Carlisle Invitational Preview by Jayson Jackson

Anytime you have the defending state champions in the field it will make for an exciting race and both the boys and girls races have that and more. The Reebok Challange races are loaded with ranked teams and top 20 teams from the 2008 PIAA Championships who are looking to getting a better gauge of where they stand in the state. According to the weather report, it will be a wet morning and afternoon as rain is expected for Saturday with a high temperature of 68. The teams will be up for the challenge as we enter the 4th weekend of the competition season.

Girls' Reebok Challenge
The girls race features two defending state champs Emmaus, AAA winner, and The Academy of Notre Dame, PA Independent Schools Champ. The Faust triplets of  PA #4 Emmaus will look to keep their winning ways as they take on a host of teams including PA #6 State College, PA# 10 Cumberland Valley, #9/#2 AA Academy of Notre Dame. The Academy of Notre Dame is coming off a third place at the Briarwood Invitational where they beat PA #2 North Penn and will look to improve from their 20th place at last year's Carlisle Invitational. State College has won both their invitationals, Big Valley and the Harry Groves Spiked Shoe, they have entered and now will face stiffer competion as they continue to work to improve on their 8th place finish at states. Last year's 6th place team from states and runnerup at Carlisle, Cumberland Valley, is another team on the rise begining to hit their stride. The field also includes five more teams who were top-20 at last year's state meet, Warwick (10th), North Allegheny (11th), Northern York (#16), Central York (#17), and Central Bucks South (#18), to add to the excitement. The team race will be a tight as everyone is continuing their march toward Hershey. The race will allow the coaches and athletes to figure out where they stand at this point in the season, what's working well, and where improvements need to be made. Emmaus remains the team to beat until they are dethroned. The Faust triplets will take care of business up front and count on their 4 and 5 runners to keep it close. For a team looking to upset the champs, they will need to be ahead or at least break up the the triplets and need a big race from runners 4 and 5 to seal the deal.

Top Girls' Teams
#4 Emmaus, #1 PIAA
#6 State College, #8 PIAA
#10 Cumberland Valley, #6 PIAA
#2 AA Academy of Notre Dame, #1 PA Independent Schools
Warwick, #10 PIAA
North Allegheny, #11 PIAA
Northern York, #16 PIAA
Central York, #17 PIAA
Central Bucks South, #18 PIAA

The individual race will be just as close the team battle with several top finishers from last year's race plus some newcomers. Leigha Anderson, Cumberland Valley, is the top returner after her 7th place finish in 2008. Also back from the last year is Allison Mannon, Warwick (11th), Cassie Pecht, Cumberland Valley (16th), Lizzie Appleton, North Allegheny (22nd), Maria Seykora, The Academy at Notre Dame (26th), and Reynah Spence, Shippensburg (27th). The field gets even deeper when you add 3 All-State XC performers, Nora Adams State College, Amanda Faust and Brianna Faust from Emmaus, and double indoor State Champ, State College's Chloe Schmidt. If history serves as any indicator, expect Spence to make a big jump up from her 27th place finish and challenge for a top-5 spot, All of the top individuals, with the exception of Spence, are on teams vying for the title so it is crucial for them to get the scoring stared early and rely that their teammates are backing them up to keep the compression small.

Top Girls
Nora Adams, State College,18th at states
Leigha Anderson, Cumberland Valley, 7th in 2008, 11th at states
Lizzie Appleton, NA, 22nd in 2008
Amanda Faust, Emmaus, 19th at states
Brianna Faust, Emmaus, 23rd at states
Christina Faust, Emmaus, 30th at states
Allison Mannon, Warwick, 11th in 2008
Cassie Pecht, Cumberland Valley, 16th in 2008, 35th at states
Chloe Schmidt, State College, 82nd at states, 800 & 1600 Indoor State Champ
Maria Seykora, Academy of Notre Dame, 26th in 2008, 1st PA Independent Schools Champs
Reynah Spence, Shippensburg, 27th in 2008

Boys' Reebok Challenge
The boys race not only features 5 ranked teams from the rankings, but also 8 of the top ten from last year's race, including the defending state champions, North Penn, and the winners of the 2008 Carlisle Invite, North Allegheny. After a close loss to West Windsor Plainsboro at Briarwood, PA #2 La Salle will be back at it again on Saturday as they will look to improve on last year's 9th-place finish in Carlisle. Giving them chase will be PA #3 Altoona, #5 Cumberland Valley, #7 North Penn, #8 Hatboro-Horsham, and #9 North Allegheny. Then you add in 5 more teams who were top 20 at states, Upper Dublin (5th), York Surburban (5th AA), Carlisle (11th), Mount Lebanon (15th), and Parkland (#20) and it is easy to see how deep of a field the race has. And I haven't even mentioned Holy Ghost Prep who was 8th at Carlisle in 2008. The team race will give a good indication of where many of the teams in the top ten stand and give a few teams who aren't ranked a chance to make a name for themselves. Even though La Salle was only 9th here last year, they are the favorites going into the race and will look to build from Carlisle to Hershey. Altoona will faces its toughest competition of the seaon as it looks to confirm that it belongs in the PA elite. But don't count out the defending Carlise, North Allegheny, and PIAA champs, North Penn, as they look to bounce back from a early season losses and earn a signature win.

Top Boys' Teams

#2 La Salle College High School, #2 PIAA
#3 Altoona, #13 PIAA
#5 Cumberland Valley, #9 PIAA
#7 North Penn, #1 PIAA
#8 Hatboro-Horsham
#9 North Allegheny, #3 PIAA
Upper Dublin, #5 PIAA
York Surburban, #5 PIAA AA
Carlisle, #11 PIAA
Mt Lebanon, #15 PIAA
Parkland #20 PIAA

Even though eight of the top ten teams return from last year, only 10 of the top 30 individuals do. Brad Miles (2nd) and Sam Bernitt (8th) of North Penn, North Allegheny's Ryan Gil (3rd), and John Pope (6th) from Carlisle were the only underclassmen to finish in the top ten in 2008. Along with those guys, you have Altoona's front man, Wade Endress, who finished 29th at Carlisle, but ended up All-State by finishing 14th in Hershey and Tom O'Kane from La Salle who will be looking to improve on his 49th place from a year ago. O'Kane was All-State too as he finished 25th. Miles is the favorite not only because he is the highest returning finisher from last year and States, but his sub-16 clocking at Briarwood strengthens his case. Endress is not far behind though coming off of three impressive victories this season, with the last one being a win in 15:40. Those two should battle for the title as they will be looking to get their respective teams started off with one-point in the score column. Gil will be looking to lead his team to victory like he did last year when they shocked the defending state champs, North Penn, 56-109. Pope will follow in last year's champ, Carlisle's Kyle Hurtson's footsteps, as he looks to protect his home course and deliver a win to the hometown fans.

Top Boys
Eric Balaban, North Allegheny, 23rd in 2008, 67th at states
Sam Bernitt, North Penn, 8th in 2008, 10th at states
Wade Endress, Altoona,29th in 2008,14th at States
Alex Galli, Cedar Crest, 22nd in 2008, 190th at states
Ryan Gil, North Allegheny, 3rd in 2008, 20th at States
Rad Gunzenhauser, Mount Lebanon, 20th in 2008
Martin Hehir, Washingtonvile, 25th in 2008
Charles Lockwood, Dallastown 28th in 2008, 79th at states
Brad Miles, North Penn, 2nd in 2008, 7th at States
Tom O'Kane, La Salle 49th in 2008, 25th at states
John Pope, Carlise, 6th in 2008, 85th at states
Tom Trainer, La Salle, 69th in 2008, 55th at States