Welcome to The Final K – post- weekend stories and notes on athletes, teams, coaches and races to be published mid-week during the 2008 cross country season.
Foot Locker Northeast & Nike Teams Nationals Northeast: Nov 29 – NXN NE: North Allegheny knew they were good this year. Now everyone else does too. | NXN NE: Emmaus came within 30 seconds of Portland - but Graybill gives the team a reason to smile | FL NE: Ziemian, Kovach, Zarger and Cygan tell their Foot Locker Northeast stories... | FL NE: Nothing can come between these friends – not even their bittersweet finishes at Foot Locker NE
PIAA State Champs: Nov 1 – Ten Video Interviews | Joe Beveridge turns nerves into title #2 | North Penn just did what the coaches told them they could do – win. | State Championship race summaries | Jayson Jackson did the call for the PIAA from the Aloha Hills - and it changed his perspective. | Natalie Bower-Sophia Ziemian-North Allegheny: Turning unmet goals into new opportunities.
Districts Week: Oct 22-25 – Eight podcast Interviews from District 1, 2, 4 and 11.
Week #8: Oct 14-18 – In his 2nd year of XC, Rad Gunzenhauser is a quick study.
Week #7: Oct 11 – North Penn gets a kick out of soccer. Twice.
Week #6: Oct 4 – 2nd year harrier Katie Gorman has a crush on running | It's a twin thing. But every runner will empathize. | She's a sprinter. She's a distance runner. No, she's both. Meet Mary Dell.
Week #5: Sept 27 – Bower and Kovach like the Carlisle course. But their real inclination is for the hills. | Video Interviews from Carlisle | Ryan Gil emerges to lead North Allegheny at Carlisle. But it's only a beginning. |
Week #4: Sept 20 – Sophia and Kiah have different last names. But don't let that fool you. | Lower Merion Cross Country just does their thing | Lauren Zarger is really fast. Probably faster than she thinks. | New coach, same results at Liberty.
Week#3: Sept 13 – No vote this year. Laura Antinucci (Hallanan) is a member of the Roman Catholic team. | This year, Jimmy Tarsnane plans to make his own breaks. | Elizabeth Simpson: Running to the beat of a different runner | Downingtown East: A program with depth, and high expectations.
Week#2: Sept 6 – Cumberland Valley was hiding in plain sight. Again. | Holy Ghost Prep matures into a contender, and their #1 into a frontrunner. | Role reversal for 3 Latrobe seniors - but outcome may be the same.
Jayson Jackson did the call for the PIAA from the Aloha Hills - and it changed his perspective.
Editor's Note: PennTrackXC correspondent Jayson Jackson did the text-back on the race progress to the PIAA announcer at the finish... and he walked away impressed with the impact of the Aloha Hills on the races. It was a race-changer on all levels and in all races.
I will admit after seeing and running on the Aloha Hills, I didn't give them their just due until I saw what happens when you have to actually race through that section. For some it made their dreams come true of winning a state title, and for others it was a nightmare.
PIAA photo below by Don Rich.
All other photos by Megan Clugh for PennTrackXC.com
After seeing Leah Anne Wirfel (Forest Hills) race at the District 6 meet I knew she would give Sophia Ziemian (Lewisburg) a tough race for the state title. And she didn't disappoint. After crossing the bridge together and began to head up the first hill, Wirfel inched ahead as they went out of view. But when they came around to the 2-mile marker, Ziemian had a lead she would never relinquish. Not only did it decide the champion, but it also had places 3-4-5 scrambling in their wake. Kayleigh Perry (Eastern Lebanon), Lindsay Kerr (Northwestern Lehigh), and Lauren Zarger (Harbor Creek) were in a tight pack as they headed up the next set of hills with their eyes set on Wirfel as Ziemian was building her lead.
When they crossed the bridge for the last time, Ziemian was on her way to victory, and I wondered if Wirfel would be able to hold off the charge of Perry and Kerr as they had created a gap on Zarger. And when I saw the finish results, things stayed pretty true to form.
A pack of 8 girls or so crossed the bridge together, but the hills made sure it didn't stay that way. As they started to climb up the hill, Natalie Bower (Greater Latrobe) began to press the pace and lead the pack to the top... as the rest of the pack followed. When they emerged into view, Jess Cygan (Liberty) was now leading and everyone else was giving chase. I was scrambling to look for the names of the people I didn't recognize such as Kayla Keddal (Peters Township) who was having a great race because it was so wide open. The second hill did more damage as the pack spread out even more. Cygan was still leading as they crossed the bridge, but Leslie Kovach (Norwin) was in hot pursuit. By the look in Kovach's eyes I knew she was going to make it interesting over the last half mile.
Then I saw a second girl from Norwin, Jenna Gigliotti, and it looked like there could be a huge shakeup in the team standings as well. Then right after Gigliotti passed, three Latrobe runners went by, Mary Jo Jakubek, Bower, and Abby Hewitt. Add that with the fact only Lindsay Graybill (Emmaus) had passed to that point, it looked as if the team standings would be closer than what everyone expected.
But there was still the hill left before the finish...and the Emmaus triplets (Amanda Faust, Brianna Faust, and Christina Faust) were charging hard.
When they crossed the bridge for the first time, Jim Spisak (Bishop McCort) and Joe Beveridge (Bishop McDevitt) were in tight battle, Alfred Santana (Nueva Eseranza) was close behind and slightly ahead of a strong chase pack that included Alex Beardsley (Northeast), Sam Havko (Fairview), Alex Brazinski (Elk County Catholic), Adam Shrawder (West Middlesex) and Dylan Klein (Northeast). As they came back into sight, Spisak and Beveridge were still dueling at two miles with Santana right behind them as they now had 6 seconds on Shrawder, Brazinski, and Havko, and eight seconds to Beardsely, and 11 and 12 to Baumgartner and Klein, respectively.
After the next hill, everything stayed pretty much the same with Beardsley, Baumgartner and Klein closing down on Havko, Brazinskis and Shrawder to form a nice tight pack as they chased the three leaders. Beverdige and Spisak were able to put some ground on the field, making it a two-horse race, as Santana was very comfortably in third. But when they crossed the bridge and went up the short, but steep incline to the dirt road, Beveridge opened up a 2 step gap on Spisak.
As I ran to see the finish results, I thought Spisak would storm back and it would be a thrilling run down the stretch. But I wasn't even close. Beveridge powered his way to his second state title, and the effect of the hills were seen as places 2-9 were completely jumbled from what I had seen 800m earlier.
Jimmy Tarsanne (Perikomen Valley) dominated the hills in such a way that I thought he must have ridden a motorcycle on that part of the course. He looked very strong and in command as he crossed the bridge for the first time as the chase pack kept him in their sights. Lower Merion's Ben Furcht and Neal Berman were leading the pack as Brad Miles (North Penn) Robert Micikas (Crestwood), Bud Plaszenski (Dubois Area), Will Kellar (West Chester Henderson), Daniel Krystek (Gateway), Reece Ayers (Tunkhannock) followed behind them chasing the streaking Tarsanne.
When Tarsanne approached two miles he looked even better than when he went up the first hill. Ben Furcht had broken away from the chase pack and was not eating into Tarsanne's lead which I was even more impressed with, because Tarsanne was running with such ease. The chase pack was splintered and it looked as if it was going to be a crazy last 1000m meters. When Tarsanne crossed the bridge he looked unaffected by the hills, but Furcht was now only 10 meters down and everyone else was starting to make the final charge. Kellar and Krystek were moving with ease as the rest of the pack they were with earlier seemed to be showing signs of the hills. Also, to note I saw the light blue jerseys of North Penn (Brad Miles and Sam Bernitt), with Ryan Gill (North Allegheny) keeping them in contact.
As I headed to the finish, I wondered where Furcht would catch Tarsanne and would they push push runners to a sub-16 time. But when I heard the rumblings of the last hill, I found out Tarsanne winning was never in doubt, but Furcht paid the price of his hard mid-race surge and Kellar was able to move up to second place.
The hills did something different to everyone on Saturday, especially me, as I now have truly seen the effects they can have when racing.
By Kimberly Jaick Soden
North Penn was looking forward to the Cracker Barrel. After all, it's becoming a tradition. That’s where the team went last year after winning the 2007 Class 3A boys state championship.
“Last year we were supposed to win where this year we came in with less pressure,” said senior Tim Stauring, the team’s No. 4 runner. North Penn left Hershey with a 92 point total; good enough to ease past runner-up LaSalle College (125) and one of the favorites, North Allegheny (126 points).
Juniors Brad Miles and Sam Bernitt led the charge for North Penn on Saturday, finishing seventh and 10th, respectively, to help secure the repeat. No. 3 man Brian Quintrell, a senior, wasn’t too far out of the medals, finishing 31st overall.
“Our coaches told us before we went over to the line that they knew we could do it and said, ‘see you at the finish,’” Quintrell said. “The plan was to do what we’d been doing all season and to trust our training. We were confident, but we knew we had to race.”
The team, which will lose its third through sixth runners, has been a long time in the making for head coach Ron Jaros.
“We had teams in the past who had four guys, but this past couple of years we’ve had at least five guys, actually six,” he said. “We just needed five guys who could do the scoring.”
Jaros was also pleased with the strong showing by his top two guys.
“Brad has been consistent and right where I thought he’d be,” Jaros said. “It’s Sam’s first year out and he’s liked cross country ever since Briarwood,” where North Penn finished second to West Windsor Plainsboro North of New Jersey.
Part of the trip to the Cracker Barrel included deciding whether or not to continue into the post-season, which could include a trip to the Nike Cross Country National Northeast Regional championship later this month in Wappingers Falls, N.Y.
By Kimberly Jaick Soden
It was difficult to talk to Joe Beveridge after he won his second straight Class 2A boys state championship on Saturday. The Bishop McDevitt senior was surrounded by too many fans.
“They were spread all over the course cheering me on,” he said.
But that’s to be expected when you’re the defending state champ. And despite some pre-race jitters, Beveridge didn’t disappoint in earning gold No. 2. His titles followed much-improved finishes from his freshman and sophomore years when he finished 37th and 21st, respectively.
“I dreamt a little bit about what could happen in the race,” he said. “I was a little nervous when I got up there at the start, but I was confident in my training. When I stepped on the line I knew I could win this.”
Beveridge had his eye on guys like bronze medalist Jim Spisak, a senior from Bishop McCort as the race unfolded.
“I looked at it based on who the leaders were,” he said. “I knew I had to pick it up before the end. I knew that when I got to the last hill that I had to run hard. It’s easy to give up, but you have to push through that.”
Next up for Beveridge, who is undecided about his college plans, will be the Foot Locker Northeast Regional championship, where he’ll make his case for a national berth. Also planning to run is Class 3A state champ Jim Tarsnane, a senior from Perkiomen Valley.
Tarsnane, who is looking at Division I schools Iona, NC State, Syracuse and LaSalle (he wants to major in management and open his own restaurant one day), will also be fighting for one of the spots to the national meet.
Eight Podcast Interviews from Districts 1, 2, 4 and 11.
Click on the text below for the Podcast player...
From D2: Kristin Schafer (Crestwood) and Matt Samuel (Dallas) - From D4: Shawn Lake (Sayre), Shannon Wright (Lewisburg) and Mark Sundberg (Lewisburg) - From D11: Dan Wessner (Emmaus) - From D1: Ben Furcht (Lower Merion) and Katie Gorman (Plymouth Whitemarsh)
There are two lessons that are important for a distance runner to learn. First, to forget the last race; and secondly; to never forget the last race.
On the surface, yes. But to 2nd year distance runner Rad (short for Radford) Gunzenhauser, it is the reason he is succeeding so quickly in a sport that he never imagined he'd be in.
When Rad began his freshman year at Mount Lebanon, he considered himself to be a basketball player. But he had a painful knee disease that is somewhat common in young athletes... mostly in those who run and jump. Anyone who has had Osgood-Schlatters disease (me included) can testify that the pain in not pleasant.
Gunzenhauser was too late for cross country, and with Osgood-Schlatters he was not running anywhere. But he did try out for basketball and did not make the team. "I'm glad I got cut now, because it's definitely working out."
The Osgood-Schlatters generally goes away with growth and as the tendons become stronger. Too late for basketball, but in plenty of time for track.
Gunzenhauser had a pretty good season as a freshman. He ran 4:44 in the 1600 and decided that distance running was definitely in his future.
