PA Pre-Season Preview Central
Pre-Season Rankings are posted on each story
Twenty-two years ago, in 1988,
there was the fourth place finish.
That’s the last time the Pennsbury High girls’ cross country team had achieved as much as they did last season. Came as close to a state championship as they were going to get.
Current Falcons head coach Don Little wasn’t around to witness that fourth place team -- he wasn’t in high school yet.
His current team wasn‘t around, either --- they weren’t even born yet.
And that’s why last year’s third-place finish was so important. It had been so long since the program had even been to the final meet of the season. Fourteen years to be exact.
Photo courtesy of Don Little and Pennsbury XC
Then this team came along, a confluence of talent unlike much else in the state.
The best part?
Not only do the Falcons return their entire top 5 from a year ago, including state champion Sara Sargent, but it also sees back five of its next six runners.
Seniors Morgan Perry and Anastasia Diamond, junior Ann Herman and sophomores Steph Radzinsk and Alissa Johnson are all back.
In total, nine returning lettermen from a team that won the Suburban One League National Conference, was runner-up in District 1 and was third in the state in Class AAA are back.
Forgive Little if he wants to set the bar high this season.
“The team goal is to be the conference champion, district champions and state champions,” Little said. “They know it’s not going to be an easy task, but they are motivated and dedicated to achieving that.”
On paper alone, Pennsbury is the team to beat. Not only in Class AAA but in the state. If only the team can live up to the hype.
Sargent, moving into her sophomore campaign, remains the prohibitive favorite to repeat as state champion in Class AAA.
Even after an illustrious freshman season, in which she won the league, district and state titles, then went on to compete in Foot Locker Nationals, the Nike Indoor Nationals and New Balance Outdoor Nationals; plus adding the PIAA Class AAA 3,200-meter run in the spring, she doesn’t seem fazed. Doesn’t seem fatigued, tired or overworked.
“If I ever start to feel tired I would talk to my coaches and take some time off,” Sargent said. “But I’ve never felt that. I feel as strong as I possibly can right now. I’m ready to go, ready to do it all over again.”
It should help that she has a healthy Herman by her side. The junior, who was 17th in the state her freshman year, was injured during the late stretch of 2009. She was advised not to continue running, as it could result in stress fractures in both of her shins, but she ran in the state meet anyway, finishing fourth on the team.
“I’m excited for this season,“ Herman said. “I want to see what I can do. I had many goals for last season, but I couldn’t really fulfill them. I hope this season really works out, for the team and everybody.”
After taking the entire spring off, Herman is reportedly back to full strength. And that’s crucial, Little says, because Herman and Sargent are arguably the state’s best 1-2 punch.
“I feel confident they can go out and do a six mile run and both of them will get something out of it,“ Little said.
Pennsbury isn’t without its concerns. The team only has one senior within its top five and two within its top seven. Much of what Little will rely on this season will be underclassmen, albeit a very tested young class.
In comparison, Cumberland Valley, the next best team in Class AAA on paper, has three seniors in its top 5, including third-place state medalist Leigha Anderson.
And let’s not forget North Penn, either, which finished second in the state and was the winner of District 1. The Falcons have to get past their own regional foe before they can take on the state.
Now, what Little hopes to achieve over the regular season is consistency. While he understands what he may get out of Sargent and Herman, what he wants to see is reliability in runners three through seven.
“Last year we really stressed three through six and three through seven,” Little said. “To really try to run closer and tighter in the pack. Sometimes the third girl would be fourth and the fourth girl be fifth and the fifth girl be third. And they’d hop around.
“It was very difficult thing to accomplish, to really get a cohesive pack. But when the girls looked at last season, they recognized had they been able to do that a little better, our scores would have been lower and we would have had more success.”
Radzinski, Diamond and Perry figure to fill out the top five behind Sargent and Herman. Radzinski and Perry have recorded times under 20-minutes, while Diamond is on the verge of doing so this season.
The progression of those runners will certainly help the Falcons in their quest to win the triple crown -- league, district and state titles.
Asked whether three titles with this group is realistic, Sargent sagely responded with advice she received from those before her.
Photo courtesy of Don Little and Pennsbury XC
“What my coaches and parents have always told me, all these great runners that I’ve met so far through my freshman year, they all tell me I have to have a positive mental attitude,” Sargent said. “And if you don’t believe you can do it, then it’s not going to happen. So I have to believe in myself, believe in my team and know if we want it bad enough we can get it done.”
In order to test his team throughout the season, Little has scheduled tough invites such as Abington, Briarwood, Hershey, Paul Short and Manhattan. Little believes he’ll get an idea where his team stands after a few of those meets.
“I do believe the Hershey meet and the Paul Short meet are the two most important invitationals on our schedule because that’s the state course and the district course,” Little said.
“It’s far enough ahead of the season that it’s a good barometer to see where we are and maybe see some strengths and weaknesses.”
And then the question comes back to state. How long should Pennsbury wait from their third-place finish in 2009 to their next big finish down the line?
“We’re not going to come in second and third in the state and then have our goals to become second in the state,“ Little said. “Naturally, since we revisit our goals each year, we just wanted it a little bit higher this time around.”
PTXC Pre-Season - Girls AAA
2. North Allegheny
3. Cumberland Valley
4. Central Bucks East
6. North Penn
T-8. Downingtown East
T-8. Central Bucks West
10. State College