By Corry Mull
Girls - Teams
While the seasons change, sometimes the stories just stay the same. Case in point: Unionville heads into the PIAA Class AAA state cross country championships as the team favorite, but how on earth can you discount three-time state champion Pennsbury?
Even without former state champion and four-time medalist Sara Sargent, the Falcons haven't changed much.
They're still the same pack-strong crop of runners that clung to each other last year en route to a exceptional 28 second spread and state title. The only difference is they are a bit younger. Instead of Sara Sargent, the Falcons are led by her sister, sophomore Olivia Sargent, who handed her team the best time of the season on Oct. 25 at the District 1 Championships with a 17 minute, 57 second finish.
She was flanked by three other sophomores -- Hannah Molloy, Maddie Sauer and Meridith Twomey -- as well as senior Erica Gray, as the team scored a 45 second spread to finish second at the meet.
The same Unionville team that struggled late at Hershey last year, which was favored to win the title only to slump to second-place. Whatever you want to call it -- regret, revenge, salvation -- this currently ranked US#2 Indians team will have motivation in their mind once the gun goes off.
One interesting note to bear in mind: Pennsbury ran Hershey in September at the Foundation Invitational, maybe in some ways to get a better idea on how they will attack it at states. Unionville didn't. But then again, maybe that's strategy, too.
All Unionville did was trek to New York twice and defeat the seven-time defending NXN champions of Fayetteville-Manlius - twice - first at McQuaid, and then at Manhattan. They are a bit weakened by the recent mono diagnosis of senior Emily Fisher - but the team stepped up at District 1 to hold off a determined Pennsbury.
Of course, this race isn't solely between these two District 1 powerhouses. In a perfect world, Mount Lebanon would make a run at the title after its District 7 WPIAL championship on Oct. 24. The Blue Devils have two of the strongest runners in the state in sophomore Kelsey Potts (PA#4) and senior Jillian Hunsberger.
Some other interesting teams out of District 7 include North Allegheny, which in early October was ranked as high as No. 7 in PennTrackXC's team rankings, and Seneca Valley, which took a runner-up finish at the WPIAL championships behind a quality 41-second spread and take-charge race out of freshman Rachel Hensler.
And let's not forget District 3 champion Chambersburg, who will be on the course for the second time in 10 days after their title on Oct. 23. (Although the District 3 course excludes poop-out hill). Arguments tend to rise based on whether racing on the difficult Hershey course bodes well for a follow-up performance, but the Trojans are an experienced group led by three seniors in the team's top three.
Teams missing the cut after underperforming at district races will include District 1 contenders North Penn and Downingtown West, which made a surge in the team rankings early in the season.
Girls - Teams
Individually, Harvard commit Courtney Smith enters as the returning champion and leading contender. But she has company this year.
On the much-talked about Hershey course in 2012, the Unionville senior was consistent and steady, logging a final time and then-course record of 18:16. Smith came within a second of Kennedy Weisner's 2012 course record at McQuaid this year, winning the seeded race. Her time was the fastest on the day.
Smith's 2012 Hershey Parkview course record was broken earlier this season by Tessa Barrett of Abington Heights when she went 17:48 at the PIAA Foundation Gold Race. Barrett did not qualify in 2012 after injuring her leg during the slog-fest at Elk Lake high school's District 2 course. She has been on a tear since, setting the state record in the indoor 3000, and just taking runner-up to Smith in the AAA 3200 in May. Her course record 17:49 at District 2 won the AAA race by over two minutes.
Also setting a major league course record this season has been Shaler junior Brianna Schwartz, who blitzed the District 7 Cooper's Lake course in 17:52. Schwartz was 3rd in 2012. She won both the Pittsburgh Central Catholic Invite and Tri-State Coaches meet earlier this season. Schwartz finished outdoor with a state title in the 1600.
