A thin layer of frost still coated the course as the first race of the day -- the Class A girls -- went off. It was the coldest state meet in at least of number of years. In the end, Haley Hamilton came out on top to win the individual title, and the Saint Joseph's Catholic Academy girls completed a seemingly improbable run to the top after qualifying five individuals out of their district meet.
Haley Hamilton of Our Lady of Sacred Heart bided her time and it paid off in a big way. The senior ran down race leader Lauren Shaffer of Portage Area in the final kilometer to take home the first state title of the day, a win in the Class A girls race.
Hamilton loves the Hershey course and it showed on Saturday in some chilly morning conditions. After a pair of seventh place finishes the past two years, Hamilton moved up to the top spot this season at her final XC state meet, clocking a 19:19 for a rather convincing win.
Shaffer, who was second last year, took out the race hard from the start and opened up a gap on the field. Hamilton and Wilmington's Grace Mason led a charge in the second half of the race to cut into her advantage. Hamilton had the most left in the end, running to the win. Mason came home second for a second straight year. She went 19:37. Greensburg Central Catholic's Corinn Brewer ran a strong race to take third in 19:40, followed by fourth place Krista Jones of Elk Lake, who also ran 19:40. Northern Lehigh's Reagan Pender rounded out the top five, running 19:54 for fifth.
Every state title team has their story of how they ran to the championship. But perhaps no path to the top of the state has ever been as unconventional as Saint Joseph's Catholic Academy.
SJCA didn't qualify for the state meet as a full team. At the District 6 Championships, only the top two teams get berths to states. Those went to Westmont Hilltop and Marion Center. SJCA took third. But the Wolves earned five of the district's ten individual state qualifying spots, which gave the team a scoring five to go to states.
Running with five individuals, the Wolves pulled out a great race to take the team title, the program's third state crown and first since 2016. SJCA scored 93 points for the victory.
Kate Youngmark led the way, taking tenth overall in 20:10, nearly a PR for the sophomore. Then the two through five runners came through in rapid fire. Kathleen Simander (43rd), Brandi Carmack (46th), Myah Chappell (47th), and Camryn Eby (56th) all finished within 17 seconds.
The defending state champions from Marion Center Area had another strong showing at Hershey, placing second. MCA had the best spread in the field -- 35 seconds -- and got on the podium with 116 points. District 3 winners Camp Hill were third with 119 points, with Laura Sakol's medal-winning 23rd performance leading the way. District 10's Wilmington was fourth, while the District 6 champions from Westmont Hilltop took fifth.