It has been a wild week of district competition, with every team and every athlete laying it all on the line for the opportunity to qualify for the state meet or end their season on a high note. Now that the qualifiers are set, PennTrackXC looks back at the week that was and all the entertainment it provided for the fans.
West Chester Henderson’s rise
No one would have to apologize if they said at the start of the season that AAA boys state champions West Chester Henderson were not going to be likely candidates to repeat as champions with six of the seven members of the title winning team now in college. But a 4th place finish at Carlisle, a 4 point defeat at their league meet, and a 2nd place finish at District 1 on Friday have put the champions back in position to contend for another title. Henderson placed four in the top 18 overall in the district final to set up their 2nd place finish behind Conestoga. Their Achilles’ heel, like most teams in AAA, is consistency from the number 5 position. Nonetheless, this Henderson team that only had one member back from the title team (Alex Knapp) has a chance. In a big meet like states, an improvement from the back end of the team to compliment the excellence the front four have been displaying recently could do the trick.
State races will have some big individual title favorites
With the performances from the likes of Brianna Schwartz of Shaler Area, Marianne Abdalah of Vincentian Academy, Colin Abert of Easton, and Griffin Molino of South Williamsport this season, they have run appeared to run away from the chase pack and prove to be too tough to beat at Saturday’s state meet. Some may think that may be a surprise considering some of the amazing talent that’s on display in the state on a weekly basis.
As their district performances would suggest, they were all big and comfortable winners while taking everyone’s best shot. Also, when you look at their respective seasons, it’s hard not to think that they may be unbeatable. Abert and Schwartz have set two course/meet records this season, while Molino and Abdalah have been at the top of the state in their respective divisions for almost the entire season. Ally Rome of Dallas and Dominic Hockenbury of Lake Lehman will be slight favorites in AA, but will have their hands full in trying to become champion.
This could set up nicely for some historic performances, as the elite of PA look to leave their mark in the history books on the difficult Hershey course. But as they say, they don’t run races on paper.
Top teams finding their form at the right time
At the district meets, most teams will hope to have their best race to build up momentum before states. We saw several teams during the week who managed to achieve just that.
Girls Class A squads Holy Cross and Central Cambria produced comfortable victories in their respective district meets, with Holy Cross earning a 2nd straight win over rivals Elk Lake. Central Cambria continue to have their top four in top form heading to their head to head match up with Holy Cross. One more big performance for the group will be essential to their title hopes against the champs. Cardinal O’Hara girls are ready to play the role of underdog against Pennsbury and champions Unionville after sweeping the District 12 meet with a ten second spread from 19:30 to 19:40. With only one senior on the squad going against two veteran squads, the Lady Lions will have everything to gain after a season full of excellent team performances. District 1 AA team Pottsgrove won their 3rd straight district title with another impressive team performance, and have put themselves in the mix to challenge D3 AA champions York Suburban and D10 champions Grove City, who nearly swept their district meet. Pottsgrove won the state title two years ago and will relish the chance to play underdog against York Suburban, who have been excellent all season.
These performances will give these teams tons of confidence heading into Saturday’s state meet. Knowing that every member of the team is running well before they head to a tough course will give each runner belief that they can face the challenge of the season in Hershey. Everyone will need to find a way to make it happen if they want to top the podium.
Malvern finds a way to win
The Malvern Prep boys team have enjoyed a successful run as the top team in the state for the majority of the season with very few bumps. On Saturday, they had to defend their Independent School state championship, and they had to grind it out against Germantown Friends without their top runner Jaxson Hoey, who was out due to injury. With the number 6 and 7 runners now having to step up in a big race, Malvern’s character was tested on Saturday.
They took Germantown Friends best shot, with the Tigers placing three in front of Malvern’s three and their five were in before Malvern’s 5 by 24 seconds. But Malvern’s 4 and 5 runners were able to stay within three places of GFS’ 4th and 5th runners. That supported with a big performance from Jaxson’s brother Josh (2nd) and the leadership of senior Billy McDevitt (3rd), the state leaders edged out a 6 point win.
Malvern repeated as state champions when the team was going through its roughest patch of the season with an injury to one of PA’s best runners. The character of the team came through against adversity and a team that was hungry to knock them down for the first time this season. You can add grit and determination to define Malvern’s 2014 season.