His sophomore year, he went out for cross country. And his progress during the season was steady and dramatic.
At the 2007 Boathouse Red, White & Blue Classic, he was 6th man for Lebo and 31st in the race at 17:10. A week later at Slippery Rock, he moved up to 2nd man on the team with a 29th place 17:34. He was 2nd man at Carlisle later that month, dipping under 17 by two seconds. Gunzenhauser then plateaued a bit at the next two meets, Pittsburgh Central Catholic and Tri-States.
But he rebounded by scoring as Lebo's 3rd man at WPIAL's (District 7 for those of you outside of southwest PA), going 17:17 and getting 39th overall.
It was a PR, but Gunzenhauser saw a missed opportunity. Actually, two missed opportunities. And he learned from both.
"Four people passed me in the last 20 meters, and if they didn't pass me, my team would have gone to states."
Just as hard to digest was the fact that in those final 20 meters he lost his individual chance of going to his first state meet. He missed by one person and just two seconds.
Gunzenhauser took two things away from the experience. "I had no regrets on that moment, because I had nothing left." He also resolved to train harder so that he was nowhere near the cut-off when the opportunity arose again.
After a PR of 4:29 in track at WPIAL's, he rededicated himself to getting ready for cross country. Peaking at about 70 miles a week this past summer, he came into the season with higher expectations.
Gunzenhauser opened this season with a huge PR of 16:00 at the Boathouse Red, White & Blue Classic, moving up to 1st man on the team, and taking 2nd overall to Gateway's Daniel Krystek. Rad says he went out a little too fast in that race, but was still pleased with 2nd. He started to think more about race strategy.
A week later, armed with increased confidence, Rad won the Slippery Rock Invitational in muddy conditions, going 16:46.
He would finish 20th in the loaded Carlisle Invitational field while maintaining his #1 man status on Mount Lebanon. A week later, Gunzenhauser would return to Schenley Oval in Pittsburgh to take 6th overall in the Central Catholic meet.
And that's where Rad would really learn his pacing lesson. "I got to the the last 600-800 of the race and lost to five people."
What he learned was where the pain hits and what he might be able to do to make his overall race stronger. "It (the pain) hits you at a certain point, and you have to be ready for that. If you pace yourself better, the pain will not his you as hard, and you'll be able to fight through it."
Rad would only have to wait two weeks to test his new strategy.
For Tri-States, he set a target of 5:10 for the mile. He hit 5:11, and was just off the pace in the 2nd chase pack, right beside Baldwin speedster T.J. Hobart. He was also with North Allegheny's 5th and 6th men, but the first four were within his sights. Over the 2nd mile, Gunzenhauser would begin to move. As he went up the incline before the 2-mile mark, he was in 3rd place just behind North Allegheny's Will Appman and Ryan Gil. (In photo above left)
In the last 800, Gil passed his teammate, Appman, and then Gunzenhauser moved up on Appman.(In photo below) As Rad rounded the final turn through the castle (you have to go there to see this thing), he was in 2nd and chasing Gil. He would finish 2 seconds back in a 41-second PR on the course in 16:05.
The lessons of the first part of the season were well-learned. "I wanted to have something left for the last 800 today, and I definitely did."
Now Gunzenhauser will take aim on helping his team get to the state meet by finishing as far up as possible this Thursday at Cooper's Lake in the District 7 meet. He's particularly impressed with the freshmen who have made an immediate impact for Lebo. Alex Moran scored as 5th man at Tri-States.
Rad will have plenty of confidence going into the final part of the season. That's the part about races you want to remember. "I ran down Will Appman and I was racing Ryan Gil, so that was good," he reflected.
But that's history. And as Gunzenhauser would tell you, only the good parts are worth repeating.
North Penn gets a big kick out of soccer. Twice.
Cross country begets indoor track. Indoor track begets outdoor track. Outdoor track begets cross country.
For most distance runners, it's a cycle that is unbroken. But at North Penn, it is more. It is a way of life. It's a cycle of training, and racing and challenges, all designed to have teams and individuals racing their best when it counts. Whether on the cross country courses of fall... or around the 200 or 400 meter ovals that occupy their winters and springs.
At North Penn, it's also a cycle of winning.
In track, the North Penn boys own the 4x800 in Pennsylvania. 2008 saw the school reach an unbelievable 8th consecutive Championship of America final at the Penn Relays Carnival. And over the past 13 years, they have claimed the PIAA AAA state title in their signature event nine times, the first of which was in 1996. There were very near misses dotting three of the other four years where they weren't on the top of the podium.
In cross country over that time, they have looked great on paper, but never quite seemed to reach that level of success. That is, until last season.
Coming off another great spring, then-seniors Zack Montijo and Zach Hoagland, were the energy and the steadiness of the 2007 squad. Over that summer, they had recruited a promising rising sophomore to join the cross country team. The fact that the runner was a soccer player who really loved that sport, made little difference. They recognized talent and they persuaded Brad Miles (Above in PennTrackXC photo from Manhattan Invitational) to simply train with them over the summer to get in shape for soccer, which, as we all know now, actually turned out to be cross country.
"They didn't harass him" relates head coach Ron Jaros. "They just talked to him and got him to do the summer workouts, and all of a sudden he fell in love with it."
Miles left the nets behind for good and would finish the season as the #2 guy on the state championship cross country team, running a PR of 15:24 the week prior at the District 1 champs.
With Montijo and Hoagland gone this year, Miles was the youngest returner on a team which also had four seniors back from the varsity seven. But the spikes of their former team leaders would be hard to fill.
No problem. Just find another talented soccer player to fill in the gap.
(SR Tim Stauring and first-year XC runner Sam Bernitt cross the bridge at Vanny.)
Fortunately there was just such a talent on the spring track team. As Miles tells it, it was the entire team who managed to persuade Sam Bernitt to – and here's the trap any soccer player should watch for – to join the cross country team's summer workouts.
It seems innocent enough. But the sport can get in your blood quickly.
Jaros says that Bernitt was still undecided right up until the first day of practice for cross country. For his part, Bernitt was not sure he'd make varsity soccer. What's more, he was have a lot of fun with the training. But on August 11th, 2008, Sam made the identical decision that fellow junior Brad Miles had a year earlier. He would become a cross country runner.
"He (Bernitt) started out 4th or 5th for us early," says Jaros. But then something happened to turn this newly minted harrier from just a talented participant, into an avid competitor. What happened to Bernitt was "Parachute Hill."
Jaros says that was the breakthrough day, because Bernitt not only ran a stellar 16:18, but he finished the race and told his coach, "I love that hill."
Bernitt says he finds cross country a lot tougher than soccer. "Soccer is just easy and fun. This is a lot of hard work."
But he also finds the rewards of cross country more immediate and predictable. "Practice carries over to the races. If you tractice hard, then you'll race well," he says.
Brian Quintrell, SR, is a vet of the 4x800 wars and recent XC success.
It's a good thing Barnitt does like hills, because hills are an important part of the North Penn cross country training. Not to mention the state championship course at Hershey.
Jaros says they don't do 'hill work,' as most teams define it. "Across the street from the high school, we have a double loop with all kinds of hills. And there are other places, too" Jaros says. "We incorporate the hills in the long runs."
They also incorporate hills into their racing.
With the state course even more hilly than its predecessors, North Penn took two road trips in preparation during the invitational portion of the season. Their conference and district course is the flat Lehigh University layout, so it was off to Brandywine State Park in Delaware and Van Cortlandt Park in New York City on the first two Saturdays of October, in search of hills.
Each road trip can be considered a success. And both showed that Miles was well on his way back from an early spring stress fracture that sidelined him for the entire outdoor season.
"I came back slow, and just started ramping up training in the end of August," said Miles.
He considers his first race "back" as Carlisle, where he was 2nd by just three seconds to Carlisle's Kyle Hurston.
SR Dom Camasso has been running top five for North Penn all season.
A week later, it was a rematch with Hurston and his Carlisle teammates at the Salesianum Invitational on the very hilly Brandywine Park course. "Salesianum (DE) was a great day" says Miles. "I knew Kyle Hurston was going to be there, and I wanted a little revenge."
Miles says the two pushed each other the entire race. The resulting times of 16:20 for Miles and 16:25 for Hurston were the 3rd and 5th fastest ever run on the well-traveled course. The 1:00 spread was impressive on such a difficult course behind an all-time mark. Even more impressive was the 6th man was just six second back from the fifth.
A week later, North Penn found themselves in New York City at the famed Van Cortlandt Park for the huge Manhattan Invitational. The 2.5 mile race gives runners all the back hills, but just shortens the flats by six-tenths of a mile.
For the first year in its history, the race incorporated the Eastern States Boys' Championships, which had historically resided in a meet a week later. But Coach Jaros chose to put his team in one of the unseeded varsity races to keep the pressure off; especially with their conference and district and state meets all occupying the next three weekends.
SR Brian Kuntzman has been seconds from #5, and could make the difference should someone ahead falter.
While it made the traffic at the front much less crowded, Miles said its advantages also had a flip side. "I like getting pushed. I run a lot better. I knew my teammates were right behind me, so it was kinda like a dual meet, but it was fun."
That sounds like the exact non-pressurized atmosphere that Jaros was attempting to create.
But the team average time of 13:04.23 turned out to be the 2nd fastest of the day – faster than the winner of the Eastern States race by seven-tenths of a second, but just under five seconds slower per man than the 4th place team in the seeded race.
"Salesianum and Manhattan are preparation for States," says Jaros. "Salesianum has lot of hills, long grades, sharp, quick inclines. This one, (Vanny) you have to get out quick because it gets narrow, then hills in the back, and you have to sprint at the end."
Jaros says their course selection gets them ready for all aspects of racing, "so they can run with the speed guys, and can work with the hills."
Carlisle was one of those fast courses. But the race didn't turn out exactly as the team – then ranked #1 in PA – thought it would. "That was a big shocker meet," says Miles. "It brought us down a little bit and it showed us we needed to start training harder."
When Miles says 'us', he literally means the varsity.
If the 2007 team followed the passionate and steady leadership of Montijo and Hoagland, then this team is succeeding with a different style.
"It's all about them this year," says Jaros."
For his part, Miles feels he and his team are getting stronger every week. "Hopefully, we'll peak for States," Miles says. "And hopefully after States, we'll be good, too."
But that's story for the second half. Ahh, did I say half? I meant another 'day'. This is cross, not soccer. But oh man, has soccer been good to North Penn's cross country team, or what?.
She's a sprinter. She's a distance runner. No, she's both. Meet Mary Dell.
As Shippensburg redshirt sophomore Mary Dell races towards the line at the end of a cross country race, she hears her mom yell "you're a sprinter."
The Shippensburg women's cross country website bio on Mary says her specialty is "Sprints".
Mary herself answers the question, "are you a distance runner now?" with a slight pause and then a chuckle: "I guess I'm a distance runner. It's still a little weird. Mid-distance maybe."
It's no wonder that the 2006 Boiling Springs grad isn't entirely sure how she should be labeled.
She started and finished her high school career as a sprinter.
We mean a real sprinter. As a sophomore, she won the AA state championship in the 200 meter DASH in 25.39 (Photo to left). That same meet, she was 2nd in the 100 meter DASH in 12.54. Injured her junior year, she came back as a senior and won her second individual state title, DASHING through 100 meters in a wind-aided 12.11. She also ran 24.82w to get 2nd in the 200. (Photo to lower right)
So when Dell selected Shippensburg University, her coaches thought of her as a sprinter.
Dell entered college with some big goals. She wanted to go to nationals and to earn all-American certificates. But her 100 and 200 times, while good, motivated her coaches to move her toward the 400 as a freshman. She had run 57.28 in high school, so the thinking was that with some additional strength work, she might be able to get that down significantly.
She just missed qualifying for the NCAA meet in the 400 that freshman year, which meant instead of a road trip, she got a trip to be on the hurdle crew at the PIAA T&F Champs at Ship Memorial Day Weekend.
As Ship Distance Coach Steve Spence tells it, they received a call from Head Coach Dave Osanitsch that Friday during the meet, informing Mary that it had taken 54 seconds just to make the final of the 400. "Her eyes just got big when she heard 54," Spence says.
Mary took it all in, and as she thought about the almost insurmountable span between her PR and 54 seconds, she came up with a solution. "She approached me and said that she wanted to move up to the 800 next year," Spence relates. "Then she followed that by saying 'do you think that cross country would help me get ready'?"
