Joshua Jones of Grove City winning the District 10 Championship.
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.
Yesterday, we released a list of our Boys Top 250 Returners from PIAA 2A. That list compared runners on the same course to give a more accurate objective ranking.
Ones to Watch:
Lieberman finished fifth in the 2021 cross country state championship race with a 16:11, the third fastest returning time statewide. His 2021 campaign was highlighted by his 15:52 5k at the NEPA Invitational and his 16-flat second place finish at the District 4 Championships.
This track season, he ran 9:02 over 3200m after dropping his personal best by 37-seconds throughout the season. This spring, he added a second-place showing in the state (AAA) 3200m championship.
Ryan Pajak, a returning junior, earned his ranking by winning the PIAA Foundation Invitational. He ran 16:21 at Hershey before running 15:23 a week later at Paul Short. Pajak placed fifth in the 3A 3200m championship race this May, just four seconds behind Lieberman. If Pajak can piece together longevity in the championship season, he will be a threat to win the 2A title.
Colin Whitaker (Lampeter Strasburg) is also a returning junior with similar personal bests to the aforementioned Lieberman and Pajak. He does not have as much state championship experience as the other two, but he ran a 15:46 5k at last year's Eastbay XC Northeast Regional. He finished 6th in the state championship race last year.
Logan Strawser (Juniata) presents an interesting case as one to watch. Running 16:39 at the state cross country championship, he finished seventh in 2A and won the District 6 Championship the prior week. However, it was his track season that elevated our intrigue.
Strawser interestingly ran the 800m and 3200m at the 2A State Championship and finished fourth and second, respectively. He accumulated 18 wins throughout the season and was dominant on the track. In the 800m, he ran as fast as 1:55.59, suggesting he will have some speed down the stretch.
A must-have on your radar is Joshua Jones of Grove City. Although he finished 16th at the PIAA 2A State Cross Country Championships, a month later, he ran a 15:47 5k at the Garmin RunningLane Cross Country Championships. He has found some speed over the last few months as he ran a 4:18 1600m at the 2A Track and Field State Championship.
His team will also be on the hunt for a title.
Teams to Watch:
Grove City Area returns a core of young and talented runners and is the heavy early season favorites after finishing runner-up at the state meet in 2021.
The team enters the season with five runners ranked inside our Top-60 returners to PIAA 2A. To amplify that, the squad has seven runners in Joshua Jones, Quinn McKnight, Wyatt Shepson, MJ Pottinger, Justy Brown, and Isaiah Stauff, who have broken 17-minutes over the 5k distance. They boast a decisive 1-5 split of 54-seconds based on their personal bests.
The 2021 champs, Lewisburg Area, have a path to defend their title behind brothers Thomas Hess and Jonathan Hess. Lewisburg graduated their older brother Jacob Hess, who finished third at the state meet last year, but the other Hess brothers are ripe for improvement. Thomas Hess finished 28th at the state meet, while Jonathan finished 34th as a freshman. If the two can work together and move up the rankings, they may be able to lead their team back to the podium.
Kieran Murray was not too far behind the Hess brothers, so it will be interesting to see where he slots behind those two. After those three, they will rely on Liam Shabahang and Ben Bailey to make strides heading into the season.
Hampton's tight pack is also worthy of attention. The squad finished seventh at last year's championship but is primed to move up the rankings after returning five of their top seven. Based on best performances, they have a 25-second spread of personal bests from their top runner to their fifth.