina she didn't have in the fall. She gutted through training, on good days and bad, and by spring, she showed up in a different league.
Her times in the 1,600-meter dropped considerably, going from 5:28.14 in January to a career-best 4:58.40 in May at the LVIAC Championships. She was the only runner to dip under five in the race, which was great considering it was the first time she had ever achieved that feat.
But her best efforts weren't reserved solely for the typical events on a high school track. Yes, she did win the District 11 mile (5:00.98) and the 3,200-meter run (10:48.29). And she did record a fourth-place finish at states in the two-mile, too (10:47.61).
"Everything started to come together," Darlington said.
But her All-American recognition wasn't in either race.
It was in the steeplechase.
A multi-purpose race that includes hurdles and water pits, the steeplechase is hard to come by at the high school level. Darlington first tried a qualifying race during the spring season.
She hardly practiced.
"She said she would need scuba gear in the water pit," Will-Weber said of Darlington.
But athletically, Darlington could do anything. She was strong, and better yet, she was strong-minded.
She qualified for nationals in North Carolina, competing against 12 others and finished sixth. Six spots were reserved for All-Americans.
A few weeks later, Will-Weber remembers having a poignant conversation with Darlington about the fall cross country season.
"Coming off that All-American nod and breaking five in the mile and running a good two-mile, I said, ‘Look, you don’t want to go back to just having a mediocre cross country season, do you,'" he said. "You have to take up the challenge."
That she did.
PREPARING FOR SUCCESS
While Darlington is in significantly better shape than she was a year ago, she hasn't hit her peak just yet. That's perfectly fine.
"What we’ll do is train virtually through all of her dual meets and have her ready by the end," Will-Weber said.
Physically, Will-Weber believes Darlington will be able to take hard practices and difficult training.
"I think her strength, it sounds redundant, but it is her strength," Will-Weber said. "She’s a big strong kid, so she doesn’t look like your typical stick distance runner. I think the long run, that’s going to serve her well."
Darlington has her future to keep an eye out for, too.
She's been in contact with Ivy League schools such as Cornell and the University of Pennsylvania, and she's also pursuing bigger programs like Syracuse and Penn State, too.
"I want to run somewhere," she says, confidence coursing through her voice.
To get there, she might just need a memorable cross country season, one that warrants second and third looks from all kinds of colleges.
"She’ll be the first one to tell you she prefers track to cross, but I told her if she has a good cross season, there’s no way she shouldn’t be able to challenge for a top 10 spot in the state," Will-Weber said.
Moran and Mount Lebanon Sweep
By Lex Mercado
PA#5 Mount Lebanon out of District 7 accomplished one of the rare feats for a cross country invitational. They were perfect. At the Cal University HS Invitational, returning state medalist Alex Moran led his team to a 1-7 sweep with a spread of 39 seconds from 1-5, 46 seconds from 1-7, 20 seconds from 2-7, and one minute from 1-9. Moran stated that it was a plan of attack that they wanted to execute.
"A couple of guys went out hard so my first instinct was to keep them close, but once I got the lead and started to drop them, I just wanted to keep the lead and glance back to see where my teammates were," said the Cal U gold medalist. "If my teammates were struggling a little bit, then I would've dropped back. But they were in control so I got to run my own race."
Moran stated that his coach sees this team to be just as talented as their last state winning side, and that this team can reach that level with performances like Saturday.
"Our coach has reminded us that this is the most talented team since 1998, and they won states that year," said Moran. "I think with that small spread and with the amount of kids on the team we have close to that, this will hopefully be a great and winning year."
Moran's 17:02 winning time might suggest that he may have had plenty more in the tank and could have recorded a faster time. But with it only being September, Moran is aware that there are big meets coming right around the corner that will really help him and his team see where their early season training has put them.
"Although there were good teams there (at the Cal U Invite), I'm waiting for Red, White, and Blue (At Baldwin), to see where we really stand within the district, especially going up against North Allegheny (2010 AAA Champions)."
Moran is confident that his team can continue this strong performance throughout 2011 and he gives a lot of credit to his head coach. However, Moran is aware of the toll the two plus month season can have on a team.
