Cross Country season is once again upon us, and so it is time for the XC diehards at Milesplit to share with you our thoughts on the upcoming season. There are championships to defend and new champions to crown, and so what follows is our yearly attempt to inform you of those teams and individuals with the best chance of finishing atop the standings at the end of the season. Alas, this IS Cross Country, a sport in which anything can and will happen. It is also a sport in which a relative unknown can rise to the top in spectacular fashion, which is why we all love it. So read the previews, watch the races, and enjoy the pure beauty of the sport as the season unfolds.
AAA Girls Team
Emmaus girls return their entire top-5 from last year’s State Championship team, making them the clear favorite to be the first AAA girls’ team to win back-to-back titles since Hatboro-Horsham achieved the feat in the 2002 and 2003 cross country seasons. Emmaus returns seniors Lindsey Graybill (Left, narrowly missing 2nd to Latrobe star Natalie Bower in the 1600 at PIAA States) and Melissa Meade, along with junior sisters Amanda, Christina, and Brianna Faust. Despite their dominance on paper, three other teams are poised to make their own runs at a state title.
Cumberland Valley is the closest returner to Emmaus that returns a strong team, having all 7 runners back from last year, including sophomore Leigha Anderson (Right). Cumberland Valley runs strong year after year and will be ready to improve on last year’s 4th place finish. Downingtown East is also back with a strong line-up with senior Ashley Fornshell leading the charge of 6 returners.
Greater Latrobe is poised to make a big jump this year with 7 returners being led by Natalie Bower, as they seek a reprise the form that saw them win the 2005 championship race. The impact of three freshmen will have a big bearing on their state title run.
Council Rock North has a strong top-2 returning with Juliann Fricke and Lindsay Rheiner. Strath Haven returns a strong top-3 from last year and is capable of a top-5 finish in the state this year. Liberty rounds out the top 6 returning teams, led by the individual runner-up from last year, sophomore Jess Cygan. Liberty returns 3 additional runners from last year’s squad, and with a talented front-runner leading the way they could climb their way to a podium spot. They too are said to have a frosh or two who could change things dramatically. Pennsbury is also in the mix with 7 runners including Allison Ludwick and a talented freshman runner in Sara Sargent. Trinity and William Tennent could also be in the mix with 3 returning runners each.
AAA Girls Individual
Jess Cygan, the Liberty sophomore who made a big splash in last year’s championship race, is the top returner. Jess was the runner-up last year as a freshman with a time of 18:39.00. After a low-key track season and a lot of hard work over the summer, Jess should be ready to make an even bigger splash in this year’s XC season in her quest to win a state title. Cygan was 13th in the Foot Locker Northeast Regional, the top freshman in the race.
Greater Latrobe senior Natalie Bower has been quietly building an impressive high school resume, running consistently well season after season. Last track season saw her post an impressive 4:55.42 in the 1600 and an 11:01.45 3200 to break out as an elite runner in PA. Natalie should be a competitive force in this year’s championship race, using her experience to race toward a state championship. New Oxford senior Jordan Jenkins has spent the last several years training with recent graduate Neely Spence, soaking up the knowledge of what it takes to win, and patiently waiting for her chance to shine. In the 2008 track season Jordan ran a 10:45.87 3200 at the state meet and then went on to race the 5000 at the Nike Outdoor Championships, finishing with a time of 17:51.64. Jordan is among the elite few with a shot at winning a state title this year. Emmaus’ team leader Lindsey Graybill will be running for a team championship again in this year’s race, but she shouldn’t be counted out of the individual race, with a XC PR of 18:26.90, and a 1600 meter PR of 4:55.56 in last spring’s state meet. Graybill was edged by Latrobe’s Natalie Bower in the 1600 at States for 2nd.
A newcomer to the top-5 will be Chloe Schmidt, the State College sophomore who boasts a 2:12.47 800 as a frosh and a 5:00.79 mile that she ran at the Penn Relays Carnival. Chloe finished 130th in last year’s state championships race, but with her breakout track season expect her to be competitive in this year’s race. Other runners to watch as the season unfolds are Garden Spot’s Emily Martin(18:37.10 XC), Norwin’s Leslie Kovach(5:10.01 1600 and 10:56.75 3200), Cumberland Valley’s Leigha Anderson(18:39.00 XC), Peters Township’s Kayla Kendl(19:04.00 XC), Hempfield’s Amber Valimont(5:07.39 1600), Hampton’s Elaina Balouris(19:02.00 XC), Dallastown’s Emily Ballantyne(18:48.00 XC), and Emmaus’ Amanda Faust(18:45.00 XC).