6th PIAA Foundation XC Invitational
All Photos by Don Rich, Patty Morgan, Megan Zeller and Gayle Rich
Varsity Girls White - Class A
By Cory Mull
As Erika Huffman crossed the finish line Saturday in the girls’ white race during the PIAA Foundation Invitational in Hershey, it marked the start of a more significant hope.
Contender status in the state.
The Wyalusing Valley Area senior won the Class A girls‘ race in a time of 20 minutes, 19 seconds, edging second-place Jenny VanEtten of Elk Lake by just five seconds.
As a result, she may have proved that despite just two years of varsity experience under her belt, she isn’t just a small school standout anymore.
Huffman might be one to watch on the medal stand a few weeks down the road. Wyalusing head coach Jim Schools agreed, saying there was more on the line on Saturday.
“I was very pleased with her effort today,” Schools said. “We wanted to make a statement with this race, that Erika is among some of the better girls in the state. We think top five in the state is a legitimate goal. We took the attitude today of going out and winning it.”
Elk Lake, a perennial state contender in the team title, dominated the field overall, scoring just 47 points behind five runners in the top 22.
“Kennedy Weisner is head and shoulders above the rest the field,” Schools said of the Elk County Catholic standout. “But there is a real opportunity for others out here to prove themselves.”
Huffman made her final move on the last hill at Parkview, typically referred to as “poop out,” and held strong until the end. But it was a tough finish, as she fell to the ground in exhaustion afterward.
“I pushed a little harder than I thought I would on that last one,” Huffman said.
After finishing 27th in the state a year ago in AA, Huffman feels her experience is playing a factor. The time was just a four second personal best from her last race at Parkview, though it was an improvement.
The second-year runner held strong with a group of three, including VanEtten and Troy senior Casey Norton, for most of the race before separating late.
“We have hills where we train, and I feel that helped me in this race,” Huffman said.
VanEtten, meanwhile, seemed to be in control through the finish. Fluctuating between the first and second positions on her team, Saturday was a step in the right direction toward consistency.
“I was in sixth early on and moved up,” she said. “I have been off and on the last few races, but I was glad today. This was a good race.”
Elk Lake sophomore teammate Kenzie Jones finished fourth, posting a time of 20:47. Norton was third in a time of 20:30, while Delone Catholic freshman Kate Mowery rounded out the top five in 20:52.
Varsity Girls Blue - Class AA
By Cory Mull
The way Regan Rome sees it, she’s right on schedule.
The Dallas junior coasted toward the finish line at the Foundation Invitational on Saturday in the girls’ blue race, registering a winning time of 19 minutes flat.
While her course best on Parkview was 18:48 -- good for a fifth-place finish in 2011 -- she was commanding on Saturday, finishing 42 seconds ahead of the next runner in the field.
“I came in hoping for 19:20, but I was happy how I finished today,” Rome said. “Getting to under 19 minutes at this point of the season is a pretty good goal, but it’s hard when you’re running by yourself.”
Better yet, Dallas took home the team title, too, scoring 70 points to outpace Holy Redeemer’s 132.
That’s impressive, considering two Dallas runners were under the weather and still finished within the top 25 point scorers anyway.
“I’m really proud of my team,” Rome said.
Since Dallas moved down from AAA to AA as part of the reclassification, this marked the first race where Rome was in a league of her own. She opened the race very measured, falling into a top lead pack, but by 1,000-meters, she decided to push the tempo and break out.
By the first mile, Rome was setting the tone, and the rest of the field was following suit.
“I didn’t go out too quick,” Rome said. “My goal was to take the pack out to the first mile. Once we got there, I started to pull away and separate.”
Holy Redeemer senior Rachel Sowinski crossed the finish line in second-place, scoring a time of 19:42, while Villa Joseph Marie freshman Meridith Twomey was third in 19:59, representing the only three runners under the 20-minute threshold.
“My coaches said to go out there and run your own race,” Sowinski said. “They said to stick with the lead group as long as you can, and that’s what I tried to do.”