"Our coach has kept our mileage high early on, but we do run in a lot of meets," said the senior. "I can't do anything about that but compete, but I think for some of the smaller dual meets, we may need to control ourselves a little bit so that our 5-6-7 guys aren't going all out for every race. I trust my coach with our training and our workouts, and we have the talent to be very good."
Despite the great opening weekend, the expectations have not changed. If anything, they have been solidified by such a performance. Moran restated what the expectations were for the 2011 edition of Mount Lebanon Boys Cross Country, with a blessing from a recent alum.
"Rad Gunzenhauser (2009 AAA runner up in 15:49, 2009 Foot Locker Finalist, 2010 Indoor 3000 meter champion) came to practice the other day and said that we have the talent to win states, but we haven't done anything yet," recalled Moran. "I still think we have a great shot at states."
As many sports analysts say, the champion is not crowned after the first weekend. Mount Lebanon will have a big early season test coming up this weekend against North Allegheny and Baldwin, a meet that traditionally features the best of Western PA. A similar performance like the one at Cal U will really make a big statement statewide.
State College Looks to "Bring it Back"
By Lex Mercado
One of the surprises of the 2010 season was the way State College finished the season. The District 6 squad spent the season without perennial superstar Chloe Schmidt and had a top seven without a senior. That group finished 4th overall with help from having the best 1-5 spread in the meet of 29 seconds, bringing back State College as a legitimate contender for a championship.
Entering the 2011 season, State College is the only team from last year's top ten to bring back the entire team that ran in the 2010 state finals. They started their new campaign with a victory in the AAA section of the Big Valley Invitational. They scored 28 points with a 29 second spread for their 1-5. Head coach Rebecca Donaghue said it was a solid start to the season and the approach was good for the debut meet.
"I was really pleased with our results. I tell them to go into it as though it's a hard effort practice run. We have a long season ahead of us and I want to make sure they see the big picture. This takes some of the pressure off because I don't want them to get too revved up this early."
The big picture is having another strong performance at states and come home with a trophy. Coach Donaghue mentioned that the success in 2010 led to the team's belief that they can do it again in 2011. The only way that success could be achieved is by solid summer preparation.
"I really teach the girls a lot about the importance of summer training," said Donaghue. "They know that without putting that hard work in, a highly successful fall will be hard to come by. They did my program last summer and we got great results by finishing 4th. They're sold on the results of summer training, and now they're hungry to do it again and then some."
This State College team does not bear a bonafide front runner like most of the other contending teams will have. But they do boast the best 1-5 spread in the state, which will keep this team in most meets. Learning to run together in a race needs to be executed in practice, says Donaghue. She also believes that the competition needs to be saved for race day and not used elsewhere.
"I do often stress to the girls that they should try and work together in workouts and not fight with each other. If they compete too much in practices they'll most likely be burnt out by the end of the season. If done properly, then the chances of packing are greater."
The belief in the system installed by coach Donaghue has spread throughout the school, bringing in large numbers of athletes who want to be a part of this experience. In her seven seasons in charge, Donaghue has seen her team grow from 18 to a whopping 83 girls. This increase in numbers is credited by the re-emergence of successful distance running at the school that hasn't been around for some time. The popularity brings excitement to the coach.
"State College has won five state titles, the last being in 1994, so it's definitely exciting to know that we're starting to bring back the old State College winning tradition in distance running," says Donaghue. "I always remind the girls that they're 'bringing it back' and I'm starting to see that extra meaning translate into their races."
If they continue to bring back performance such as the one this past weekend, they'll have a chance to bring back their first state title since the mid 1990s.
Weisner Replaces Nerves with Excitement
By Lex Mercado
Elk County Catholic's Kennedy Weisner had an amazing debut season in both cross country and track. She finished the year with three state medals (2nd in cross country, two in track) and some big personal bests that not many seniors reach at the end of their careers. After such a great first year, some may have been wondering if the sophomore jinx would be in play after seeing it effect many other great runners before her. Well if her 2011 debut is any indication, then she may break the trend.
With one of the three biggest performances of the opening weekend, Weisner started her season at the Big Valley Invitational and took home her first victory of the season. Not only did she win, but she won by over two minutes and her time of 18:39 was her all time best for 5000 meters. When talking about the race, Weisner sounded like a seasoned veteran.
