Photo by Don Rich
In early June last year, we found out that one of the best runners in New York history, Noah Affolder and his younger brother Sam Affolder were transferring from Carthage to Carlisle in Pennsylvania.
Any ideas or predictions we made leading up to the 2016 XC season, we could throw out the window because all of a sudden we had a new individual favorite and a new team favorite in Pennsylvania. Nearly five months since finding out about the Affolder's move, here we are...States Week.
Noah Affolder has been as good as advertised. The reigning Foot Locker Northeast champ won Enos Yeager, PTXC, Carlisle, McQuaid, Manhattan, Mid-Penns, and most recently District 3. MileSplit ranks him #3 in the entire nation. At his home invite, Affolder ripped off a 14:47, one of the fastest times we've seen in a long while. On Saturday, he'll look to take the Pennsylvania state championship. He'll be heavily favored to win it, too. The only thing that's left is to do it.
Sam Affolder should be up there as well. He was fourth at District 3, but ran 15:17 earlier in the season and should be among the leaders at states. Affolder's best challenger will come from Nathan Henderson of JP McCaskey. The senior was fifth last season, making him the top returner in the race (Bishop Shanahan's Josh Hoey, third in 2015, will not race this weekend). Henderson also went sub-15 at Carlisle, running 14:59 earlier in the season. He was second at District 3 to the elder Affolder and we'll see what happens on Saturday.
Also from District 3 in what was a loaded season for central PA is Ephrata's Zach Lefever. He took third on Saturday at districts, and while he might be overshadowed by some of the other D3 studs, Lefever should be in for a high finish at states.
Neshaminy's Rusty Kujdych has been on a tear this season. He defeated the massive field at the District 1 Championships, breaking away a little before two miles. He looks to be hitting his stride at the right time. He peaked well last year to take 19th and expect an even higher finish from one of the state's top juniors.
There are plenty of other District 1 talents to watch for. Souderton's Connor McMenamin was second to Kujdych at districts and was second at September's Foundation Invitational. West Chester Henderson's Spencer Smucker has really been coming around as of late and could be in for a big race at states. Lower Merion's Matthew D'Aquila and Owen J. Roberts' Liam Conway will also be on the hunt for top ten finishes on Saturday. Council Rock North's Ryan Campbell keeps getting better, most recently taking third at districts in that loaded field. He'll be leading the talented North squad and every point will matter.
Photo by Don Rich
Cardinal O'Hara's Ryan James has had a big senior season. He won at Briarwood, Foundation, DELCOs and PCLs. James was the only one to go sub-16 at September's pre-state meet, where he won. He'll look to keep that up into states day.
The top western PA threat is Franklin Regional's Mark Provenzo. He's carried the torch this season for the WPIAL after the graduation of many talented runners from last year. He was 20th in the state last season, but he's had a much stronger season this year and will be in the conversation among the leaders on Saturday afternoon. Butler's Noah Beveridge, Kiski Area's Eric Kennedy, and Baldwin's Casey Conboy are other strong District 7 runners to keep an eye out for.
State College's Nick Feffer has been in the top five in each of his six races this season, winning three times. He was a runaway champ at District 6 and third a week earlier at Mid-Penns to the Affolders. Look for a big race from Feffer, who was fourth at Foundation. Pleasant Valley's Seth Slavin has been getting better and better as the season has progressed. The District 11 champ was 29th in the state a year ago, so he'll have his eyes on the top 25 or better this time around.
The list of other medal contenders is certainly long. Some others to watch for on Saturday include Mechanicsburg's Morgan Cupp and Alex Tomasko, Lower Dauphin's Jared Giannscoli and Kyler Shea, Carlisle's Isaac Kole, Haverford's James Abrahams, Council Rock North's Tim Haas, William Tennent's Evan Hutton, LaSalle's Evan Addison, and Cardinal O'Hara's Patrick James and Gavin Inglis.
Everyone in the field will be chasing Noah Affolder on Saturday. Upsets are nothing new to the Pennsylvania state championships, though, and that is why we run the races.