It might be too early to pick favorites at the state level, but we want to give you the rundown of individuals/teams to keep an eye on heading into the early season. There is no doubt that many individuals and teams are worthy of this list, but we have picked a few that we would like to highlight.
Earlier today, we released a list of our Boys Top 225 Returners from PIAA 1A. That list compared runners on the same course to give a more accurate objective ranking. Check it out HERE.
Ones to Watch:
PIAA 1A graduated ten runners from the top 20 of last year's state meet, meaning there are a lot of places to be had by risers in the classification.
Yet, Thomas Smigo (Palisades) still sits at the top of the list after winning his first state championship last fall. He won last year's championship by 8 seconds after inserting a fast pace early in the race. He spread the field over the next miles and edged out then-senior Ty Fluharty.
Smigo was a bit of an unknown heading into the Championship meet. He had only run one major invite, The Lions Invitational hosted by Moravian. We may expect that to change this year, as he is coming off a season that saw him run 4:15.72 in the 1600m and 9:20.68 in the 3200m outdoors. He ran both of those times at the PIAA 2A state championship, finishing in the top five of both races.
One of the boys who beat him in that 3200m championship was Sean Aiken (Eden Christian Academy). He had a breakout season on the track and won the 2A Championship with a time of 9:13.47... in just his first season running the event. His team will likely be in contention for the team title this fall, which may add extra fuel to his fire throughout the year.
Aiken finished fifth at last year's cross country championship, over 20-seconds behind Smigo. But that gap will likely close after Aiken made remarkable strides this past season.
Oliver Mitchell (Jenkintown) finished third at last year's championship, right behind runner-up Fluharty. He added a sixth place finish in the 3200m at states. Mitchell seems to show up when it matters, and his progression is one to watch.
All of those boys are rising seniors, but Kevin Sherry (Coudersport) is a rising junior to keep an eye on. He finished 20th at the state cross country meet in 2021 but enjoyed a breakout season this spring, running 9:21.19 over 3200m. After shaving 40-seconds off of his lifetime best, he is primed to experience similar success this cross country season.
Rising sophomore Tommy Clark of Dunmore should also pique some interest. He focused on the 800m and 1600m this spring and ran 2:02.85 and 4:29.87, respectively. Track speed doesn't necessarily equate to speed on the course, but championship experience does. He won the D2-2A championship and finished 16th at the 2A state 1600m championship. He still has much to prove, but the rising talent should be on the radar.
For the FULL Returner Rankings. Make sure you check out our Top 225 1A Returners.
Teams to Watch:
The defending champs, Hughesville, graduated their top four runners this spring. They'll rely on sophomore Shea McCusker to carry the torch into the early season. It may be difficult for them to reload their ranks, but as the defending champs, we would be wise to keep them on our radar.
The most exciting team this year may be Winchester Thurston. The squad placed runner-up last year and will look to challenge for that top spot in a few months. The team graduated its top runner, but they returned five of their next six. They will be led by three rising sophomores, Peter Heintzleman, Eli DeSimone, and Charlie Routledge. Watching how these three work together throughout the year will be fascinating.
Eden Christian Academy returns two of the top ten finishers from last year's championship and two of the top five returners in PIAA 1A. One of those runners is the aforementioned Sean Aiken. Ethan Haring joins him. Both runners could compete for the individual title at the end of the season, so it'll be interesting to see if the squad's depth can improve to help move the team up the rankings. They finished 7th last year.
Jenkintown is a must-watch. The team returned its top four but graduated its five through seven. We mentioned that they have Mitchell contending for a low stick, so if they can fill those open spots and develop all-around, they could be in the hunt.
Riverview and West Middlesex are also worth keeping an eye on. Riverview graduated three of its top four but still retained a tight pack. They'll lean on Amberson Bauer to snag a low stick for them. He finished top 50 at the state meet last year and ran 1:55.19 800m to finish third at the PIAA 2A State Championship this May.