Sowinski’s senior year has been a successful thus far. The runner, who was fifth in the state a year ago in 19:21, added more to her body of work over the off-season, which she felt prepared her for the upcoming campaign. Hill work shaped her progression, she said, which in turn showed on Saturday.
“I love hill work,” she said. “That’s one of my strengths.
Rounding out the top five was Holy Redeemer senior teammate Marissa Durako, who won the race a year ago. She finished in 20:05, while West Allegheny sophomore Alexis O’Shea paced behind her in 20:12.
Varsity Girls Gold - Class AAA
By Cory Mull
In a strong field that boasted some of the top contenders in the state, it came as a slight surprise that the girls’ gold race at the PIAA Foundation Invitational in Hershey was such a landslide.
Maybe more impressive, though, was the fact that the winner wasn’t even tired afterward.
Unionville junior Courtney Smith rolled to the class AAA finish in 18:40, winning the event before immediately jogging over to the water station and grabbing a few cups for her incoming teammates.
Unionville, PA#2, certainly rewarded Smith, taking the team title in a statement-making finish that landed its first five runners in the top 15 positions.
Unionville scored 43 points overall, overtaking returning state champion Pennsbury, PA#1, who scored 80 points behind five runners in the top 27 point-scoring positions.
“We knew that if we started out too fast it might take some of our finish away from us,” Unionville head coach Mark Lacianca said. “Our goal was to really sit tight until the one mile, where a few of the girls made their moves.”
Ultimately, Lacianca may have seen his team’s most balanced race of the season.
Sophomore Gretchen Mills and senior Anne Birkenmaier finished in identical times, 20:02, and crossed the line in 14th and 15th places. Meanwhile, junior Emily Fisher was 10th and sophomore Olivia Young, sitting just behind Smith, was third in 19:07.
“This year was about recreating our identity,” said Lacianca, who won a state championship with Unionville in 2004. “I think we’re heading in the right direction.”
Smith, just two years into her cross country career, continues her upward growth, too. Considered her breakout race of a year ago when she finished second to Pennsbury’s Sara Sargent, Foundation is proving to be Smith’s lucky event.
Smith, the former soccer player, is quickly becoming a stud in cross country. She continues to make dents in the AAA field. She considered Foundation her first real race of the season.
“I think my experience on this course helped,” Smith said. “Since last year I developed a sense of strategy and just continue to grow and improve.”
Last year’s winner, Sargent, finished in seventh in 19:30. Methacton junior Kara Steinke, meanwhile, was impressive in a second-place time of 19:00.
Avon Grove senior Ariel Pastore-Sebring was fourth in 19:24, Central York senior Kelsey Ibarra was fifth in 19:29 and Lower Dauphin junior DeeDee Shea was sixth in 19:29.
“This was a good time to compare and see where we were,” Smith said of the race.
Steinke’s effort was worth noting, too. The junior finished 66th at the state meet in 2011. But as of Saturday, the confidence seemed to be back.
“We wanted to make a splash here,” she said. “So I’m very happy. This is my first year at Foundation, so I think it was good to finish in the top 10.
“My coach told me that I had to have a plan out here today, and I think I certainly did.”
Varsity Boys White - Class A
By Cory Mull
The finish line presented two similar portraits.
Sam Williams held up one finger in the air. Curt Jewett held up two.
The Northeast Bradford seniors, the “Shake and Bake” pair as Jewett described it, took home the first two places during the boys’ white race at the PIAA Foundation Invitational on Saturday in Hershey.
Williams was the overall winner in 16:33, while Jewett came later in 16:40.
“It’s a big help knowing I was running right with him today,” Jewett said. “We’ve been running together every day since the eighth grade, so we like to call ourselves the dynamic duo.”
In the class A field where Northeast Bradford finds itself since the reclassification, Williams and Jewett looked impressive. But so did their teammates, who helped take home the team title with 73 points, ahead of Vincentian Academy, who scored 110.
