Grove City Cracks The Century Mark With 16-Year Win Streak

Above: Jacob Kildoo won the District 10 3A Championship for Grove City in 2008. He ran 16:58.

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By Phil Grove

No matter how you measure the winning streak that keeps-on-keeping-on for the Grove City Area boys XC team, the Eagles once again are headed into the postseason on the heels of an undefeated dual meet schedule.

With an unblemished dual meet record that covers parts of three decades, the defending PIAA Class AA champions recently registered their 105th consecutive dual meet win, a streak that started with their first dual in the 2008 season.

"I think it's an incredible accomplishment," first-year head coach Ben English said. "I think the 16 years is more impressive than the 105 wins.

"Sixteen years is a long time where a lot can happen. The freshmen and sophomores weren't even born yet when this streak that they are a part of started. To be that consistent for that long takes a lot of things going your way."

And a lot of things have gone in favor of the Eagles, due in large part to the developed program that has regularly produced major college recruits, District 10 team titles and the Class AA Grand Prize last November in Hershey.

Above: Former Head Coach Mike Sample discussed last year's State Championship Title

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From 2008 through 2022, the Eagles have claimed 12 District 10 team titles (three in AAA and nine in AA), as well as eight individual titles in Northwest PA. The squad also was runner-up on three occasions in Hershey and last year's Class AA state champion in Mike Sample's final year as head coach.

English, who joined the staff nearly two decades ago, has his eyes on the future and the past at the same time.

"I'm honored to be a part of it and will continue to try to develop state-caliber teams and keep the streak alive as long as we can," he said. "We have a great coaching staff that loves working with these kids every day - Wayne Biddle, Joan Schilling and Brian Buchan. I want to thank Mike Sample for taking a chance and hiring me back in 2007 and giving me the opportunity to be a part of this program."

"We have had a lot of publicity around the streak this year, and I was worried about how the boys would handle it. They don't see it as pressure, they see it as a cool result of the hard work and training they put in. We talked about (100 wins) when it happened, but it doesn't define us other than giving Grove City and the sport of cross country some recognition."

Securing Win No. 100

In racking up consecutive win No. 100 back on Sept. 5 at Buhl Park in Sharon, the Eagles displayed the depth of their 2023 team. Led by Colsen Frank and MJ Pottinger on a course shortened due to excessive heat, Grove City occupied the first 11 spots and won 15-50 over Sharpsville. Consecutive victory No. 105 two weeks ago was an 18-45 decision over Hickory, with Frank and Pottinger again leading the squad.

"The team surprised me with a hand-made card signed by the team, and we took a few pictures," English said of the "pageantry" that accompanied reaching the century mark without a dual meet loss. "When we arrived back in Grove City, the team got together at one of the athlete's houses for a pool party. ... They all get along so well and are always hanging out with each other."

Tough Loss Launched the Lengthy Winning Streak

The last time Grove City's boys team walked away from a dual meet on the losing end of the scoresheet was Oct. 16, 2007. And it was by the most painful way possible - a tiebreaker.

Against the Slippery Rock Rockets, the two teams deadlocked at 28-28 after the first five runners for both squads reached the finish line. Slippery Rock's sixth runner finished ahead of Grove City's, handing the Rockets the win and the Eagles their most recent dual meet loss. 

English admitted that a lot of things have changed since that meet in his first year as a coach in Mike Sample's program, with one being the importance of dual meets on a team's schedule.

"Dual meets used to mean something, but ... I think more and more coaches are using these dual meets as training opportunities rather than all-out races and using the invitationals more for racing," English noted. "With that being said, of course, we want to win our local meets and win our region, but we have our eyes on bigger goals. If we keep our eyes on the bigger goals, the dual meets will take care of themselves." 

In the first two years of the streak, Grove City put together a total of 15 consecutive dual meet victories. Each and every season since, except for one major exception, the Eagles picked up another six wins and a District 10 region championship.

"In 2020, we had our normal dual meet season but doubled," English said of the D10-mandated schedule in the midst of the pandemic. "We were given a Tuesday-Thursday, 12-meet schedule over the course of those same seven weeks. Only the (six) region champions were allowed to compete at districts. Individuals could qualify, but in order to have a team at districts, you needed to win your region.

"Every dual meet meant something that season, you couldn't have a bad race. You had to be on your 'A' game every Tuesday and Thursday. We had to race to win every week with only a few opportunities to race Invites due to COVID and due to the extensive amount of dual meet racing. We had to go back to some old school ways of training when they used to race every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. We raced our athletes into shape that season, but I am grateful that we had a season because our track athletes didn't get to have one. I feel for those seniors."

This Year, The Eagles have been red hot...

This year, the Eagles have been led by Pottinger. The junior out-dueled Hampton standout Dale Hall and North Allegheny's Jack Bertram to win Red, White & Blue before finishing second to Hall, the defending Class AAA 1600-meter champion, in Grove City's big home meet, the John Sample Invitational, to open October.

A strong supporting cast including junior classmate Colsen Frank has the Eagles as one of the state favorites in Class AA heading to Saturday's District 10 meet on the flat, double-loop course at Ed Myer Recreation Complex in Titusville. A year ago, Pottinger finished second to Cathedral Prep's Luke Brown as the Eagles dropped 29 points on the field to win by 78 over Harbor Creek. 

"We didn't even realize we had a streak going until around 10 years into it," English said. "That's not bragging, it's just not something we really paid attention to. Once we started winning District 10, our goals became bigger and the focus was on districts and states.

"Because of our depth, we've been very fortunate to be able to sit out some athletes week to week to nurse any injuries or to help with their training cycle. Again, the goal is always districts and states, and we are going to do whatever we need to do to get there and be in the conversation."