Welcome to The Final K – post-weekend stories and notes on athletes, teams, coaches and races to be published mid-week during the 2010 cross country season.
Follow Jayson Jackson's "The Long Haul" every week - click here
Post-Season 11/18: PA's 67 Watch List for NXN and Foot Locker
Week #10 11/1 Pre-States -North Allegheny has a chance to win two team titles. And not by chance.
Week #9 10/30: Districts - PA's 67 Watch List for NXN and Foot Locker
Week #8 10/23: Conferences - Haverford Township knows what they face in District 1. They spent a year preparing for it. |
Week #7: 10/16 - Dustin Wilson had to choose between football, soccer and running. He made the smart choice, and it's only getting smarter. | It was all about redemption for Kelsey Ibarra at the YAIAA Championships - but the PR is cool too.
PA 67 Watch List for NXN and Foot Locker contenders - Nov 18 Update (by Jayson Jackson)
North Allegheny continued their ascension at the PIAA Championship and grabbed top honors, beating defending champ West Chester Henderson. Both teams have displayed all season they have what it takes to make it to Portland. Germantown Friends repeated again as PA Independent School Champs and will be looking to use their experience at Wappinger Falls to their advantage.
Altoona-Last Week: 5th at PIAA Championship. Next: Nike Cross Nationals Northeast Regional, 10th in 2009.
Baldwin-Last Weekend: 4th at PIAA Championship. Next: ?, 14th at Nike Cross Nationals Northeast Regional in 2009
Cardinal O’Hara-Last Weekend: 3rd at PIAA Championship. Next: Indoor
Germantown Friends-Last Weekend: Won PA Independent Schools State Title. Next: Nike Cross Northeast Regional, they made the national meet in 2009 with their 2nd place finish.
North Allegheny-Last Weekend: Won PIAA Championship. Next: #1 and #2 guys, Ryan Gil and Logan Steiner will race at Foot Locker Northeast. Gil made Foot Lockers as a junior.
West Chester Henderson-Last Weekend: Runner-up at PIAA Championship Next: Nike Cross Nationals Northeast Regional, 8th in 2009.
Pennsbury was impressive as they were the only AAA Girls team to score less than 100 points. They will have a tough decision on where they race in NY, because they have a chances at both venues to send people west. West Chester Henderson looks as if they are ready to challenge for an automatic berth to Portland. North Hills will need to be at full strength if they are to go the team route. State College keeps improving each week, who knows what another few weeks of training will do if they pursue a post-season meet.
Downingtown East-Last Weekend: 5th at PIAA Championship Next: ?
North Allegheny-Last Weekend:3rd at PIAA Championship. Next: Indoor.
North Hills-Last Weekend: 16th at PIAA Championship (Shannon Malone DNF). Next: Indoor.
Pennsbury-Last Weekend: Stayed undefeated in PA by winning PIAA Championship Next: Indoor.
State College-Last Weekend: 4th at PIAA Championship Next: ?
West Chester Henderson-Last Weekend: Runnerup at PIAA Championship. Next: Nike Cross Nationals Northeast Regional.
The North Hills Trio of Zach Hebda, Joe Kush, and Juris Silenieks didn’t go 1-2-3 a few athletes they had beaten in recent weeks made sure of that, but it was still impressive that they all finished in the top 11. Reece Ayers made the move to break the race open at 2 miles, but wasn’t able to finish the move. Jacob Kildoo and Wade Endress redeemed themselves from their 2009 state performances and will look to carry the momentum from their strong races to their respective regional meets in NY and hopefully beyond. Dustin Wilson dominated the field at the PA Independent Schools championship as he was the only runner to break 16 minutes on the day. Ryan Gil probably had the toughest decision to make, one more race with his team or try to make a repeat trip to San Diego. Gil is fortunate to have raced at both national venues.
Reece Ayers, Tunkhannock-Last Weekend: 6th at PIAA Championship. Next:Registered for Foot Locker Northeast, 13th at Nike Cross Nationals Northeast Regional in 2009
Chris Campbell, Council Rock North-Last Weekend: 15:55 for 4th at PIAA Championships. Next: Foot Locker Northeast Regional.