From the gun, Williams’ tactics were measured. Knowing the hills to be the crucial element to the Parkview course, he and Jewett hung tight until the first mile, when the course shoots upward.
“We knew we had to sit at first and see where the race went. We expected to push it at some point, but we figured it would play out,” Williams said.
As the hills came calling, Williams and Jewett both took turns jostling for the lead. Jewett accelerated down the descents, though Williams was right on his shoulder.
With 800 meters to go, Williams made one final effort to separate and made his move.
“I think when it comes down to it, I want to run as fast a time as I can,” Williams said. “I think that’s the strategy every time.”
Williams’ season continues to show promise. The senior won PTXC4 two weeks ago, scoring a season best 16:40 before a field that featured two state champion runners from 2011. Jewett, meanwhile, was fifth in that same race -- and also defeated both of those state champions.
So the path leading toward states will be an interesting one. Each runner has high hopes not only for their seasons, but also for their team, which should be considered in the hunt for a state championship.
“That’s the overall goal,” Jewett said. “We want to be able to compete, and run against the best in the state. I think we’re heading in that direction.”
In a kind gesture, every varsity member of the Northeast Bradford team wore a tag on their jersey that read “MAM,” which honored the passing of their coaches mother to pancreatic cancer a year ago.
“She was a big supporter of our team every year,” Jewett said. “She was very special to us, so we decided to do this.”
Elk Lake senior Luke Jones was third overall in 16:51, while Vincentian Academy senior Ryan Acher was fourth in 16:55. Saegertown’s Hunter Johnson rounded out the final five in 17:12.
Varsity Boys Blue - Class AA
By Cory Mull
It took five hours for Daniel Jaskowak and his Grove City teammates to travel from their Pittsburgh-area school to Hershey, where the PIAA Foundation Invitational was being held on Saturday.
But it took just 16 minutes and 19 seconds for Jaskowak to make a statement in the boys’ blue race, where he won the field and cemented his name as one of the chief contenders moving forward toward the Class AA state championships in November.
This was the first big win for Jaskowak this season. It followed up third place finishes for the 2011 champion in the Red, Blue and White Classic and the Boardman Spartan Invitational in Ohio last weekend.
North Schuylkill’s Brendan Shearn, the state champion in AA last year, is still is right on his shoulder, though, and his second-place performance was indicative that he wasn’t going anywhere in the pecking order. He finished in 16:27, while Dallas junior Dominic Deluca was third in 16:53.
“My strategy was to say back as long as I could and conserve energy,” Jaskowak noted, “and then try to outlast [Shearn] in the end.”
That proved to be a winning strategy, as Shearn gave up the lead with close to 800 meters to go as they made their way to the final hill.
Shearn, looking to push the pace early with Deluca, said he didn’t have that extra gear on the last straightway and Jaskowak essentially “picked up the pieces” en route to the finish.
Still, Shearn wasn’t too disappointed. A week earlier, Shearn had scored a time of 15:41 at the Briarwood Invitational, fourth all-time on the vaunted layout.
“I had hoped for a little better finish,” Shearn said. “I ran 16:15 at states a year ago and was looking to get back to there. I didn’t have my best race.”
Shearn and Deluca jostled for position in the first half of the race, Shearn said, and the effort perhaps took a little out of the North Schuylkill senior.
“After that first half, I didn’t feel as good,” Shearn said. “It was a small tactical error, but I stayed consistent over the hills and tried to maintain.”
Jaskowak had more in the tank, though, and he fired through portions of Parkview when it counted.
“I tried to maintain control,” he said. “I lacked that in a few of my races the past couple of weeks. But I got a lot of confidence back today. Being here is amazing, and it seemed like all the variables added up today.”
Lake Lehman senior Kieran Sutton was fourth in 17:01, while Bradford Area senior Aziz Yousif was fifth in 17:01.
Pottsgrove took the team title overall, scoring 85 points. They were led by Senior Ian Yanusko, who was sixth in 17:09. Pottsgrove placed four point-scorers in the first 23 positions.
