Champions Tunkhannock took full advantage of their junior and senior filled varsity seven to knock off the 2012 champions Pottsgrove at the state meet last season. Tunkhannock do return the top two from that title win (Jack Tidball and Jacob Toczko), but only one other varsity runner comes back, which means holes will need to be filled in order to defend the title.
Finding ways to fill the spots left behind by graduating seniors is a common theme of last season’s top three AA teams. Runners up Pottsgrove return the front end and back end of their pack running group, but will have to fill the holes left in between them. Bronze medalists South Fayette will have a totally fresh top seven with the exception of one runner. How will these teams fill these gaps? Can a team fill 4 or more gaps well enough to make another title challenge?
The other teams in last season’s top five have that important ingredient of senior leadership that they didn’t have last season that kept them on the outside of the title picture. District 2 squad Scranton Prep will return all seven varsity runners who will all be entering their final season. Kyle Perry is a returning state medalist for a team that came so close to beating the champions at the District 2 championship. They will enter that race as the favorite this time around, and will be a strong contender to keep the state title in District 2.
Grove City Area brings back their top three runners, including the senior duo of Ryan Budnik and Aaron Benka, who scored five team points between them. As top ten returners in the state entering this season, they may be able to duplicate, or even improve, on that mark. That may require the rest of varsity team to close the gap on the two of them to stay in the hunt. At the state meet, their 1:40 spread was the widest out of the top five teams.
Holy Ghost Prep has been a state qualifier in the AAA division out of District 1 in the recent past, but did not qualify as a team on their first attempt last season. Five of their top seven from last season, including Christian Kardish, have moved on, leaving two varsity runners to keep the ship afloat. Last season’s loss to Pottsgrove in the District 1 final was due to Pottsgrove beating Holy Ghost at their own game with better pack running (34 seconds to 45 seconds). Holy Ghost have the returning pieces to keep that strategy in place, with their top five returning carrying personal bests within a minute of each other.
Palmyra bring back a group of runners who haven’t experienced the state meet, but have six of their seven coming back with the 3rd best 1-5 spread in District 3. Ezra Daniel does have state meet experience that can help this veteran squad. Knoch just missed out on the state meet by 4 points last season, but return three runners that competed at states. Annville-Cleona had a tough end of the season in 2013, but six of their top seven will be seniors who will come back and challenge district rivals York Suburban, who also return six of their top seven. Former AA champions Quaker Valley brings back five of their top seven from their 6th place finish. Zack Skolnekovich is a state medalist and will lead the district 7 favorites this season.
Villa Maria Academy from District 10 have impressed in stages in the past two years on the cross country course and on the track. A young group that features state cross country medalists and state relay champions, Villa Maria have recorded some big victories. What’s missing from the trophy case, however, is a cross country state title, and 2014 could be the year that gap gets filled in. The whole varsity seven is back from a 3rd place state finish and a Tri States league championship. They had the best 1-5 spread in the AA division last season and they have a roster that can have a different number 1 runner from race to race. Bernadette Pritchard has been their number 1 runner in stretches along with Grace Trucilla and Claire Brown. With four seniors on the varsity team, is their time now?
Last season’s runner up, Archbishop Wood, will have a solid team returning despite the graduation of their top three. The team’s squad depth will be tested this season, with several junior varsity runners having to step in and fill the gaps left behind. Can the district 12 champions repeat last year’s best finish in their program’s history?
State champions Dallas will enter the new season in a similar situation as Wood. Two time Foot Locker Finalist Regan Rome has moved on and passed the torch to her sister Ally. Lindsay and Riley Oremus will support Ally during their title defense, where the squad depth will be tested. Ally Rome’s big spring season combined with the Oremus sisters will keep them in the hunt for a repeat. Scranton Prep will be looking to challenge the champions in 2014 after missing out on the state meet by one point behind North Pocono. Scranton Prep bring back their top six that had the best 1-5 spread in District 2 last season.
York Suburban were a top five team last season with two sophomores and two juniors leading the way. They got the best of 2012 champions and district 3 rivals Palmyra last season, who have now moved on to AAA. Olivia Gettle and Emma Leik were rock solid leaders for York Suburban in 2013. Can they continue that form and make a bigger impact at the state meet?
Northwestern Lehigh had a top runner in Haley Yost help them to a 4th place finish. Yost has since graduated and the rest of the varsity squad will look to keep her graduation from hitting the team hard. Seniors Carly Pierce and Rachele Cerrone will be given the task to fill her large spikes. District rivals Blue Mountain missed the state meet by 2 points with a team that had the best spread in District 11. The top six from that group are back this season with four of them entering their junior campaigns. Wilson Area tipped Blue Mountain to states, and they will have a young squad of five returning underclassmen back for the new season.
Danville have star Mackenzie Jones back to lead the dominant District 4 champions this season that will feature five returning varsity runners from last year’s 6th place finish. Nazareth Academy will have to battle it out with league and district rivals Gwynedd-Mercy Academy for an opportunity to go to the state meet. Both teams graduate one senior, meaning squad depth may be the deciding factor to who represents District 1 in Hershey.