PIAA XC Champs Race Preview: Class AA Boys

Class AA Boys Individual Preview - PIAA State Championships

Dylan Throop rode his strong junior season to the state title last fall, breaking the field over the course of 5,000 meters to take his first state title. Now a senior, Throop of General McLane is the one to beat this season.

Throop ran 14:44 for 5K on the track earlier this season and then dropped a quick 15:22 to run away with the District 10 title. He's in better shape than he was a year ago and the Penn commit will be tough to thwart in his bid for the state's top spot in AA.

Throop will see a challenge, though, from two boys are also in the best shape of their careers. Greencastle-Antrim's Weber Long cruised to wins at Mid-Penns and the District 3 Championships. After a breakthrough sophomore year that saw him place third at states, Long is running even better this season and will be a strong threat in this AA field.

Lewisburg's Jacob Hess is another contender in this field. He hung with Throop the longest last year before the eventual champion broke free. Hess placed fifth in the state last season. Hess, a junior, took home some solid wins at the PHAC Championships and District 4. He's running well and should put himself right in the mix, as well. Those three favorites, however, will all be in different races based on the PIAA's alignment, so these boys could end up racing the clock.

A number of others should figure into the equation here, though. The WPIAL will bring some great talent to the line, headlined by Knoch's Mike Formica, who weathered the conditions to win the District 7 title last week. It's been a banner season for the senior, who will be one to watch in his state meet debut. Also making his state meet debut is Ringgold's Ryan Pajak. He has been one of the state's most impressive freshman this fall, and it will be interesting to see how he does in this field.

All the individual qualifiers in the WPIAL should be contenders for high finishes. In addition to Formica and Ryan Pajak, Quintin Gatons (20th last year) of Greensburg Salem, Joel Beckwith (21st last year) of Indiana, Will Lamb of Beaver, and Lucas Pajak (16th last year) of Ringgold will all be in the mix for medals and perhaps finishes in the top ten.

Central Cambria's Toby Cree was 12th last year and should be a major factor up front this year again. He cruised to the District 6 win last week and seems primed for a strong performance this weekend. District 2 champion Chris Hine (23rd last year) of Holy Redeemer and District 11 champion Matthew Chaikowsky (19th last year) of Saucon Valley also have the potential for big races that could find them competing for spots inside the top five. District 1 champion Elliot Puckett of Holy Ghost Prep was a narrow district champ. He was 56th in AAA at states last year and will be a factor closer to the front in AA.

Archbishop Wood's Gary Martin, the District 12 champion, hasn't had a lot of racing opportunities this fall, but the junior will be worth keeping an eye on Saturday. He's an indoor state medalist from last winter and should put himself in contention. District 3 is solid after Long. The Kennard-Dale duo of Garrett Quinan and Collin Wolf (26th last year) went 2-4 at Big Spring last week, and will be on the hunt for low team scores on Saturday. Colin Whitaker of Lampeter-Strasburg is enjoying a strong freshman season; he was third in D3. He'll look for a big showing in his first state meet.

This is a solid field and with a limited amount of big invites to get a good feel of potential breakthrough runners, there could be a chance for some surprise boys making their way into the top ten. Others to watch out for include Lewisburg's Calvin Bailey, Warrior Run's Caden Dufrene, Hickory's Cole Frazier, Kennard-Dale's Dan Gibney, Lewisburg's Thomas Hess, Grove City's Gabe Nichols, Danville's Rory Lieberman, and Pottstown's Darius Smallwood.