While pleased with the prospects of gaining another distance runner. Spence told her it might be best to try mid-distance before any real distance. After all, she had been a field hockey player and pure sprinter in high school (with a very short foray into two races on the 4x800 at 2:30 and better). But having observed Dell's analytical approach to training and her work ethic, Spence knew Dell had the mindset of a distance runner.
And the experiment began.
It didn't take long before that experiment took on a whole different tone. During the summer, Spence got a call from an 'excited' Mary. She had just run a 5:21 road mile in Harrisburg, and told him it was "fun and easy."
"That definitely got my attention," Spence says.
He purposefully did not bring her to cross country camp early, but one of the first things he did when she showed up for her sophomore year was have her sign the NCAA paperwork for cross country. Preliminary plans were made to try Dell out in the 400 hurdles and to transition to the 800. Cross country workouts would be designed to build endurance. Through the first three workouts, Dell would sit out a few, but was running with the top group with no problems. The fourth workout, she was all in, and had no trouble doing the work.
It was time to see if she could go the distance in a race.
"We'd love to have you," is how Dell describes the invitation from Coach Spence. "It's only 2.5 miles and it'll be great and give you some endurance," is how Dell remembers the conversation.
She was having fun doing the workouts, and adjusting to the idea that she could do this thing called distance.
The first opportunity was a short-long format at Dickinson College on the Carlisle high school course. Dell was a bit nervous, so Spence instructed her to simply stay with teammates Abby Huber and Jamie McCollum in the 4k race.
She placed 8th in 15:09, just two seconds behind Huber.
Spence had seen enough to know that Dell could be a contributor at both the PSAC (conference) meet, and NCAA DII Regionals. But Dell was a little concerned about moving up in distance. Again.
She was also concerned about not being a part of the team from the beginning of their summer training, and felt a little like an intruder. But her concerns were short-lived. "They apparently had a team meeting and they said they wanted me and they'd be better with me... that is, if I wanted to."
She wanted to.
Dell missed her first chance at a 6k because of an academic commitment, so Coach Spence – knowing she needed a test to see how she would handle the longer distance – ran with her on a 2 x 3 miles averaging 6:30's. At the start of the last mile of the second set, he encouraged her to pick it up a little. "She went to 6 minute pace and then had a strong kick the last 200 meters," Spence shared. "I assured her that she could handle 6k."
A 15:07 4k tune-up at Elizabethtown College the week before the conferences just shored up her confidence even more.
She did not get perfect conditions. She got real cross country. Mud. Rain. Flying elbows. "At two miles, I wasn't sure what I was doing. It was knee-deep in spots. But I finished."
Well, she not only finished, she made All-Conference in her first 6k, taking 17th overall. A week later on a dryer layout at Lock Haven she improved to 13th in 22:13 and earned All-Region honors. The team did not advance to nationals, but a distance runner had been christened.
The 400 meter hurdles were forgotten. In fact, she never even did any drills... something she doesn't regret missing at all.
During indoor and outdoor, she did even better than anticipated. In her first distance race above 800 meters on the track, Dell set the school record for 1000m at Bucknell, running 3:01 to eclipse the old mark by three seconds. Then, serving as anchor on the Distance Medley Relay, she was a part of a school record and made her first DII national meet. The Raiders went 12:01.38 for Dell's first all-American certificate along with freshman Abby Huber, sophomore Shannon Hare, and freshman Jamie McCollum. The award was the first in history at NC's for a PSAC relay. She also established school records in the 800 both indoor (2:13) and outdoor (2:10); the 1500 outdoor (4:34); and the 4x400 in and out, to go along with her 4:59 anchor split on the 7th place DMR at NCAA DII Indoor champs. Her 56.2 third leg outdoors helped propel she and her three teammates (Laura Hensley, Erica Hess, and Hare) to 8th place in the 4x400 and her 2nd all-American certificate.
So coming into this, her second cross country season, Dell had a different outlook. For one, she received the regular training plan just like everyone else. There would be no getting into shape by racing. Secondly, she had a new teammate who would immediately take to the front of each race.
Coach Spence says they pair off incoming freshmen with one of the upperclassmen to help the transition. But Dell's 'little sister' was already a good friend and training partner. The teaming of Dell with Neely Spence has worked perfectly. Especially for Dell.
"Neely is just phenomenal. She's an elite athlete, but she doesn't make you feel that way," says Dell of her 'new' teammate. "I'm the upperclassmen, but she is teaching me so much."
That's one of the things about his sprinter-turned-distance runner that Coach Spence really enjoys. "She is so refreshing in a lot of ways. She is so excited, and so new to the sport. I sometimes take things for granted that she knows everything."
Dell concurs. "When Neely would pace a mile workout on a turny course, it wasn't hard at all. When I would pace it, it was terrible. I'd slow down and speed up."
"Neely waited for the end of the workout and taught me how to run turns."
With the improvement of the rest of the team, the addition of Neely, and the conversion of a two-time state sprinting champ from the straightaway to the turns of the track and the cross country course – this Shippensburg women's team is now ranked #6 in the US in Division II. They had been 12th before the Paul Short Run. Spence would finish 2nd in 19:57; faster than the previous meet record. And Dell would finish 2nd on the team in 51st among mostly Division I competition in another PR of 21:35. (Photo to upper left)
"I don't miss sprinting," Dell finally asserts. "I love the girls on the team which makes it easy to run all these miles."
Coach Spence sees a very good middle-distance runner in the making. "Maybe it'll be the mile. Maybe longer. We'll have to see."
But don't call Mary Dell a sprinter... unless it's at the end of a very long race.
It's a twin thing. But every runner will empathize.
It's an issue coaches face all the time in cross country. Runners on a team seem to get in line, and stay there. They assign themselves a place on the team, and simply assume that the person in front of them will always be in front of them. It can be infuriating at times for a coach trying to get their runners to just race, and forget about where they think they belong on the team.
That's kind of the problem with twins competing in the same sport.
In many cases, one of the twins always seems to be the frontrunner. Always winning. Always getting the attention.
The other twin just continues to train. Continues to dream. Continues to race with everything they have trying to be the best they can be. Trying to get out of line. It must get old.
For 2006 Manheim Township grad Brad Miller, it's a position he knows all too well.
His twin is Craig. Three time PA AAA cross country state champion. Foot Locker finalist. With multiple state titles on the track as well.
Brad would eventually win a state title for himself, taking the AAA 1600 in his senior year (Left: About a second off his brother's AAA state meet record). But in a post-race interview that day, he quickly reminded reporters that the only reason he had won was because his brother had not been in the race.
And in their four years of high school – even though Brad was right there on his brother's shoulder in many races – it was always second place. Not just in the race, but in his house.
Except for one time. It was a looooong time ago. 9th grade to be exact. and it was on the track.
But in cross country, Brad had never, ever finished a race ahead of his brother.
That was, until Friday in the seeded College Men's Brown race at the Paul Short Run.
Brad took a different course to college, selecting Syracuse with it's rebuilding program. Craig would head off to one of the established programs at Wisconsin.
While Craig was pretty successful in his first two years in college, especially on the track, Brad was having a more up and down experience. "My freshman cross country season, I would go out and feel really well, then I would start to suffer three miles in." He did run a pretty respectable 25:30. In track, he went 3:47 for 1500, which was a big PR.
He refocused over the summer between his frosh and soph campaigns, and for the first time ran 80 miles in a week consistently. His PR of 24:40 showed strong improvement
Things looked good for his second spring campaign on the oval. But issues with anemia and his gall bladder limited his training and effectiveness. His 3:56 1500 was not what he had in mind.
With the health issues behind him, and a good base from his previous year, he was able to up his mileage into the 85-95 range this past summer.
He thought he would be more than ready for the season, but he didn't have a gauge on just how far he had come until a workout two weeks before the Paul Short Run. The workout was an 8 x 800 along a canal. With a two minute rest instead of their customary 70 second rest, Brad found his stride, comfortably hitting the 2:17 to 2:07 ladder with some energy to spare. "During that workout, I just knew I was faster than I was before. At the end of it I wasn't that tired, but I knew I had run really fast."
Brad said he had a feeling that something good was going to happen.
And it was. At the 2008 Paul Short Run.
Brad went out with teammates Dan Busby and Jeff Scull and tucked in behind the top three Wisconsin runners, which included Craig. (Above right - Brad in orange) The group was part of a chase pack (actually a following pack) of eventual winner and now course record holder (23:05) Sam Chelanga, a Liberty University sophomore. The Syracuse trio closed the gap on the three Badgers and ran with them until the 3.5 Mile mark when Brad said he fell back a bit. But teammates Busby and Jay Koloseus caught him, and helped him get through a rough patch between 4 and 4.5 Miles.
In the final 1000 meters, Brad started to feel stronger, using the last downhill with about 600 meters to go as a launching pad of sorts. "I just flew by all those guys. Then (Hugo) Bemish from Villanova caught up to me and passed me for a little bit. I fought back to him and passed him."
He was flying coming up the final straight, and in his passing flurry, he had caught and passed Craig. For the first time ever in cross country.
(Left: Nearing the finish in a PR 23:58)
Brad seemed more pleased with the effort and place than the people he beat. "I ran 23:58, my fastest by 42 seconds. And I just got fifth in a race behind, and ahead of some really good runners."
Craig would finish two places, and three seconds behind his brother.
The Wisconsin sports information department had a different take on the race. But the results are the results. Same day. Same race. Same conditions. Same opportunity.
Brad took this round, finally.
"I just wanted to show him that Syracuse is a good program. I just wanted to show him we could run with them."
Point made. It's good to get out of line.
The diminutive, spirited and obviously talented Plymouth Whitemarsh senior has been opening eyes in PA (and probably beyond) this season. Not that she wasn't near the front of races last year. But when you win your first two invitationals, then you gets noticed.
However, we should probably start at the beginning for this relatively newly minted runner.
Gorman didn't participate in any sports until the 6th grade, when she started playing softball. "I wasn't very good" she quickly points out. She entered the 9th grade, and tried out for the softball team. She didn't make the JV squad, and labored on the Freshman team for her first year of high school.
Then fate struck.
Softball is a spring sport. And so is track. Katie had never considered track. But she was compelled to give it a try.
"I had a crush on a boy who was doing track, so I did spring track."
We're not sure how the boy thing worked out – and it's none of our business – but the track thing started to go pretty well.
Her coaches told the then-sophomore that she would make a pretty good 800 runner. "She came out thinking she was a sprinter," says then Plymouth Whitemarsh head coach Ron Lopresti. "I converted her to 800 because she had no base."
So Gorman dutifully did her two laps on the track, and by the end of the season was in the 2:30 range. Not bad for having no base, and just taking up the sport a few months earlier.
The running bug had not completely bitten, though. But her coaches knew she had some talent, and they wouldn't let her go. So they persuaded her to give cross country a try. "I told her that her future was in the longer distances and she needed cross country," Lopresti says.
Not knowing what cross country was, and not entirely sure how to prepare, Gorman admits she was a little less than diligent in her summer training before her junior year – her first in cross country. Which means she used the season to get into shape. And that's a mistake that most only make once.
And besides, Gorman says, it's not that she didn't know she needed training. "It's that I just didn't know how into it I was going to be."
Well, she got into it. The season hit her quickly. Running every day will do that when you've never done it before. But she persevered. "At first, running was really hard" she says. "But once I got some miles under me, it was easier."
"I remember my first race last year. At the end of it, I felt like I could run it again."
She adjusted her thinking and her pacing quickly. And when she raced the Abington Invitational in early September of last year, she paced herself to 12th in a very respectable 20:33. Best of all, she didn't feel like she could immediately race it again.
Gorman went on to finish her first season ever as a cross country runner in pretty good style. She won her Suburban One-American Conference at Lehigh in 19:19. She lowered that time to 18:56 at the District 1 meet, finishing 15th and qualifying as an individual for her first state championship. A week later at Hershey, she finished 40th, running 19:50.
Gorman had become a runner. And more of a miler and two-miler because of her cross country success.
She ran indoor, taking 3rd at the PTFCA Track Carnival in the 3000 in 11:04, but missing the auto-qualifier for the state meet.
But when the weather warmed and the track beckoned, softball was ancient history and Gorman was back on the team for the new crush in her life - running. She would PR in the mile in 5:11, and also qualify for the PIAA State Championships in the 3200, where she won her first state medal, capturing 6th in another PR of 10:55.83.