Wade Endress, Altoona-Last Weekend: Runner-up at PIAA Championships with 15:54Ran 15:37 to win District 6 Champion. Next: With team at Nike Cross Nationals Northeast Regional.
Zach Hebda, North Hills-Last Weekend: 3rd at PIAA Championships in 15:55.. Next: Foot Locker Northeast Regional
Ryan Gil, North Allegheny-Last Weekend: Ran 15:51 to win PIAA Championship. Off Next: Foot Locker Northeast, 8th at FLNE in 2009 to qualify for Foot Locker Nationals. Was part of team that ran at NXN in 2008.
Jacob Kildoo, Grove City-Last Weekend: Ran 15:57 for 5th at PIAA Championship. Next: Foot Locker Northeast Regional
Dustin Wilson, Chestnut Hill Academy-Last Weekend: 1st PA Independent School Championships in 15:47. Next: Foot Locker Northeast Regional
Victoria Gerlach and Sara Sargent went for it from the gun and faded late, but they are both two of the best girls in the state. Angel Piccirillo was completely dominant. She continues to improve each week. Paige Stoner is the new comer to the list and was impressive in Hershey. She made a great move to try and break the field and those types of efforts are what makes good days into great ones. Lindsay Rheiner followed up her 3rd place finish at districts with signature win at the state meet.
Victoria Gerlach, Pennridge-Last Weekend: 11th at PIAA Championship. Next: Foot Locker Northeast Regional
Katie Kinkead, Central Bucks East-Last Weekend: 18th at PIAA Championship. Next: Foot Locker NE Regional
Margo Malone, North Hills-Last Weekend: 4th at PIAA Championship Next: NXN Northeast Regional
Angel Piccirillo, Homer Center-Last Weekend: Won PIAA AA Championship in 18:44. Next: Foot Locker Northeast Regional
Lindsay Rheiner, Council Rock North-Last Weekend-Won PIAA Championship in 18:42 (fastest time of the day). Next: Foot Locker Northeast Regional
Sara Sargent, Pennsbury-Last Weekend: 6th at PIAA Championship. Next: Team's season is complete. Definitely competing at Foot Locker Northeast Regional. Qualified for nationals in 2009, finishing 8th in the Northeast
Paige Stoner, Pottsville-Last Weekend: Runner-up at PIAA Championship. Next: Foot Locker Northeast Regional.
Some might say a lacrosse star won a state title. Lindsay Rheiner's coach begs to differ.
By Cory Mull
Ask anyone who knows anything about District 1 cross country and they’ll balk at the idea of Lindsay Rheiner being a surprise at anything.
Lacrosse, cross country, ping pong, whatever.
“Lindsay is a runner, but she’s also an athlete,” Council Rock North head girls’ cross country coach Cliff Robbins said. “I wouldn’t want to go up against her in anything. She’s your worst nightmare.”
“If you played her in ping pong, even if she never played. …I don’t know. She’s just a pure athlete.”
The senior, who already has a scholarship lined up to play lacrosse at the Naval Academy next year, made an argument on Saturday toward possibly doubling up on another sport: cross country.
Rheiner won the PIAA Class AAA girls’ field in 18:42, completing the last step in a season that’s been all about making the next leap. In a District 1 heavy field, one that included 11 medalists in the top 20, Rheiner finished as the best.
Photo by Doug Michaels
She hardly started like that.
Primarily focused on lacrosse over the summer, Rheiner didn’t put in the amount of sport-specific work that most cross country runners on Council Rock North, let alone most others in the state, did.
It wasn’t quite her fault. She had lacrosse games, camps, traveling dates. She was busy.
“She ran this summer,“ Robbins said. “But she did not train as if she was saying to herself she’d be a state champ. She trained, oh yes. She was doing tournaments and all of that stuff.”
So to think the September version of Rheiner is the same November version we have now would be a vast overstatement.
But in an odd way, it might have been the best thing that could have happened to her. She avoided peaking early. Instead, she became increasingly dangerous as the year moved forward.
“At the beginning of the year she was running well, but there was a distance,” Robbins said. “I saw the eventual progression, but if you’re talking about peaking, you do think about it. Where do you want to be?”
