Girls Class A and AA team contenders in place. AAA is a different story
After four weeks of the season, the title chases on the girls side have taken shape in the Class A and AA divisions. Class A is appearing to be a three horse race between Central Cambria, Elk Lake and champions Holy Cross. The squads represent last season’s top three and they have separated themselves from the rest of the division.
On Saturday, the first twist in the title race took place, as Elk Lake came away with a 78-93 victory over champions Holy Cross. Because they are district rivals, only time will tell exactly what this result exactly means. One thing is for sure is that the top two teams from a year ago are back in contention for the division’s ultimate prize. Across the state, Central Cambria have impressed in their two invitational wins this season at PTXC 6 and Forest Hills. The 3rd place finishers last season have had the core of that team return better than a year ago. Unless something dramatic takes place, many fans will look to one of these three teams to become champions come November 1.
The top of AA may not be as crowded as in Class A, but Villa Maria have been flying since the early part of September and they haven't looked back. Their win at PIAA Foundation in the Blue race was their most impressive win of the season, scoring a meet low 56 points. They had five runners under 21 minutes after none of their runners ran under 21:30 at this meet in 2013. They also ran away from their nearest challengers, Northwestern Lehigh by a large margin. There's still half a season to go, but Villa Maria have created some separation from their challengers.
Then you have AAA, where the challengers to the top two from 2013, Unionville and Pennsbury, have attempted to make their claim as the team that will give the NXN Finalists a run for their money. Central Bucks East started the season well with two wins to make their case. Cardinal O'Hara has won 3 in a row, including the Briarwood Championship and Saturday's PIAA Foundation gold race, with four runners breaking 20 minutes on the state course. Mount Lebanon won 3 straight before finishing 3rd in the same gold race.
But with Unionville and Pennsbury yet to compete at 5000 meters at an invitational at full strength, no one can really be sure what chances the chase pack have against the two most talented rosters in the state. Pennsbury will show their cards at the 3 mile McQuaid Invitational in New York this upcoming weekend, and then Paul Short the following Saturday. Those two performances by the 3 time champions and five time team medalists (top 2) will answer a lot of questions about the chase pack.
Boys sometimes don’t have their breakthrough race until their senior season
Two of the biggest performances of the 2014 season have come from senior boys who had yet to make their mark on the PA running landscape. Although they had achieved some success, their names did not sit on the tips of tongues of many fans. But after meet record performances, Colin Abert of Easton and Paul Power of Spring Ford are now title contenders.
Abert is the 2013 AAA cross country runner up and a medalist at 1600 meters. Yet Abert admitted after his 15:21 at PTXC 6 that he needed that big win to make a name for himself. Abert has sat at the top of the state since that performance and will have a chance to improve on that mark at the October 4th Paul Short Run.
On Saturday, the latest household name emerged in the PA cross country scene. Paul Power of Spring Ford ran with serious power (pun intended) on the difficult state meet course and beat state favorites Kevin James of Cardinal O'Hara and Jake Brophy of Central Bucks East in the process. Power ran 15:50, which is the 4th fastest time on the state course! Power is the first to break 16 minutes at the Foundation Invitational, with James being the 2nd (15:54). Prior to that, Power was a top ten finisher at district 1 and a finalist in the 1600 meters, but missed the stand.
Abert and Power are the latest of examples of boys who don't run their big break though race until later in their careers. The majority of the strength at the top of the state on boys side is occupied by seniors who have gained a lot of experience and have become stronger physically as they get older. Half of the AAA top ten finishers at states last year were seniors. A majority of track medalists in the distance events were also seniors.
Now that they have that break through, what can they do with it? Confidence should not be a problem and everyone should stay tuned to follow how they perform for the rest of this season.
And for the underclassmen who have big aspirations, stay patient, for your time will come, just like it has for Abert and Power.
Friends Central and Germantown Friends will be fun to watch
Friends Central are coming off a victory at the George School Invitational thanks to the front running ability of Gabrielle Wilkinson. Wilkinson was the individual winner of that race, and they earned victories over some of their league and Independent school rivals. Wilkinson has inspired a big improvement in the Friends Central team. At the end of last season, the squad only had one sub 21 minute runner on the roster. Already this season, the team has four, with two under 20 minutes, and one more just 6 seconds above 21 minutes.
The team they are chasing are the perennial powerhouse in the Independent School division. Germantown Friends contain a squad that is full of talent and experience. Their squad has seen a lot of improvement as well this season, as they have 3 sub 20 minute runners compared to last season's zero. They also have a superstar in Sarah Walker who has fully dedicated her fall to cross country this season. Brigid Anderson brings additional experience, having won an All American certificate in indoor track in the 4xmile.
The matchup between two top talents representing the #1 spot on their respective teams, combined with great improvement in both camps should set up for some fun head to head match ups in the coming weeks. Stay tuned to PennTrackXC to follow this Friends School rivalry!