The runner entered her second summer between track and cross country with a new attitude, running about five miles a day at least five days a week. Gorman had found her sport. "I love everything about it. How pure of a sport it is, how you race against yourself and others every single day. I have found what I definitely want to do."
Gorman says she will run in college, hopefully for a Division I program. She is undecided on a major, but is fairly adamant about the D1 level and heading south. With a 3.8 GPA, and a growing running resume, she should find a lot of interest.
Gorman at 9/27 Carlisle Invitational -
Photo by Timothy O'Dowd, Irishrunner.com
Her summer of training paid immediate dividends.
Gorman opened her senior campaign at Abington and took 1:10 off her 2007 time. That improvement propelled her straight to the front. And the win surprised even her. "My eyes got kind of wide, and I thought 'oh my, I can do this, I can do this, I can do this.'"
The shock of that win soon wore off, and Katie the runner was gaining confidence.
She went to the Bulldog Invitational at Rose Tree Park in Media. A year earlier, she had finished 4th in the race in 19:51. This year, it was a different Katie Gorman. She smoked the course in 18:40.6 (yep, another 1:10 drop). That's the kind of time that past Foot Locker finalist Rachel Hixson (Penncrest 1996) and former PCL star Shiela Klick (Archbishop Prendergast 1997) posted.
Gorman ran into her first glitch in her newfound sport at Carlisle. "I went out too fast," which, she says, is not her style. But she held on in the sloppy conditions and finished 6th in 19:00. A week later at Steel City, she says she went out a little bit too slow. She would never get into the race with eventual winner Elizabeth Simpson of Boyertown, and ended up 2nd in 19:54. "I'm not proud of today, and I'm not disappointed either," she said shortly after Saturday's awards.
All in all it not a bad start to the 2nd cross country season ever for the senior runner.
Gorman unflinchingly believes she can be one of the best runners in the state. And that kind of self-confidence, combined with talent and a willingness to learn from each race is exactly what is needed if a runner is to succeed at the highest levels.
Gorman is apparently a quick study.
"I've learned that I have to run my race. It's gonna be my race from now on."
Sounds like the crush has turned into a lifelong passion.
Ryan Gil emerges to lead North Allegheny at Carlisle. But it's only a beginning.
It is rare that a sophomore becomes the #1 guy on a top cross country team. It is a group of runners that many times includes state champions. Runners like Danny Coval of Council Rock and Craig Miller of Manheim Township come immediately to mind.
That's not to say that Gil is at that level. Yet.
Consider his progression, though.
Gil – who's older brother Sean is an accomplished pole vaulter and two-time Indoor State Champ – has always gravitated toward running. His father has done some triathlons and his mother runs, as well. So he tagged along when he was younger and did a few 5Ks on the road. Nothing too serious, but he enjoyed the experience.
So when he entered middle school, he joined the track team. His 7th grade 4:57 mile and 10:57 2-mile gave a good indication that there was a budding runner heading for some good times.
But injuries slowed him during his 8th grade year and he didn't do as well. Gil says he hasn't had a non-injured track season yet, including his freshman year.
But his frosh cross country campaign showed that the talented runner was indeed, heading for front of the pack. If not sooner, then certainly later.
The 2007 Carlisle Invitational was his first varsity race. The team was ranked #1 in PA at the time, and the expectations were high. But the size or the pressure of the race didn't faze the slight, but obviously gifted harrier. He finished in 49th place overall, 7th on the team, running a strong 16:59.1.
That was the last big meet he would run 7th on the team. In fact, he skipped right over the even numbers in the big races at the end of the season, scoring for the top AAA team at the WPIALS (District 7) Championships; finishing 26th overall in 16:56 on the challenging Cooper's Lake course.
A little over a week later, he was 3rd man on the PIAA State Championship 3rd place team, going 16:55 on the even tougher Hershey Parkview course, and taking 52nd overall.
There was a single freshman ahead of him. But Gil wasn't thinking about where he stacked up against freshmen. He was comparing himself to everyone.
After the growth-related Sever's Disease hit him during 2008 outdoor, he went into the summer determined to keep improving.
"I was hoping to be #1 (at the start of the season), but I wasn't," Gil said. He took third at their opening time trial. He knew he was on an excellent team, so he took it all in stride. "I knew we would have three or four guys switching the lead, and we did."
But with a modest 40 mile-per-week training regimen, and the talent to turn that into something special, Gil did exactly that.
Just four days prior to his return to the Carlisle Invitational, he took over the number 1 spot on the team, beating several North Hills runners he had never beaten before... AND, resetting the course record at a remarkable 15:40 while helping his team remain undefeated.
Gil says he hadn't expected to break 16 this early in the season. "It was pretty much a surprise," he said shortly after his next surprise, coming at the Carlisle Invitational.
Coming into the race, Gil says he didn't have any plan other than to have a good start because it's a faster course than many of the hilly layouts in western PA. "Other than that," Gil shared, "I just wanted to try to stay with the top guys."
He moved himself into position during the first mile, before the top group made a break on the downhill approaching the hairpin turn. "And I was with them."
The small group continued to push the pace, and then at about the two mile point, three broke away. Gil was not in the three, but he tried to maintain contact, and was alone in no-man's land with no one close behind. As he approached the finish, Gil passed one runner. That one runner was defending AA state champ Joe Beveridge of Bishop McDevitt (3). Only Carlisle's Kyle Hurston and North Penn's Brad Miles were ahead of him. The list of quality runners in the race is too long to mention here. He was 3rd in 16:14.5 on the muddy course.
Gil just smiled when asked about running with and ahead of such an elite group.
When asked if his course record and win at the dual meet earlier in the week had been a breakout race for him, Gil replied in the affirmative. "Yeah, I guess that gave me a lot of momentum."
Anyone who follows running knows that momentum, when combined with talent, is usually the beginning of something good.
Bower and Kovach like the Carlisle course. But their real inclination is for the hills.
As they walked away from the packed finish area after receiving congratulations from family, coaches and teammates, the two senior runners from western PA compared notes on the race they had just run. The friends and competitors had finished 2nd and 3rd in the hot contest of the day, but had experienced the emergence of a sophomore from New York who simply seemed to skip over the muddy Carlisle course – an all-time best.
However, Latrobe's Natalie Bower and Norwin's Leslie Kovach were still generally pleased with their races. "I had no idea about the Cornwall girl" Bower said shortly after the race.
(ital) PennTrackXC apologizes to Natalie, Leslie and their coaches for not having that intel prior to the meet. : )
Bower says she was with the eventual winner as they crossed the bridge and headed up the course's only real hill about 200 meters before the mile. "She seemed to crest up over the top pretty good and gain some lead there," Bower noted. "I think if I had stuck with her a little longer, I would have regained on the downhill."
But the gap was permanent, and despite Bower's push the rest of the way, the distance only widened.
For her part, Kovach was running on the course for the first time, and was thinking nearly as much about the slippery corners as she was about the competition. Like Bower, she spent much of the race on her own, chasing the two leaders. Her biggest concern for future races is her closing speed. "I could have gotten a little bit more of a kick in," she said. "It's something I'll have to work on."
Both girls are off to great starts this season. Bower won the competitive Gettysburg Invitational handily, in addition to her 2nd place showing at Carlisle. Kovach won the big Red, White & Blue Invitational early in the month, before a first at Sharpesville last week, and Carlisle's 3rd place finish.
As you'd expect of western PA runners of this caliber, both are more comfortable on the hills, and are looking forward to an even tougher state course at Hershey that they have only heard about or seen in photos and on video.
But first things, first.
Bower is heading into the last half of her senior cross season with a few big goals in mind. She'd love to use the hills of Cooper's Lake; one of her favorite courses; to win her fourth straight Tri-State Coaches Association meet in mid-October. And then she'd really like to improve three more places on her three fourth place finishes at States. Bower showed some good 1600 speed in taking runner-up in outdoor States with a 4:55.42.
Kovach didn't come out of middle school running at Bower's level. She was a soccer player who tried cross country in 7th grade because she didn't want to "get an injured ACL" like many soccer players experience. She made States as a sophomore and finished 60th. Last year, she was 3rd at WPIAL'S and 7th at States. And she capped her spring with an 8th place medal in the 3200, despite coming off a two-week bout with the flu.
Bower says it's been a challenge to keep the mileage up with so many two-meet weeks, but is seeing the light at the end of the tunnel as the dual season comes to a close.
Kovach is enjoying the benefits of a higher distance summer, and is being pushed even more this season by sophomore standout Jenna Gigliotti, who was 5th at Carlisle.
If their September performances are any indication, Bower and Kovach could very well be vying for individual honors both at the WPIAL's and then, a little over a week later, at the state meet.
Because both courses have some nice hills, and there are no surprise runners from New York, both Bower and Kovach can concentrate on one thing – representing western PA on the ceaseless inclines of Hershey Parkview.
New coach, same results at Liberty.
Jessica Cygan takes first for Liberty
Karwacki, assisted by Angie Morgan, an all-league runner for Liberty in 1997 and Ally Stoyko, who ran for Governor Mifflin, takes over the reins.
Under Ruth, Liberty ran to five conference titles, four district championships and nine appearances as a team at states. Six of those state berths came after Ruth and Karwacki joined forces in 1993. Liberty, ranked sixth in the latest PennTrackXC poll, seemingly has not broken stride.
“It was as smooth a transition as we could make for the kids,” Karwacki said. “Not a whole lot has changed. Most of the philosophy is the same as it has always been.”
Karwacki and the Liberty philosophy, which has the girls running moderately light mileage in the range of 25-40 miles a week depending upon the individual, got its first stern test this past weekend. While some of Pennsylvania’s marquis teams, such as District 11 rival Emmaus, traveled to the Bowdoin Park Classic in New York to sample the national buffet and to preview the course to be used for NXN Regional in November, Bethlehem Liberty and some of the other top teams in the state got a peak at the newly redesigned Parkview course during the Hershey Foundation Cross Country Meet.
On the strength of an individual championship and four more runners in the top 25, Liberty came away with the Girls’ Varsity Gold Race team championship, 27 points ahead of second place Council Rock North (103). Boyertown finished third with 181 points.
Only PIAA Girls’AA favorite and Girls’ Varsity Blue Race Team Champion Lewisburg would have bested Liberty, if you combined the results of both races.
“This is dress rehearsal for states in six weeks,” Karwacki said. “Now we kind of know what we have to do between now and then. The girls liked the course. I really didn’t have a whole lot of negatives. They liked the course. They will be ready for the course again in six weeks. For the most part we ran well.”
Liberty sophomore Jess Cygan won the Girls’ Varsity Gold Race with a time of 19:31, the 4th fastest of the day. Cygan ran most of the way with a pack of four before easing away over the last half mile from Council Rock’s Lindsay Rheiner (19:37).
Top freshman Amy Darlington places seventh
The Liberty sophomore has been resilient this fall, following an injury-plagued spring, when she was hampered by a shin problem that was no doubt exacerbated by the 90 minutes of soccer practice that followed her track workout every day.
Suffice to say, soccer should not be an issue for the rising star this year.
Another reason they’re good is the emergence of a top-ranked freshman for the second straight season. This time it’s Amy Darlington, who placed seventh in 19:56.
“We knew she was coming,” Karwacki said. “It was just a matter of plugging her in with the rest of the girls.
Junior Julie Horwath (21st, 20:48), senior Lily Morgan (22nd, 20:57) and sophomore Vrinda Jagota (25th, 21:05) rounded out the scoring contingent and cemented the victory for Liberty.
The first invitational win for Head Coach Karwacki.
Lauren Zarger is really fast. Probably faster than she thinks.
Lauren Zarger considers herself somewhat of a long-shot to qualify for Foot Locker Nationals in San Diego in December.
Examining her running resume, she seems to be right there with the best the state has produced in the past few years.
Consider that in cross country, she has only finished behind girls who went on to run at Foot Locker Nationals – and were all-Americans, as well. Carly Seymour, a two time FL all-American was the only one to beat Zarger at the AA state championships Lauren's sophomore year. As a junior, only eventual FL all-American Kacey Gibson of Neshannock and Seymour beat her in cross. And last year, she was 4th to the same two eventual all-Americans and Kara Millhouse of Boiling Springs, who was the only girl to beat Seymour in track in States after her freshman year.
