A surprisingly chilly day descended on Ephrata as heavy clouds blocked the sun before the Lancaster Lebanon League Championship races. However, the sun pierced through the clouds at the sound of the gun, and the field of student-athletes thundered around the 5000-meter course.
RECAP - Boys' Race
The boys' race went out considerably hard. Off the line, Aidan Hodge shot out to the front, and a veil of Manheim Township runners followed him through. They made it clear from the jump that the focus would be on getting out hard.
Hempfield (3) picked a contrarian strategy and remained relaxed through the opening mile.
By the time the field returned from the back corner and into the view of onlookers, Colin Whitaker had control of the race and a small gap between Hempfield's Aidan Hodge and Joseph Fahrney. Manheim Township's 1-2 of Cole Stevens and Gunner Geib occupied the 4-5 spots.
Watch the Full Boys Race Above
A mix of jerseys followed them, with red and blue mixed throughout. It seemed the two teams were tied after a flurry of attempted math. At this point in the race, Manheim Township and Hempfield were deadlocked.
But over the next mile, Hempfield went to work. Slowly but deliberately, their three through five runners march forward. Manheim Township did their best to respond as Adam Kingston moved into the seventh spot, but Hempfield's Sam Meyer, Emerson Long, and Sam Freedman had all moved into the top 12.
Simultaneously, veteran Ben Devine (Lampeter Strasburg) moved into the fourth slot, ahead of Stevens and Geib, joining Whitaker in the top four. By this point in the race, Whitaker had the win locked up. Regardless, he continued to press and eventually crossed the line at 15:49, eleven seconds ahead of Hodge and Fahrney.
Kaleb Kabakjian (Penn Manor) had a strong race in his own right. He steadily moved up throughout the race and eventually finished in 8th with a 16:46.
Notably, Hempfield earned the team win, and they did so in impressive fashion. Several fans and spectators remarked that this was the best they'd seen Hempfield all season, and by some accounts, they're right.
This was by far the best we've seen Meyer, Long, and Freedman run with respect to Hodge and Fahrney. They stepped up big, and Long earned a season-best for his efforts. They also sported one of the best 1-5 splits they've had all year, just 55 seconds. They wore a 1:58 split at PIAA Foundation a few weeks ago.
Manheim Township finished in second, but it was a valiant effort for the squad. They placed three after Hempfield's front two and scored just 59 points. Lampeter Strasburg finished in third with 123 points. Warwick and Elizabethtown rounded out the top five.
RECAP - Girls' Race
After the initial burst out of the gates, eleven girls positioned themselves at the front. Although freshman Eliana Schneider (Cedar Crest) was set at the front, it seemed like a matter of circumstance. Starkly different from the boys' race, the girls left the starting stables tactile.
Watch the Full Girls Race Above
Schneider was jostled out, but no one held the steering wheel, and their pack meandered along. It was an honest pace but still tactical, and it was clear that the girls were willing to run with each other and take it down to the last mile.
Slowly but surely, one girl at-a-time fell off the pace, and by mile two, only seven girls remained. But five of those seven were fighting for a team title. Schneider still spearheaded the pack, and it also included Manheim Township's Elena Barrall, and McCaskey's Isabella Shertzer, Gabrielle Thiry, and Milana Breuninger. McCaskey had three girls inside the top 5. Ephrata's Madison Kimmel and Pequea Valley's Aubrey Ressler stayed connected with the lead group.
Behind them, three Manheim Township girls and two Cedar Crest girls were scattered in the chase pack.
By the time the lead group returned to the center of the course for the final time, only four girls had remained; Shertzer, Barrall, Thiry, and Schneider. But that's when McCaskeys coach told them to go. And go they did, as we immediately saw the front four shorten their gate, and Shertzer grabbed a stride length. Barrall covered the move and locked on Shertzer's hip, with Thiry following suit.
The three broke away from Schneider and weaved around the soccer pitch in a game of cat and mouse. Down one of the final rhythm hills, Shertzer grabbed another gear and was able to rebuild some space. With 200 meters to go, Barrall desperately tried to time a comeback, but her efforts were futile.
Shertzer came home with the win in a thrilling 19:26 as Barrall and Thiry finished in second and third in respective four-second increments.
Behind them, Manheim Township did enough to lock up the team title. They placed four ahead of Cedar Crest's third to score the 74-point victory with a 20:19 average. Cedar Crest finished in second with 107, and McCaskey fell to third with 116. Warwick and Elizabethtown rounded out the Top 5.