Class A Boys Individual Preview - PIAA State Championships
Penns Valley's Colton Sands made his return to the trails on Saturday, running his first major race of the season. The defending Class A state champion and tenth place Foot Locker Nationals finisher, won the District 6 crown in 15:55 after battling a knee injury that has had him sidelined for much of the fall. It was a sign that the senior and UNC commit can and will compete for his second straight state title this weekend.
He won't be joined on the line by his teammate and 2019 Class A state runner-up Brendan Colwell, whose XC season is over due to injury.
Sands comes in as the favorite still despite the injury, but the question looms: how good is his fitness and is it enough to win the state title? His 15:55 at the Indian Valley course isn't quite the 15:14 he ran to win the D6 title last year on the same course, but it's still a solid solo effort. The talent is there even if he's not 100% and he'll be a tough one to beat.
So, who could challenge Sands up front?
Two others in the field have gone sub-16 this season. Northern Bedford's Ian Zimmerman was fifth at states last year in A. He was second to Colwell at Altoona, but has a pair of wins at River Trail and then his fourth straight (!) District 5 title. He's got some great talent and will certainly make a run at it. Thomas Smigo of Palisades was seventh in AA last year, and the sophomore moves to A this season. He won the Colonial League in 15:52 and then took the District 11 crown last week. The sophomore continues to show his strength and he should be right in the mix.
Kevin Jumper of Holy Cross took home the District 2 title on Monday, and should be a factor after placing seventh in Class A a year ago. He's undefeated on the season and should put himself right in the conversation on Saturday morning once again. The WPIAL has some strong talent that should be competing for high finishes. District 7 champion Patrick Malone (23rd at states last year) of Winchester Thurston has three wins on the season. Meanwhile, Riverview's Mason Ochs (eighth last year) and Riverside's Colby Belczyk (tenth last year) are both back after taking top ten finishes at states last year. Also from Thurston, Lance Nicholls has been a breakthrough performer this season (he was third at WPIALs) and he shouldn't be far behind Malone.
The Jenkintown duo of Luke Miller and Carter Geer went 1-2 in District 1 on Monday, and both will be top five contenders. Miller did not finish the state meet last year, but has a lot of motivation entering Monday, while Geer was 26th (just outside of the medals) last season. Their teammates Oliver Michell and Aiden Michell also return from the medal stand from last year. Three-time District 3 champion Mitchell Brett of Kutztown is another contender in this solid field. He was 13th a year ago and could make a run at the top five this time around.
District 4 champion Hunter Foust of Hughesville was 24th last year at states and returns this year to Hershey. He should be competitive in this field. Out of District 9, Elk County Catholic's Joe Wolfe and Cranberry's Matt Woolcock will be ones to watch. Wolfe won the D9 crown, while Woolcock was second.
Rocky Grove's Magnum Vincent may have the best hair in the field, but he's also got some talent as evidenced by his District 10 win this past week. Penns Valley's Thaddeus Smith went 16:38 in D6 to take second to Sands. Look for him to have a strong finish here. Sam Hetrick of Saegertown is another returning medalist to keep an eye on in this field. He was 22nd a year ago. Wyalusing Valley's Zion Laudermilch (season best of 16:32) is another boy to watch in this field.
A lot rides on just how fit Sands is. Regardless, he'll be a tough one to top in the four Class A races on Saturday.