Kinda the same in track, too. Just those names: Millhouse, Seymour and Gibson, along with one of the Saint Basil stars, Kathleen Davies.
That is a very short list of some high octane talent.
Zarger came to Hershey last Saturday with her team to learn the new course and to see where she was in her training against several of this year's top runners. (she tops out in the 35 mile per week range).
The former soccer player who was forced to choose between two sports she enjoyed, Zarger came into Saturday's race with no other plan than to get out in the front and see what she could do. Visualizing the final series of hills that follow the middle series of hills, Zarger purposely conserved a little to "make sure she had enough for a good finish." The only runner that approach didn't confound was the eventual winner, Sophia Ziemian of Lewisburg. "Once she passed me on the gravel downhill (approaching the mile), I gradually fell back," Zarger said. "I had wanted to stay closer."
A lot of people have yet to recognize that Ziemian had an incredible breakthrough in June at Nike Outdoor when she earned all-American in posting a 17:34 5K. Ziemian's teammate, Kiah Hardcastle, ran 18:00 in that race.
On Saturday, Zarger's 19:09 was about halfway between the two runners, with Ziemian at 18:46, and Hardcastle at 19:31.
And those three athletes posted the fastest times of the day. Faster than the winning 19:31 in the large school race by Liberty sophomore Jess Cygan.
Cygan, by the way, was runner-up in the AAA race as a freshman to two-time Foot Locker all-American and two-time PIAA AAA state champ Neely Spence of Shippensburg. Last year, on what most concede was an easier course, Spence ran 18:14. Cygan ran 18:39. Seymour won the AA race in 17:49. Gibson ran 18:39.
Then, Cygan went to Foot Locker Northeast and finished 13th in her first-ever race in the Seeded girls event. Ten go to nationals. Spence, Seymour and Gibson earned all-American honors in San Diego.
Which brings us back to the 2008 3200 at states in which Zarger finished third to Seymour and Gibson. What was significant about that race was that Zarger did not back down to either runner. And her PR of 10:41.90 was just ten seconds off the new AA state record run by Seymour.
"Yeah, I was really happy with that race," Zarger states.
Then she considers the time and the race and competition that day.
"I want to do the same drop and get close to her (Seymour's) XC times this year."
Harbor Creek coach Tony Mazza doesn't see any reason why Zarger can't achieve anything she decides she can do. "Her work ethic and talent is phenomenal."
No hmmmmmm's about it. Zarger has come a long way in just a year. And she could very well go even further this fall.
Lower Merion Cross Country just does their thing
By Aaron Rich
Find your somewhere
A new coach never knows what they will inherit when they take over a program. Such was the case with Megan Capewell, who has been at Lower Merion now for half a decade. Megan joined a cross-country team with 14 runners on the roster, and following the motto of starting small and working up, the roster now stands at an impressive 60 runners. Coach Capewell is less concerned with where a runner begins than where they finish. As she put it, “if you run a 5k in 30 minutes than that is your somewhere, and we go from there”. No runner is more important than another in this program; they just begin at their own individual ‘somewhere’. This is the foundation of success for Lower Merion cross-country.
Commitment and accountability
One of the most unique aspects of this large team is that each and every runner is expected to have the same level of commitment to the team. Each runner has individual goals and is expected to work towards the achievement of those goals. The basics are stressed at each and every practice and each day is structured so that the runners know what is expected of them. As simple as it seems, structure and routine are key reasons why Lower Merion is on the rise. Coach Capewell doesn’t have stragglers who are just running for something to do, she has runners dedicated to personal and team success.
Success builds confidence
The most important successes are measured individually, and this is the way things run at Lower Merion. A runner who exemplifies this approach is Ben Furcht. As Coach Capewell tells it, Ben didn’t break 21 minutes as a freshman on the Rose Tree 5k course. Now Ben is a senior who most recently won the 2nd Hershey Invite with a time of 16:09, and is clearly among the favorites for a state title when he returns to Hershey in November. Ben said that he felt very strong on the hills, and that their training regimen prepared them well for hilly courses. When asked about the win turning him into the automatic course record holder Ben reflected that he thought it was cool that his time will be chased when Pennsylvania’s runners return to Hershey for the State Championships. This sense of confidence has come from buying into the program that Coach Capewell presented to him as a freshman.
Doing their thing
Ben Furcht and Neal Berman, as well as 7 other seniors on this squad began as freshman together and have turned their hard work into a respectable running program. At the core of this program is Ben’s calm demeanor and Neal’s energy. Coach Capewell began referring to the two of them as Burcht last year (a combination of their last names) and says that they feed off of each other’s strengths, just doing their thing. If you watch Lower Merion race it is evident that the Burcht energy is contagious, affecting the rest of the team. For this year, a trip to states is in the cards, with the path going through the always-tough District 1 Championships. For years to come, expect the team to continue to succeed, under the tutelage of Coach Capewell, who teaches her runners to set and achieve goals, quietly building their confidence, just doing their thing.
Sophia and Kiah have different last names. But don't let that fool you.
They hang out together. They train together. They race together. Then after the race, they hang out together, again. And the two even took a June trip together to Greensboro, NC and ran two very fast 5k's at Nike Outdoor.
So together they are again in cross country, and both with a single goal – to lead the Lewisburg team to the AA state championship on November 1 in Hershey.
Sophia Ziemian (left in Don Rich photo) and Kiah Hardcastle (below right in Don Rich photo) are seniors and the leaders of the #1 ranked AA, and #8 ranked (overall) girls' team in the state.
What they never, ever, do together, is the start of an invitational race.
Kiah is a self-described patient runner, who makes an art of the conservative start. "Passing people in the beginning makes you feel good, and it's a lot better than the other way around."
Sophia likes to get out quickly, with whoever else in planning to try to win that specific race.
On Saturday at the PIAA Foundation XC Invite (pre-States), both runners stuck to form. Sophia was out with eventual runner-up Lauren Zarger of Harbor Creek. And Kiah was out in the next pack. Actually back a little in the next pack. But by the mile, she was where she wanted to be.
Ziemian began to pull away from Zarger on the gravel downhill in the first mile. But Hardcastle could see her running partner most of the race until the twists and turns of the final 800 meters made that impossible.
Thanks to her remarkable time of 18:46; the only mark under 19 on the day; Ziemian has put up a strong course record that will be challenged at States. "That (time) surprised me a lot. I didn't expect to go under 19 with such a hilly course. But I like the hills."
Ziemian went out conservatively – for her – as preparation for the last two miles of nasty hills. Her plan was to go hard on final two hills – especially the one 400 meters from the finish.
Ziemian's one point start for Lewisburg was a nice start to the team scoring. Zarger would finish in 2nd in 19:09, with Hardcastle in 3rd at 19:30. The three times were the best on the day.
Lewisburg opened the team battle with just ten points because of an especially strong race from the girls' sophomore teammate, Shannon Wright (below left in Don Rich photo) , who crossed the line in 6th place, timed in 20:00. They would need every one of the points they had not used, because Union City placed four in front of Lewisburg's #4. Sophomore Mary Challman and Junior Emily Knight closed the deal for Lewisburg's win, finishing in front of the Union City #5 for a 73 to 93 triumph.
Lewisburg had expected a tight race. and they got it.
1 Lewisburg (4) 73 1 3 6 30 33 47 69 20:24 3:08
2 Union City (10) 93 10 12 14 15 42 44 113 20:56 2:09
1 1 Sophia Ziemian, Sr* 18:46 6:03 Lewisburg (4)
2 2 Lauren Zarger, Sr* 19:09 6:11 Harbor Creek (10)
3 3 Kiah Hardcastle, Sr* 19:30 6:17 Lewisburg (4)
6 6 Shannon Wright, So* 20:00 6:27 Lewisburg (4)
10 10 Rebecca Reichbaum, So* 20:23 6:34 Union City (10)
14 12 Vicky Bem, Jr* 20:32 6:37 Union City (10)
16 14 Hannah Day, Sr* 20:34 6:38 Union City (10)
17 15 Lori Beth Nunemaker, Jr* 20:38 6:39 Union City (10)
34 30 Mary Challman, So* 21:49 7:02 Lewisburg (4)
37 33 Emily Knight, Jr* 21:53 7:03 Lewisburg (4)
46 42 Melissa Bem, Fr* 22:31 7:16 Union City (10)
48 44 Sashia Brumagin, Sr* 22:35 7:17 Union City (10)
As for the fourth state course design since the meet has been in Hershey since 2001; (This year's is the second of two designs at the Hershey Parkview location) both Ziemian and Hardcastle like the layout.
Said Hardcastle, "I actually do like it. I was like, 'oh no, we have to run that course again.' But I like it now. It keeps you focused and it keeps you interested because there are so many hills you have to worry about. There's never a time you zone out." Ziemian echoes her teammate's sentiments. "I expected it to be really bad, but I like it."
And both runners believe it is a quality course to determine state medalists, both for teams and individuals – despite two road crossings – "It's cross country, and this is what cross country should be," says Hardcastle.
Sophia believes that the course will really show who is the strongest runner, "and who can take it."
She concluded: "I think that's what States should be about... not on the flats to see who can run the fastest."
Ziemian put the exclamation point on her teammate's thought. "You can't fake your way through it."
Yep, these two are together on pretty much everything.
(To read more about this year's Lewisburg girls' team, check out the PennTrackXC preview article published in August: Lewisburg coming together for some unfinished business - August, 2008)
Downingtown East: A program with depth, and high expectations.
By Fran McLaughlin
As his team accepted the award for winning the Centaur Invitational at DeSales University last Saturday, the approving grin on coach George Read’s face suggested that the longtime coach and his team were taking a lot more away from this steamy afternoon than the rather large trophy presented to team captain Ashley Fornshell.
Team captain Ashley Fornshell (r) at 800m with Erin Casey.
Redemption. Confidence. Satisfaction. Respect. These were some nice parting gifts as well.
For starters, the 80-102 victory over a battle-tested, runner-up Hatboro-Horsham team was a reversal of fortunes from a week earlier when Hatboro topped East by a similar margin, 91-102, at the Abington Invitational.
Of course, how a team battles through adversity, especially when it is playing with less than a full deck of cards, can reveal a great deal about its character. And in a sport where toughness often times supercedes the importance of talent, the girls from East easily proved their mettle. At DeSales, East was without three of its varsity members, one due to sickness and two others that were out with injuries.
“We definitely wanted to come in here and try to win it this time,” Fornshell said. “A lot of girls really stepped up today. It feels good to win today. All of the girls are really excited.”
Added Read, who took his team to the Lehigh Valley to compete at DeSales for the first time: “They were fired up and ready to go. I’m glad we got to see Hatboro again. It bothered our girls’ last week losing. Hatboro’s a good team. They may beat us the next time.”
Rest assured there will be a next time. Teams of this caliber will surely butt heads again at districts, if not states.
For comparison sake, the 2003 AAA state champion Hatters finished fourth at the season-opening Viking Invitational, which boasted defending AAA champ Emmaus, and perennial state contenders Council Rock North and Central Bucks West. All of which received mention in the latest PennTrackXC girl’s rankings. Downingtown East, rated seventh in the latest poll, proved it belonged amongst that group as well.
(l to r: Corinne Lillis, Allison Zeeger and Casey)
The fact that it achieved victory while being somewhat shorthanded might come as a surprise to some, but make no mistake, this is a quality program with an impressive resume of late.
In addition to Saturday’s eye-opening victory, consider its sixth-place finish in cross at states a year ago, and numerous other quality showings on the track, including a victory in the distance medley relay at the 2008 state indoor meet, and a medal-winning performance in the 4x800 relay at the 2008 state outdoor championship.
Of late, East has excelled on the biggest of stages. If they were to hold a cross country or track meet as the halftime show at the Super Bowl, this is a team that would appear to be comfortable performing there as well.
“Our goal is always to get to states,” said Read, whose team will finish out its invitational schedule at Chris Fretz and Steel City before prepping for the postseason. “That’s key. And then once we get to states, we’ll work it out from there. I think this team’s got what it takes to get there. District  wise we’re sitting all right. I was hoping to see Emmaus today, get a run against them and see where we really sit.”
East’s strength seems to lie in its numbers. Of course, they don’t arrive a couple hundred strong like the legendary Joe Newton coached York teams of Illinois, but 52 is a very nice-sized group of runners when many of the teams you compete against struggle to field half that.
