PREVIEW: The Red, White and Blue Classic

Above: Eden Christian took home the victory in the 1A Boys Race last year.

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Previews by Oliver Hinson

Every year since 2003, the Red, White, and Blue Classic has been one of, if not, the premier meet of the season in western PA. Nearly every team in District 7, as well as a few heavy hitters from other districts, come to show off their talents in early September on a fast course. And with the WPIAL championships at White Oak Park this year, these races will carry even more weight as unofficial "previews" for October.

The A races will take place on Friday, Sept. 8, while the AA, freshmen, JV and AAA races are slated for Saturday morning. With temperatures in the high 70s and a cloud cover expected throughout the meet, don't be surprised to see some fast times. Both course records were set last year, with Ryan Pajak (Ringgold) and Irene Riggs (Morgantown) running 15:13 and 17:03, respectively.

1A Girls Preview

If you experience some deja vu watching this race, it's probably because 13 of the top 15 from last year's edition are back for more. Chelsea Hartman (Shadyside Academy), the individual favorite in District 7 this year, will look to defend her title, but she'll be closely pursued by Elk County Catholic's Grace Neubert. Neubert, a senior and last year's District 9 XC champion, placed in the top three at this meet in both 2021 and 2022, and with a 3200 PR of 10:55 that just barely edges out Hartman's 10:58, she could be on her way to her first gold.

Also in the mix is Hope Haring (Eden Christian), a rising junior who took home bronze at last year's WPIAL championships, as well as Alexis Abbett (Aquinas Academy), Sophia Bille (Elk County Catholic), and Danielle Tomley (Seton La-Salle).

As far as the team race goes, Elk County Catholic is the smart pick. They return all of their top five from last year, and if they can clean up their spread - a 5:23 1-5 mark last year is what ultimately relegated them to 2nd - they shouldn't be seriously challenged by anyone. Of course, last year's champion, Winchester Thurston, might have something to say about that. However, without Cyd Kennard, who finished 3rd in 2022, as well as 17th-place finisher Abigail Patterson, they'll need to rely heavily on a young core of Sarah Nixon, Delia Brown and Abigail Weinstein, to do some damage. 

A sleeper pick could be found in Our Lady of Sacred Heart; they return four of their top five, and their 1:26 spread from last year's race was the narrowest in the field. They were picked as the A WPIAL team favorites this season - if they can finish above their District 7 competition this weekend, they might just be able to stand atop the podium in October.

1A Boys Preview

In a race that was tied through five spots, Eden Christian Academy narrowly eked out a victory over Central Cambria in last year's edition of the A race. This year, we could see a similar dynamic play out; both teams return three of their top five, but Central Cambria is again at a disadvantage, as they lost their top two, while Eden Christian lost their second and fifth-place runners. The champions are led by senior Nathan Garrett, last year's individual winner, as well as Ethan Haring, who is the fourth-best returner in this year's race. 

Coincidentally, returning three of five seems to be a trend for A teams in 2023, as Riverview, Our Lady of Sacred Heart, and Winchester Thurston, who rounded out the top five in 2022, all followed suit. All of these teams were within 23 points of each other last year, the tightest margin of any of the weekend's races, so expect to see a close battle this go-around.

Adding to the individual competition, teammates Eli DeSimone and Charlie Routledge (Winchester Thurston) will likely find themselves towards the front, as will Christopher Barnes (Riverview), Evan George (Central Cambria), James Couch (Freedom Area), and Ryan Groff (Our Lady of Sacred Heart). Places 9-17 in last year's race were all filled by returners, so expect to see some similar faces in the lead pack.

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