Scranton Prep scored the second-place team finish with 98 points. They were led by Pat Feeney, who was 12th in 17:31.
Varsity Boys Gold - Class AAA
By Cory Mull
It’s slightly unclear what was more impressive.
Was it the down-to-the-wire finish by Pennsbury senior Connor Harriman, who out-kicked Taylor Allderdice’s Ean DiSilvio and overcame a 40-meter gap to win the class AAA field in the boys’ gold race during the PIAA Foundation Invitational at Hershey on Sunday?
Or was it Cardinal O’Hara’s incredible team performance, a showing that saw six team members place within the first 15 finishers, thereby earning the team title?
Why debate? They both were outstanding.
For Harriman, a strong miler for Pennsbury, his late-end performance showed the kind of kick you need in big races. He finished in 16 minutes, 24 seconds, just one second ahead of DiSilvio, who later said, “I never saw him coming.“
That might be one reason why Harriman could be a smart choice to contend for awards later in the season. While late-end kicks can be developed in time, sometimes you just have it in you, and Harriman fits that description perfectly.
“I’ve always been a strong kicker,” Harriman said. “Since my freshman year, I’ve always had that in me. I attribute that to track, where I’m a strong miler. But my mindset is, you never know what you can do until you go out and do it.”
He came up the final hill at Parkview staring at DiSilvio, who seemed impossibly out of reach. But for some reason, DiSilvio never heard the footsteps behind him and maintained rather than pushed.
Harriman put the gear in overdrive and rolled through the finish.
“I was 10th at states a year ago,” Harriman said. “It was a similar race as today. I came up the hill in 18th and I just swung wide and took out as many guys as I could.”
While DiSilvio was disappointed, he felt he could go back to the drawing board and improve.
“There’s always something to work on,” DiSilvio said afterward. “So I guess I have to work on my kick.”
For Cardinal O’Hara, PA#1, who was led by sophomore Kevin James’ third-place finish in 16:35, they were unmistakably packed together, supported by a tight nit.
They lost the overall team title at the state championships in 2011 by displacement, so they were invariably concentrated on keeping a strong pack in this race.
Senior Dan Savage finished right behind James in fourth (16:42), while three straight runners followed in 10, 11 and 12.
Ernie Pitone was 10th in 16:56, senior Chris Pastore was 11th in 16:59 and senior Matt Hayes was 12th in 17:05. Junior Jim Belfatto was 15th overall in 17:07.
It seems Cardinal O’Hara is on the right path, with James’ leading the way. The sophomore looked strong and poised throughout the race.
Governor Mifflin senior Evan Williams was fifth overall in 16:48, North Allegheny sophomore Mike Meehan was sixth in 16:50 and Pennsbury sophomore Sam Webb was seventh in 16:50.
Junior Varsity Races
Unionville captured the Junior Varsity race 41-48 over Mount Lebanon behind junior McKayla Mawn's 21:09. North Allegheny placed five in the top eight and eight in the top ten to cruise past Mount Lebanon 20-52 behind junior Chris Chang's 17:44
All Photos by Don Rich, Patty Morgan, Megan Zeller and Gayle Rich
Photo Gallery by Don Rich
Photo Gallery by Patty Morgan
Photo Gallery by Megan Zeller
Blue AA: Dan Jaskowak, Grove City and Brendan Shearn, North Schuylkill
Blue AA: Regan Rome, Dallas
Gold AAA: Connor Harriman, Pennsbury
Gold AAA: Courtney Smith, and the Unionville top 7
White A: Sam WIlliams and Curt Jewitt, Northern Bedford
Erika Huffman: PIAA Foundation White Champion
PIAA COO Mark Byers talks about the meet
Cardinal O'Hara top 7 (delayed from Saturday by sound issues. We talked with them before a workout at Rose Tree Park. Thanks guys and best of luck in NC).
Boys Gold Race
Girls Gold Race
Boys Blue Race
Girls Blue Race
Boys White Race
Girls White Race