“We have a really good feeder program,” said Read. “Our middle school program does a great job. The coaches down there sort of watch what we’ve done and sort of emulate us down there so [the kids] know what they are coming into. They already know, walking in the door what’s expected.”
Not surprisingly, one freshman, Elizabeth Weiler (34th, 21:32), made her varsity debut in Saturday’s win. Several more are on the cusp of becoming varsity contributors. And it’s a situation that could only get better since cross country has now been added as a full sport at the Downingtown Area middle schools beginning with this season.
Erin Casey and Corinne Lillis, who finished sixth and 11th, respectively, at DeSales, have led Downingtown this year. The invitational win was cemented by Allison Zeeger (17th, 20:51); Fornshell (19th, 20:53) and Taylor Carcella (27th, 21:23).
You want to talk about consistency; Casey also finished sixth a week earlier with the exact same time. And Lillis has been a solid co-pilot to Casey. From there, it can be any girl from a top group that numbers 14 or 15 strong on any given day. That’s a nice problem to have when the inevitable injuries and sickness that take a toll on almost all programs, during what can be a long, grueling season, kick in.
Competitiveness, not cattiness, though is the key to success for Read, who stokes the competition by letting the girls earn one of the seven varsity spots during the team’s weekly dual meets.
“They all get along,” Read said. “They’re a group. They know that one week somebody is going to have a bad race. [Ashley] didn’t run as well today, but the other girls picked up the slack for her and the team. That’s the way we look at it.”
Tough, not to smile then, huh coach?
Some distance runners are eclectic. Some almost crackle with the competitive energy they emit. And some are almost reclusive.
But one thing you'll generally get consensus on is, distance runners are different.
So Elizabeth Simpson fits right in.
You first notice her because she's usually leading or toward the front of the race. But you remember her because of her very cool purple glasses.
Simpson is now in her third year as the number one runner on the Boyertown team. It's hasn't been four years, because, well, she is just a junior.
Boyertown, for those who may have missed the last two years, has owned the AAA boys state individual title in cross country during that time, first with Jason Weller, and last season, with Mark Dennin.
Simpson says that for her, there has been "some inspiration" from those victories by her former teammates, but that for the most part, she sees the guys almost as sprinters compared to her pace. "I know I don't look that fast."
Nonetheless, Simpson always seems focused on her race, and doing the best she can, every time.
To her, the sport is a family sport... and not from a truly competitive perspective.
Her dad ran cross country while attending John Jay High School in New York, simply, said Simpson, "because he loved running." And it's that sense of "running is for fun" that Simpson says was instilled in her by her father, and remains with her even as she competes among the best.
Simpson did not participate in any formal youth running, and actually was a field hockey player in 7th and 8th grades because her school did not have cross country. "I was a midfielder," she shares. "And my job was to run around and look distracting. I wasn't any good at it."
But she still enjoyed the running part, and after two fall seasons playing field hockey and two springs on the junior high track team, she signed up for cross country in 9th grade.
"I actually think that not running cross country until 9th grade really has helped me."
She steadily improved; and, as a sophomore, there was a marked lowering of her PRs as the year progressed. She ran 18:45 for 10th in District 1, and would finish 49th at States in cross. In the spring, she PRed in the 1600 at 5:10.38, and lowered her PR in the 3200 to 10:47.51 for 3rd in AAA at the state meet.
Simpson was getting a little more serious. "I'm definitely working towards bringing everything together and doing well this year." But she doesn't want to get too far ahead of herself, so she is taking a cautious approach toward setting specific goals for this season. "I want to get a couple more races in (to see where I am). And running the states course at Hershey next week will be a huge part in looking at my goals for the rest of the season."
And because she has never ascribed to heavy mileage, Simpson's upside should continue. "40 miles a week would be the top. Never, never, never more than that," she states emphatically.
And, Simpson says, a new coach this year is helping to keep things interesting by incorporating workouts that include mile repeats as part of an out-and-back run. She's also optimistic about the team's improvement, this year, and next. In 2009, they'll lose senior Sarah Mulvey, a transfer this year from Exeter. But with a season-opening win at Kutztown and a 6th place in the 23-team field at DeSales, she is also looking beyond this year's team, and she likes what she sees.
And that is what makes this distance runner unique among the different (if I can say that).
First of all, she is taking all honors courses this year. So she is achieving at a high level there as well. An artist in the making who eschews the digital tools of today for more traditional expressive tools like drawing, and painting and sewing (she makes her own clothes); Simpson has an eye for cross country that most probably do not – especially when sweating, suffering and pulling themselves to the top of a hill.
"I really do enjoy the scenery (of cross country). I love the trees, and birds and clouds. And I love that section of the woods here (at DeSales). I just love the outdoors."
Spoken like a true distance runner with a view from the front.
Jimmy Tarsnane knew he was one of the returning athletes that competitors, fans and media would look to and immediately label as one of the favorites for cross country in AAA this season.
He would be the first to agree.
Truth be told, he was nearly impossible to miss in previewing the season. After all, he was a medalist as a junior in cross last season, finishing 8th. And the seven guys ahead of him? All seniors.
At 2000m in 2007 PIAA AAA State Cross Country Championships
However, just because everyone ahead of him graduated, most elite runners will tell you that it's a big step from being a medalist, to donning the mantle as one of the favorites. Not everyone can make the transition – mentally, physically, or sometimes, both.
Talking with Tarsnane, you quickly get the sense that he has spent a lot of time thinking about that transition, and that he is now 100% sure that he belongs in that group. But thinking you belong, and actually doing something about it are two different things.
Actually, Tarsnane began his journey to one of the state, and country's elites as a junior.
Following his success in cross country in 2007, he did not shy away from competition. In fact, when he finished what he considered a disappointing 9th (8:54.59) in the 3000 at the PTFCA Indoor Championships, he took his unfinished business to New York for the National Scholastic Indoor Championships. While he was 16th in the 2-mile, he used the experience as a springboard to a better outdoor campaign.
And he didn't just race for the sake of winning. That would be too easy, and it would not make him a better runner.
He entered the Penn Relays 3000 and took 10th in what was a PR of 8:47.35. Not the place he wanted. But a PR is a PR.
Photo from 3000 High School Invitational @ 2008 Penn Relays
A week later, he was on the track at West Chester Henderson in a 2-mile race against New Jersey star Doug Smith of Gil St. Bernards, and many of PA's best, including Max Kaulbach of Germantown Friends, Boyertown's Mark Dennin, and Chris Aldrich of the host, Henderson. The PA stars are gone, but Smith isn't – and he is on Tarsnane's radar this year. (More on that in a minute).
Tarsnane would finish 6th in the loaded Henderson race, and again, PR for the distance.
Two weeks later, he ran a strong race in the 3200 at the PIAA District 1 Championships, again setting a PR with his 9:15.03 3200. He was 3rd behind Dennin and Aldrich – two Foot Locker Finalists who also finished in that order at states in cross.
The outdoor state championships came a week later, and Tarsnane would experience something that would help direct his energies in preparing for this year's cross country campaign. He missed the break. "When Mark and Chris took off, I got stuck in the middle." He finished third, just a hair off his PR from the prior week.
To keep from getting left behind any breaks this season – whether in cross or on the track - Tarsnane has practiced pushing through portions of his long runs. "I have been trying to focus on if I get in no-man's land, to keep pushing myself." Coaches constantly preach to runners that they use the same amount of energy running most of a race 10 meters behind someone, as they would if they had not allowed the break to happen in the first place.
Tarsnane has experienced it first hand and doesn't want to experience it soon again.
Additionally, in preparation for this year, he has also upped his mileage a modest 20% from 2007 to 50 miles a week during the summer – with a minor increase as he trains through the early part of this season.
At the 2008 PIAA State T&F Championships 3200
-Photo by Timothy O'Dowd, Irishrunner.com
With a solid summer under his feet, Tarsnane was excited about his first race. But he was also a little nervous. Two of the top contenders at the state level would provide him his first test to see exactly where he was. Holy Ghost Prep senior Michael Pierce had been impressive in his first two outings, cruising and then dominating strong fields at the Viking Invitational August 29, and at Gettysburg on September 6. Also in the DeSales University race was Mike Palmisano of Upper Dublin, who was coming off an impressive track season with 800 and mile PR's that make other runners like Tarsnane want to get away from them before the final kick.
Palmisano had a little bad luck in this race, losing his shoe a 1/4 mile into the race, struggling to get it back on, then just leaving it behind on the way to a 12th place finish. Up front, it was pretty much Tarsnane and Pierce once the race entered the woods and onto the first of the hills. "That's where it started thinning out," Tarsnane said. "The hills are usually where I do best."
Tarsnane had the lead approaching the 2-mile, and was leading only two runners who had maintained contact; Pierce and Blue Mountain's John Reilly, who would ultimately finish third.
Pierce passed Tarsnane just after the two mile. Trasnane stayed behind Pierce as they entered the tough back hills and the cornfield. "I actually think I pushed him up the hills," Tarsnane says.
But as they started into the final part of the race, Tarsnane said he started to think about his kick. "Usually I don't have a big kick."
As they exited the woods, a kick is exactly what Tarsnane discovered, and maintained his lead to win by less than two seconds in 16:04.2.
Tarsnane was happy with his first major invite of the season. "I just wanted a chance to show everyone how I've been doing so far, and start to make a name for himself."
He'll run his home Chris Fretz Invite this coming weekend, and then get a chance to see where he is on a national level with the Paul Short Invitational on Oct 3 at Lehigh University, where he'll meet Doug Smith and a high quality field.
But win or lose at Lehigh – "I'm more of a hill guy" – Tarsnane has his sights set on both the state meet and Foot Locker Northeast. He took a break after state in 2007 because he was tiring. But not this year. "There are only going to be five or six guys challenging me the whole year (in PA), so I don't want to end on that."
Chances are, should he stay healthy, it won't end there.
But Tarsnane understands the position he is in, and believes he has done the mental and the physical preparation to make the breaks go his way. "It's a lot of pressure," he admits. "I can start to see what Mark Dennin had to go through last year. But I definitely think I belong up there, and I want to give everyone a run for the state title."
By Fran McLaughlin
This year there was no vote.
Her presence, long since accepted, was now encouraged, if not expected.
Once a cross country orphan of sorts, Laura Antinucci, who runs for John W. Hallahan High School, has become a full-fledged member of the Roman Catholic High School family.
And it is no longer up for debate.
The partnership began two seasons ago, just several weeks before the year-ending Philadelphia Catholic League Championship race, when Roman Catholic coach Kevin Verbrugghe learned that Antinucci, the lone runner for Hallahan High School, and a top runner in the league, was practicing on her own.
“We kind of took her in,” said Verbrugghe, a tactful disciplinarian, who has patterned much of what he does after the largely successful Archbishop Wood Boys’ teams of the 1980s and early ’90s coached by the late John Sharp. “We voted as a team. It was brought to my attention and I took it to the team. The team voted and they had no problem with her running [with us.] Last year, we put it again before the team because it was going to be a full season. They voted and there wasn’t one hand that went up negatively. This year there was no vote. Laura’s a part of the team. There was no need for a vote. In fact, who knows what can happen from here. She’s part of the team. She just wears a different uniform.”
Many of the Catholic League institutions are now coeducational. Or at least they share a parking lot with an opposite gender school of a different name, such as the case with Monsignor Bonner and Archbishop Prendergast. However, that is not the case with Roman Catholic and Hallahan, whose campuses, if you can call them that, are separated geographically by several city blocks and a handful of skyscrapers in downtown Philadelphia.
These schools truly are institutions. Founded in 1890, Roman was the first free Catholic School for boys in the United States. And Hallahan has been around so long it has been grand-fathered into using the image of Mickey Mouse as its mascot simply because it has been doing it for so long.
Regardless of history, both schools are now benefiting from this newly minted partnership, which informally, at least, grants Antinucci a dual-citizenship for the betterment of her running career.
Despite still being the only runner in her team box at the starting line, she is no longer alone as she readies to run. Now when she toes the line for her races, the entire Roman boys’ team joins her, cheering and rallying support for her as if she were a politician on a campaign stop. That’s an impressive cheering section, some 60-members strong.
“They’re very supportive,” said Antinucci, of her Roman teammates. “I have the biggest cheering section. They all have my back, like a team – my team.”
Said Verbrugghe: “I just feel, and I think even the administration at Roman feels, that Laura is a member of our cross country team. She wears the Hallahan uniform proudly, of course, and the support we get from Hallahan is important. Laura is a part of the Roman community and that’s what is important. They don’t treat her any different. I don’t treat her any different, she’s just part of the team. They hang out together. They socialize together.”