"I entered the race with the goal of running relaxed and in control of myself," said the AA silver medalist. "I wanted to focus on running my own race. I know that I will have to run a lot faster in order to compete at a higher level."
Now that her first performance as a sophomore is over, she can now get rid of the first-race nerves and get excited about moving forward with the rest of the season. She credits her fast start to great preparation and to some great parenting.
"Over the summer, I ran at 7am with my mom, who has coached me since I started running at the age of 10," said Weisner. "I increased my mileage from last year. I did a weekly long run, hills, and a few tempos. I also did strength, core, form drills, and hurdle mobility. In July I went to the High Performance Distance Academy in Virginia. The passion of the sport from the counselors and the other runners was so evident!"
With all that summer conditioning, she has set the bar high for the 2011 season. But despite her expectations, her biggest goal is pretty simple.
"What I feel I am capable of doing is simply running the best I can in every race. Anything can happen so I just want to finish every race knowing I gave everything I have."
Weisner will look to give it all she has against a star-studded field at PTXC 3 this coming Saturday. The relatively new meet has attracted some major stars and Weisner will be one of the many featured runners in the girls A race. While some athletes or teams may wait until later in the season for such a race, when asked about PTXC 3, Weisner is looking forward to the opportunity.
"I'm really excited to have the opportunity to race in the PTXC meet. I'm looking forward to competing with some really great runners on a course I have never run on before. The atmosphere of the race will be amazing and it will be an excellent big race experience for me, which is nice to have this early in the season."
If she runs her best and uses her newfound excitement to her advantage, she may be even more excited for the bigger races still to come.
PA 67 Watch List for NXN and Foot Locker contenders - Pre-Season Update 9/4/11
by Jayson Jackson
1. North Allegheny - Returns 5 rom State Championship squad
2. West Chester Henderson - Return 4 from State Runner-up
3. Cardinal O’hara - Returns 5 from the team that finished 3rd by 36 points
4. Baldwin Returns- 5 including their 1 & 2 from 4th Place PIAA finisher
5. Mount Lebanon-Six return from 2010, including individual hopeful Alex Moran
6. Great Valley- Returns 5, including their front 4, from 2010
Individuals (alpha order)
Quinn Devlin, Downingtown West-Looking for redemption after missing out on a medal in 2010
Sam Hibbs, Hatboro Horsham -Top AAA Individual returner from 2010
Ryan Smathers, Northeast -Top AA returnee, finished 5th as a sophomore
Conner Quinn, Hatboro Horsham-Returning medalist, benefits having Hibbs as training partner
Alex Moran - One of only 3 from last year’s top 15 to return. Looking to lead the Blue Devils to WPIAL and PIAA glory
Logan Steiner- Will try to help North Allegheny repeat as champs. #7 returner from Footlocker NE regional
Dustin Wilson - 17th at last year Northeast Regional, top PA returnee #2 returnee overall.
1. West Chester Henderson - State runner-up in 2010, will look to build off record setting track season for strong fall
2. Pennsbury-Defending state champs return their 1-2 punch of Sara Sargent and Ann Herman
3. State College- Their top 7 returns from a 4th place finish in 2010
4. Downingtown East -Returns 6 of 7 from 5th place 2010 squad
5. Archbishop Wood-Return 5 (4 freshman, 1 sophomore) of 7 from 2010’s 7th place team
6. Pine Richland-They return six of seven and will be a strong matchup for North Allegheny in the west
Elizabeth Chikotas, Saucon Valley-22nd at FL NE regional (4th PA finisher); 7th at PIAA Champs
Victoria Gerlach, Pennridge - Defending District I XC and State 3200 champ; 23rd FL NE Regional
Margo Malone, North Hills-2010 NXN Qualifier, 4th at PIAA Champs
Angel Piccirillo, Homer Center-Defending AA Champ. Arguably the best runner in the state. 2010 FL qualifier
Sara Sargent, Pennsbury-2009 State Champ and FL qualifier, 18th at the Northeast regional in 2010.
Paige Stoner, Pottsville Area-Runnerup in 2010 and finished 15th at FL NE regional.
Kennedy Wiesner-AA Runner up in 2010, 40th at FL NE Regional