Rounding out the four favorites is Cumberland Valley sophomore Mady Clahane won last week's District 3 race (18:36) and is likely the most familiar on the course. She set a course record at the two-decade old Carlisle Invitational in late September, going 17:28 and beating a 2012 Foot Locker Finalist from West Virginia by over 30 seconds. Clahane was 4th in 2012.
Pennridge's Marissa Sheva is the returning runner-up, but after contracting mono a few weeks ago, is a question mark entering the race, although an 8th place finish in the deep District 1 field is a sign that she is on the recovering end of it.
Smith's Unionville teammate, Olivia Young, could surprise, too, especially after her second-place performance at the District 1 Championships (17:47).
Pottsville senior Paige Stoner is a three-time medalist who has the potential to contend, as does Mount Lebanon's Kelsey Potts and North Allegheny's Madeleine Davison.
And would it even surprise if former winner, Sara Sargent, showed up to encourage her sister, Olivia? The younger Sargent has the state's 10th fastest time and likely will be working on a large dose of adrenaline as the Falcons try to clinch their fourth straight team title.
Sometimes stories don't change, but the results certainly do. Year to year, expect the unexpected.
I. 1 Courtney Smith, Sr 17:18 5:35 Unionville
II. 1 Tessa Barrett, Sr 17:49 Abington Heights
III. 1 Mady Clahane, So 9:03 18:36 6:00 Cumberland Valley
IV. Compete in District 2
V. NO AAA
VI. 1 533 Emma Cousins State College Area 19:19.4
VII. 1 Brianna Schwartz, Jr 5:43 11:18 17:52 5:46 Shaler Area
VIII. 1 Elana Woodworh Obama Academy 22:32.40
IX. Compete in District 10
X. 1 Kelsey Swantek, Jr 3:06 6:09 13:06 20:26 6:35 McDowell
XI. 1 Paige Stoner, Sr 5:42 18:46 6:03 Pottsville Area
XII. 1 Mancini, Grace 10 Cardinal Ohara 19:34.46
482 1 1 Courtney Smith, Jr 5:34 11:34 18:16 5:54 Unionville (1)
540 2 Marissa Sheva, So 5:37 11:43 18:36 6:00 Pennridge (1)
662 3 Brianna Schwartz, So 5:35 11:43 18:39 6:01 Shaler Area (7)
560 4 2 Mady Clahane, Fr 5:34 11:43 18:40 6:01 Cumberland Valley (3)
641 5 3 Mary Malone, Jr 5:36 11:45 18:42 6:02 North Hills (7)
494 10 6 Erica Gray, Jr 5:38 11:50 18:53 6:05 Pennsbury (1)
492 12 8 Maddie Sauer, Fr 5:35 11:44 18:54 6:06 Pennsbury (1)
490 13 9 Olivia Sargent, Fr 5:35 11:44 18:56 6:06 Pennsbury (1)
483 14 10 Emily Fisher, Jr 5:51 12:02 18:58 6:07 Unionville (1)
703 16 Paige Stoner, Jr 5:35 11:43 19:02 6:08 Pottsville Area (11)
625 18 11 Jillian Hunsberger, Jr 5:37 11:49 19:08 6:10 Mount Lebanon (7)
680 19 12 Mikayla Stoudt, Fr 5:38 11:55 19:10 6:11 Parkland (11)
626 20 13 Kelsey Potts, Fr 5:37 11:56 19:11 6:11 Mount Lebanon (7)
498 21 14 Emory Griffin, Fr 5:37 11:51 19:12 6:11 Central Bucks West 1
499 22 15 Maddie Villalba, Fr 5:36 11:52 19:13 6:12 Central Bucks West 1
493 23 16 Hannah Molloy, Fr 5:41 11:57 19:17 6:13 Pennsbury (1)
696 24 Meredith Colton, Jr 5:37 11:59 19:19 6:14 Bangor (11)
486 25 17 Gretchen Mills, So 5:58 12:19 19:20 6:14 Unionville (1)