To train with those who are more talented, those who will set the bar high, no matter what the gender, is always an advantageous situation for a runner. This case is no different. Antinucci is reaping the benefits of working out with the Roman boys.
“They’re all good runners,” Antinucci said. “They make me better and I think I make them better too.”
Antinucci freely admits she enjoys running with Roman and has accepted the idea of being the only member of the Hallahan team. Still, the life of a long distance runner can at times be lonely. And without the chatter of teammates to break the monotony of miles, that solitude tends to increase exponentially. Therefore if a few more girls happened to give cross country a try at Hallahan in the coming days or year, it’s safe to say she would not be heartbroken.
Of course, what high school girl wouldn’t appreciate some girlfriends to talk dating or diamonds with to help her make it through a tough workout or simply pass the time on a long run?
“I would love that, but I’ve pretty much accepted [being the lone representative of Hallahan.] I love running with Roman,” said Antinucci, one of the sport’s many soccer converts, who began her running career as a fourth grader at St. John the Baptist Parish in Philadelphia. “My eighth grade year I had three of my friends come out and be on the team, none of them could keep up with me at practice and stuff, but it was still good having them.”
For now, she continues to run with Roman. And run well.
Consistently one of the top runners in the PCL since she arrived at Hallahan as a freshman, Antinucci is off to an outstanding start again this year.
Through two weeks of the PCL schedule, she has remained a mainstay among the top 15 performers in the league, one criterion for gaining all-league status. Despite the PCL schedule beginning two weeks earlier this year due to the league’s move to the PIAA, Antinucci has been in top form. Her best effort, a 21:06 clocking, coming last Wednesday in a meet against Archbishop Wood, Archbishop Prendie and Archbishop Carroll, was just 11 seconds off her Belmont Plateau best of 20:55, set late in the 2007 campaign. It is the third fastest time in the league to date this season at the Plateau. She has also turned in performances of 21:15 (34th place) at the Abington Invitational and 21:56 at the Centaur Invitational at DeSales University. Both races, run under oppressively humid conditions, left her just out of the running for an individual medal. And without the opportunity to vie for team titles or trophies, individual accolades and accomplishments compliment her intense love for running as motivation to train.
“I definitely want to be one of the best in the Catholic League this year” said Antinucci, a junior. “I want to do well at districts. I want to go to states.”
In order to earn a trip to Hershey, Antinucci would have to be among the top 10 AAA individuals not on the state qualifying teams at the District 12 Championships, October 25th at Belmont Plateau.
Verbrugghe doesn’t see any reason why she can’t accomplish her goal. He said: “Her progression has been steady. She has a tendency to fall back sometimes, but then all of a sudden she has a good race, a good week, and some good practices. Just like any high school athlete she has her bad days and good days. But I think she has more good days than bad, so that’s important. She’s progressing nicely as far as this season is concerned.
“The one thing that Laura does is work hard every day. That’s important because I think the boys push harder because of her and her response is always to work harder because of them. Her work ethic is untouchable.”
Natalie Bower and Abby Hewitt have been down this trail before. It's a journey that started with a PIAA AAA state title when the girls were freshmen. And if all goes well, they could well end their careers as state champs again. In between that 2005 title and now, Bower and Hewitt, along with fellow senior Nicole Egan, have returned to the state meet each year. As a team, they were 9th in 2006 and 10th in 2007.
But it was as freshmen that both Natalie and Abby got their taste for the big prize. Bower was 4th overall and 1st for the team. Hewitt was 6th for the team. While the two didn't think it would always be that easy, they both concede they didn't really know what it all meant at the time.
Abby says that she and Natalie had talked recently about how excited all the seniors had been that year; among them Abby's big sister, Caitlin, who was a pole vaulter and long jumper who leant her athletic talent to the team and garnered the 5th place points that wrapped up the title. (Caitlin is now a junior at Stanford, and competes in the same events). "We (Natalie and Abby) were saying, 'yea, we won States. That's cool.' And now we know that winning States was huge, and we get to appreciate the opportunity like those seniors did when we were freshmen."
But talent is not all that drives this team – nor any team that strives for this level year after year.
Head coach Teresa Curci says that in her decade with the Latrobe team, she has always noticed that the seniors look out for the freshmen. The senior who helped ease Natalie onto the varsity; Liz Brinkley; was helped by Amy Egan. Brinkley then returned the favor with Bower, and, running 2nd to the star freshman, helped to win the state title in 2007. And now the seniors – Natalie, Abby and Nicole, are taking the others under their wings.
And it's that internal one-to-one support that Curci thinks helps to build success from year to year. "I think the girls have been so successful because no matter what your level of running... they all try to help one another out."
Curci says she has even noticed the two varsity freshmen (there may be more sometime during the year), Annie Jakubek and Alex Brant, socializing and laughing with the seniors.
That incredibly strong bond was demonstrated to her in the fall of 2006 – a year after the state title – when at the first meet of the year at the Red, White & Blue Classic, she noticed that Natalie was somewhat emotional while missing her former teammates.
But Bower would not focus on the loss for long. "We saw this (2008) team coming," Bower says. "We actually knew that sophomore year there were good runners and what they were doing in junior high. So we're thinking for our senior year, we're going to have a lot of good girls on the team."
While the three varsity seniors know that their leadership is important, Bower and Hewitt know there's something else that can't be pulled, dragged or coached out of the young girls. "I think everyone has it in themselves" Bower says.
Hewitt (right, in photo) agrees. "The motivation goes back and forth. At practices, we all work so hard and we all know how important it is for each other. We don't ever have to tell them to stop slacking off."
Bower is first, and foremost, focused on her team. After finishing 4th each of her first three years of cross country – no small feat in itself – Coach Curci thinks that the depth of the team may actually help Bower improve her place at States. Maybe even to the top. "That could be possible. With the support of her teammates, she will have so much more confidence."
And she may be getting a push from fellow senior Hewitt. Abby ran 6th for the team in 2005, and 2nd on the team at States in 2006. Bur her junior year was a disappointment for her as she worked through problems with exercise-induced asthma. "It seems to be under control, even on a humid day like today (Gettysburg in a rain storm)."
At Gettysburg, the rest of the current varsity top eight had good days as well. (Duh, that's how they won). Junior Mary Jo Jakubek is coming off a tibia stress fracture, and despite being behind a bit on training, looked confident according to Curci. "She is just a natural." Mary Jo was 7th in 19:45.5. Senior Nicole Egan ran a PR of 20:08.2 for 12th. Annie Jakubek, one of the two varsity freshmen, was the final Latrobe scorer, getting 20th in 20:25.8, and passing several Cumberland Valley runners over the final stretch. Fellow frosh Alex Brant was 26th in 20:44.3, but suffered some dehydration during the race. Junior Genie Fratto also PRed, going 20:56.6. Curcie says Fratto is the classic distance runner story – that you get out what you put in. "In 7th grade, she was always last." And sophomore Caitlin Egan, who ran 4th for the team at States last year, is coming off an ankle strain and just getting back into shape. She finished 5th in the JV race.
But wait, there's more.
Curci says to keep your eyes open for two other freshmen, Allison Wisyanski and Jordan Buches, who were 7th and 9th, respectively, in the JV race. And even though Bower, Hewitt and Egan won't return next year, there are ten more underclassmen, including three freshmen, working to keep up the Latrobe tradition of winning.
So how good is this year's Latrobe team?
Hewitt says she doesn't plan to let the opportunity pass her by. "I knew this was my senior year, and I worked hard over the summer... with all those good girls coming up, I knew this was going to be the year."
Bower was impressed with the Gettysburg race as well, but didn't want to be overly effusive. "It is a big eye-opener to see where we are. That's great to come out here with that many good teams and being able to compete."
While Bower won't focus on her goals, she has no problems talking about the young talent helping Latrobe attempt to get to the top of the podium in November. "We like them (the freshmen) excited. They're just happy about everything. They're fun to have around. We're excited, because we're reliving our freshman year."
Could it be 2005 all over again?
Score fewer points than the other guys, and you win in this sport.
Go out too aggressively, and those points start to add up as you go backwards, just as the other teams are starting to surge.
(Michael Pierce and HGP #2 Andrew Viscusi were 1-4 at a mile. Pierce would win easily, with Viscusi, 8th)
In 2007, Holy Ghost Prep had a strong team. They had a great race at the PIAA Pre-State meet in September, winning the Blue Race, and taking 2nd in combined results to a very strong North Allegheny team. At States, even though they improved their team average on the course, they would finish 10th in AAA.
But there seems to be a difference in this year's team... even after losing two of their top five to graduation.
The most obvious change is... patience.
At last year's Viking Invitational at Tamanend Park on the Friday of Labor Day Weekend, it was the Holy Ghost Prep team that had four guys at the front of the race at the top of a hill just 1/2 mile into the race. That day, a more patient Hatboro-Horsham squad would come back over the latter part of the race to win by nine points. The Hatters would also take Holy Ghost Prep by two places at States.
This year, same venue, same hill, same two teams... and it was Hatboro with four guys at the front of the race, with only Holy Ghost Prep team leader Michael Pierce in front at 1/2 mile. The more patient approach to the race proved beneficial to Holy Ghost Prep as they would pass people and go on to beat Hatboro by 22 points.
"We're running smarter," admits Pierce, who also appears to be a different runner – for a reason – than he was a year ago.
He started 2007 running 5th for his team at Viking. By the end of the year, he was the #1 guy, and even captured a medal at States, getting 21st.
That progression is indicative of one thing. Pierce used the 2007 season to train, instead of the summer.
Pierce had gotten into running as a cross-training tool for his former first-love, baseball. The coaches immediately noticed he had some talent, and also pointed out to him that with more, smarter training, he had a lot of potential in the sport.
Pierce listened, and not only ran indoor track; where he would post at 4:25 mile; but quit baseball in the spring in favor of the oval. He repeated that performance outdoor, as well.
He was hooked, and he knew that for this cross country season, they would have a senior-laden team.
So the team made the decision to take the summer very seriously. They would meet voluntarily twice a week, and would meet other times when they were at the shore ('down the shore' as we say in Philly).
(Pierce finishes first in the only sub-16 of the soggy day - photo by Timothy O'Dowd, Irishrunner.com)
The effects are obvious. In addition to their Viking win, Holy Ghost Prep took 2nd to a surprisingly strong, but young Cumberland Valley team at Gettysburg... while beating two other quality teams in Carlisle and Altoona.
At the front of both races, though, was Pierce. His 15:39.7 at Viking was virtually alone the last half. And he pushed the pace after the mile at Gettysburg in very sloppy conditions to run the only sub-16 of the day.
"I'm feeling stronger this year," Pierce says.
And he hasn't really pushed. "My strategy has been pretty relaxed. Out chillin' the first mile and then taking it when I think it's getting a little too easy."
But he knows the big races are yet to come, and that the competition in PA is as deep as ever.
And that's what he likes most about his new official sport. "I like the competition. The toughing it out. It's rewarding because how hard you work correlates directly to how well you do."
And unlike baseball, Pierce says, there's not much luck involved. "Besides," he adds, "running has been going pretty well."
This season, for some inexplicable reason (other than they lost two of their top five from a 9th place PIAA team), Cumberland Valley was overlooked in pre-season discussions. But they were discussed – and that simply shows the respect that the rest of the state has for the program. You can never discount this team.
What was missed – and is probably nearly impossible to see coming – is when two freshmen-turned-sophomores develop virtually overnight into top varsity runners.
Last year at this time, then frosh Andy Flynn (Left #287 with SR Mike Nemeth) was winning one of the JV races at Gettysburg, running an 18:05.6, a time that would have put him 6th on the varsity that day.
A year later, and a few inches taller and a lot stronger, Flynn would finish 7th in the race as the top Cumberland Valley harrier on the winning team. His 16:28.9 was a PR.
Last year at this time, frosh Ryan Hartzel was playing football.
To look at him now, you'd say that running ultimately saved his life. But football is a sport he has loved and played since he was nine. And as a running back, cornerback and kick returner, he saw plenty of action.
And he lifted. Because when you're taking hits on the gridiron, you gotta have some protection.
But he always loved running, and as a freshman at CV, he saw an opportunity to run indoor track.
They started him as a sprinter because of his football build.
They bumped him up to the 800.
And a distance runner was born. The lifting for power went away. And a different kind of speed emerged.
Last Saturday, Hartzel would run 4th man on CV at Gettysburg, going 16:43.2 in his very first cross country race.
(Right: SO Ryan Hartzel, JR Sean Murphy, and, in backround, SR Mark Fuller, who would finish 3rd on CV)
Flynn and Hartzel did have some success at this level during spring track, with Flynn earning a spot on the state 4x800 team, and Hartzel as an alternate.
But coming out on the first Saturday of September against competition the caliber of Holy Ghost Prep, Carlisle and Altoona was a whole new experience. And with a 16-second compression and five in the top 17, CV made a major statement.
Seniors Mike Nemeth and Mark Fuller, who ran 2nd and 3rd, respectively, for CV at Gettysburg, were visibly thrilled with their sophomore teammates. "We thought he (Flynn) would be coming around," said Fuller... "but not as big as he came out today. Our young guys really stepped it up."
Nemeth concurred. "Coming into summer, I did not think we had a team that could possibly repeat" (at Gettysburg).
But over a summer of voluntary three days a week and a successful camp at Millersville University, they both knew the kids had talent. "We just told them to relax, stay calm, and not worry if something happened," said Nemeth.
Hartzel says that the rain was a welcome site for him. "It was just like football weather, so I was used to it."
His strategy, as well as that of fellow frosh Flynn, was easier said that done. "They just said to stay relaxed and stay with them."
Nemeth says the guys are always trying to run as a pack during workouts, so it's a natural extension in the race.
And both he and Fuller are hoping the other young runners who are in the top 10 on the team can contribute this year as well. There are three more sophomores at or under 19 at Gettysburg, and two juniors in the 16:45 to 17:30 range.
A wealth of talent in a big school, you say? Point conceded. Big schools have more students. But you still have to get them out. You still have to coach them. But probably most importantly, the kids have to care enough to go through the pain, the work, and even the disappointments to get to the top.
"Running is all I think about" says Hartzel.
And that's something you can't coach.
By Fred Carlson
GATEWAY-ALTOONA-LATROBE TRI MEET RESULTS
This annual non-section three-way matchup was hosted by Latrobe this year under hot, dry conditions closing in on 90 degrees.
Girls: The girls race featured individual star Natalie Bower of Latrobe, a senior PIAA state AAA favorite, and the Latrobe girls (2005 state champs) highly rated in the preseason, opening their 2008 campaign. Latrobe got out fast on their home course and at the 1.2 mile mark Natalie was 13 seconds up over a string of Latrobe girls. Gateway's Gogniat sisters running well so far this season, Sue (senior-finishing 4th), and Marissa (sophomore-finishing 7th) each passed two Latrobe runners in the last mile breaking up a very strong Latrobe performance. Bower finished easing up in 20:08 with her teammate Abby Hewitt (at 2007 Tri-State Coaches, Cooper's Lake) only 19 seconds back in 20:27. Hewitt raced well the whole course and kept her gap from Natalie constant after
the first half mile. Nicole Egan finished third in 21:33 just ahead of a fast closing Sue Gogniat of Gateway in 21:35. Gateway's 3rd and 4th runners were absent so the meet results weren't so kind to the Gators, who
had finished a strong second at the Gateway Invitational August 30. MJ Jakubek ran a strong 22:03 in 5th after tiring off the main pace half way through in the heat. The spread from Bower to their fifth runner was 2:00 even.
Girls Results: Latrobe 17 Gateway 44; Latrobe 15 Altoona 46; Altoona 25
Boys: Gateway's senior DJ Krystek, winner of last weekend's Gateway invitational, third best returning XC AAA boy from D7 (WPIAL), and 4:23 state 1600 qualifier last spring in track, led wire to wire not letting the heat get in the way of a fast time. At 1.2 miles, Krystek led by 30 yards followed by Altoona's strong top 5 joined by Latrobe's Jeff Ashcraft and Montana Miller and Gateway's next 5 drafting back in the hot conditions. Altoona clearly was running for the group finish by 800 to go as the Latrobe runners had dropped 10 places in the heat and Krystek was increasing his lead the whole way. DJ finished in a very fast 17:18 and the Altoona boys group finished in a tough 13 second spread second through sixth from 17:52 to 18:05 just ahead of fast closing Gateway runners Tony Havrilla and Nick Farina whose slow starting strategy just ran out of course to break up the Altoona group.
Boys results: Altoona 20 Gateway 41; Altoona 15 Latrobe 48; Gateway 19
Altoona coach Lee Baranik can't pinpoint the exact moment during their 2007 cross country season that his young and untested boys' team made a decision that most coaches only dream about.
He just knows that as the season approached, something was happening that would make them a better team.
Because he had two freshmen, three sophomores and a junior, Baranik must have briefly considered adapting last year's XC calendar to accommodate such a young group. But this team would not hear anything about backing off Altoona's usual tough schedule. "They wanted to go to all the meets we normally go to, and that's how I think it got started" Baranik relates.
The guys said they were primed for a season competing at some of the deepest invitationals in the state. "They told me it was a dress rehearsal, so they could learn the course and come back this year and try to get some awards."
So during a challenging five-week stretch in September and early October 2007, the youthful, but talented Altoona guys would head off to get the experience they thought they would need to succeed this year.
They started by going against the best. Not just the defending AAA state champs, but a team that was the defending Nike Team Nationals champs - Coatesville.
Even though Coatesville only returned two from that special 2006 squad, they were still strong, and would beat Altoona at the opening Big Valley meet on their way to a 2nd place finish at the state meet. Altoona would finish a very respectable 2nd at Big Valley 2007.
Then the road got rougher, and the competition deeper. They first went to Gettysburg and captured 7th in the hot race. They took a bit of a respite and stayed home and won their own invitational. Then it was off to Carlisle with teams from all across the state. They didn't dodge the seeded race, and would finish 20th. But they weren't done, venturing on to the tough Steel City course and competition on Coatesville's home ground. They captured 9th.
Baranik knew the guys were young, but he could sense something was happening.
He helped them set realistic expectations for the state meet, figuring that if they finished anywhere between 15 and 20, he would be happy. With a top six that was led by a freshman, and consisting of two sophomores, a junior and another freshmen, Altoona would finish 17th.
"They took their lumps last year" Baranik said. "But I told them the 17th was a start."
Instead of leaving for home, the team stayed to watch the awards ceremony. "We walked away from there with some guys having hopes of getting a medal at the state meet this year."
The team moved on to track. Two of the guys would break 10 for 3200 for the first time. One of the freshmen PRed in the 1600 at 4:37.
As the team entered summer, Baranik said he could see the team starting to come together... "not only as a team, but more importantly, as friends."
Eight members of the team would attend the Millersville University cross country camp where Baranik is on the staff. Rising junior Jordan Liberman would also attend the Shippensburg University camp. And fellow junior Chris Fischer would capture 6th in the 2000m Steeplechase at the USATF Junior Olympics Championships in late July.
Baranik was pleased with what he saw. "They pull for each other and they push each other. I think that has been the difference."
The difference at Big Valley was a reversal from 2007, and Altoona dominated the 29 team field that included a rebuilding, but always dangerous, Coatesville. They placed five in the top 18 and seven in the top 31, with their scoring compression a very strong 41 seconds off the 4th place finish by sophomore Wade Endress in 16:39.
1 Altoona Area-51
4 16:39 Wade Endress 10 Altoona Area
6 16:45 Jordan Liberman 11 Altoona Area
7 16:49 Billy Hackmeister 11 Coatesville
11 17:02 Chris Fischer 11 Altoona Area
12 17:03 Ryan Trexler 12 Altoona Area
13 17:04 Chris Rosato 12 Coatesville
18 17:20 Mike Harf 11 Altoona Area
23 17:40 Zach Mains 11 Coatesville
26 17:46 Steve Fox 12 Altoona Area
28 17:47 Pat McGinley 10 Coatesville
31 17:52 Tyler Lidwell 10 Altoona Area
And it's that compression that Baranik likes the most. "Get five across the line in around 30 seconds, and usually good things are going to happen."
The coach and his young team will get a chance to see truly see how far they have come at this Saturday's Gettysburg Invitational where they will race PA pre-season #5 Coatesville (again), #7 Carlisle, #9 Holy Ghost Prep, and Cumberland Valley, who received pre-season mention along with Altoona.
Baranik is hopeful for this year, especially with some JVs that look like they might push the varsity even more.
He thinks that just maybe, the Altoona dress rehearsal may be over.
It's tough being a little brother. You get hand-me-downs. You get left out of things the older kids are doing. But on rare occasions, you face something even tougher – your older brother leaves a legacy in your favorite sport that seems nearly impossible to match.
Getting over that legacy hump can be a journey in itself... and this year, it appears that the journey will be successful for one athlete... at least if his first race is any indication.
Meet Tom Luff of Emmaus. For those who don't remember, his older brother Sam was an elite runner for much of his high school career – taking 2nd in the 3200 at PIAA states as a junior in 9:10, and getting 2nd in cross country as a senior behind three-time state champ Craig Miller of Manheim Township. Both runner-ups were in 2004. Sam also entered states as one of the top seeds in the 3200 as a senior.
Tom was in 8th grade when his brother graduated and went on to Cornell University, where he is one of the captains of the cross country team this fall.
But enough about Sam.
Tom started his 2008 senior campaign with a big PR of 15:50.4 in finishing 2nd to Holy Ghost Prep senior Mike Pierce (15:39.7). Luff's time is a full 28 seconds better than he has ever run on the faster Lehigh University course.
To give it a little context, Foot Locker finalist Josh Hibbs* of Hatboro Horsham began his senior year at the event in 2005 and ran 15:44. Former Cardinal O'Hara standout Steve Hallinan went 15:39 there in 2003. And Josh Izewski, Central Bucks East, won it twice, in 15:48 and his course record 15:18 from last year.
Suffice it to say that busting 16 at the course is a big deal done by elite runners.
"I never pictured myself in that category," Luff said when told of his time following the race.
The difference seems to be a combination of core strength and increased mileage.
In 2007, Luff had decreased his mileage and ended up having what he termed a disappointing season, finishing 136th at States, a year after he was 100th as a sophomore.
The week of this year's Viking, he hit 60 miles, topping his career most of 50. And during the winter, he started weight training 3-4 times a week following his runs. That training continued all summer. From a pace standpoint, he'd hit 7 minutes or less on a run, and has any speed work slated for later this season.
Emmaus head coach Dan Wessner says he noticed this summer that Tom was turning the corner toward achieving a new level. "With the running part, he didn't get fancy. He's gotten a lot more miles. I don't know mentally, but even that (mileage) kind of washed out the previous three years, and comparing himself as much to Sam."
The workout that confirmed Tom's improvement to Wessner came on a long run in the mountains when Wessner sent the guys out further than they normally would go. "It was one of those days in the mountains... a little bit of fog and just a great day to run."
Wessner told them where to make the turn and to use the mountains to guide them back. He didn't let them know the distance, and he certainly didn't give them a clue about the elevations. "Every time they turned the corner, they were going up a big grade, and it was a killer. They were troopers. They're going to be better for it, but I think they're feeling it already."
Luff's coach said that while he was not surprised by Tom's time at Viking, he was a little surprised by how close he was to Holy Ghost Prep's Mike Pierce, and where he was compared to other quality runners.
(Photos at 1.75 miles - Left: Mike Pierce pulls away – Right: Luff, Jordan Dawson (CB East) and Seth Hibbs (Hatboro-Horsham, give chase.
Luff and others found themselves chasing Pierce mid-race, but maintained some contact as they approached two miles. "I wanted to stay comfortable through 2, and I thought I was kind of fading a bit" Luff said.
He started to think of previous races in prior years in which he had faded. But that was then, and this was 2008. Luff found his second wind and took off and passed the two runners he was with.
Then Luff did something even he didn't seem to expect. He took off over the last mile in an effort to catch the front-running Pierce. And while he didn't catch him, Luff says it showed that he's in the shape of his life, and ready for some bigger things.
And while he acknowledges that he'd like to achieve at a level of his older brother, he seems to have discovered something even more important. "I'm just going to run for myself, and push myself to see what I can do."
That's the kind of thing that can really make an older brother proud.
* Speaking of younger brothers... Josh Hibb's brother Seth,
a senior at Hatboro-Horsham, was 4th in the race in 15:57.6.