There was more to it. Rheiner was motivated by a junior year in which she missed the state meet due to a bout with sickness. She was 10th at states as a sophomore, so to say that her junior campaign was a disappointment would be fair game.
“I think not coming here to states last year, being sick, I just told myself I have to make up for it,“ Rheiner said. “Pretty much put myself in a position like sophomore year, when I finished 10th. I just wanted anything better than 10th.”
Leading into states, she had done enough to consider her season a success. She was third at Foundation in Hershey, finishing in 19:13.
She was second in the SOL National Conference Championships with a 18:16, only behind Pennsbury sophomore Sara Sargent.
And she was third in the District 1 race, behind winner Tori Gerlach of Pennridge and Katie Kinkead of Central Bucks East. Rheiner recorded a PR of 17:56.
But Rheiner has the mentality of an ox. Legs keep moving. Arms keep pumping. Mind keeps racing.
Photo by Don Rich
She rarely is content with what she’s done. She’s always searching for the next best accomplishment.
On Saturday, for example, she didn’t have first place locked up until the final 600 meters, arguably at the most difficult portion of Hershey’s 3.1 mile Parkview course.
Ask her, she probably wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I told myself, you can’t let this girl go,” Rheiner said of second-place Paige Stoner, who took the lead at the two mile mark and led until the downhill leading into the sewage plant.
“You have to stay with her,” she continued. “I know our guys coach told me ‘Stay on her shoulder, stay on her shoulder.’ And I really tried to the whole time.”
Eventually, as we all know now, Rheiner won. Finished out on top. Like in most things.
But when it comes to cross country, it could end like that.
“I have no plans for Foot Locker [Regionals] to be honest,” she said of post-PIAA type races. “I’m not running in college, I kind of wanted to end my career today. But we’ll see. I’m not certain on anything.”
If you ask Robbins, he’s torn. He believes Rheiner is among one of the three best runners he’s ever coached at Council Rock North. The school’s last state champion was Kylene Kownurko, who recorded a state championship under Robbins in 1995.
Yet Robbins knows Rheiner’s heart is somewhere else. He doesn’t want to place undo stress on his runner.
“I haven’t talked to her yet,“ Robbins said of Foot Locker Regionals, which is held in New York. “I want to share with her just a good experience [Foot Locker] is. It’s a commitment and you come off of it as a state champ.
“But you do put it on the line, go up there, have two or three girls there who you beat, maybe they beat you there and then how do you deal with that?
At what point does a champion retire?
Is it on top, like the story books like to tell?
Or is it after all challenges are met?
Can’t blame Rheiner if she’s content. But do you expect it?
Five freshmen girls earned medals. One almost stole the show.
By Cory Mull
Nothing beats being a freshman.
Especially in Paige Stoner’s case.
The Pottsville rookie earned her first bid to the PIAA Class AAA championships by virtue of a second-place performance at the District 11 Championships, where she was promptly beaten by senior Jess Cygan of Liberty - who won the state AAA title when she was just a sophomore.
But oh, how much things can change in a week.
Photo by Don Rich
This week, Stoner was exactly seven seconds away from blowing up the entire Class AAA field.
Stoner was second overall, missing out on becoming Pottsville’s first state champion since Clyde Lowthert, who claimed the school‘s first cross country title in 1950 -- Cygan, by the way, finished in 65th place.
But guess who she was behind with just a mile to go? Council Rock North senior Lindsay Rheiner.
Again, nothing beats being a freshman.
“I couldn’t believe it,“ Stoner said of capturing the lead for the first time on Saturday, at the two-mile mark of the race. “I was kind of nervous. I was like ‘I don’t know, I don’t know if I should do it.’ But I love the downhill and took off on the downhill.”
Maybe she made the right move. Maybe she didn’t. Isn’t that what being a freshman is all about? Not knowing what’s next?
The life of a freshman was particularly interesting to watch in Stoner’s case, even though she wasn’t a rare case.
Saucon Valley’s Elizabeth Chikotas placed seventh in Class AAA (19:00) and Dallas’ Regan Rome was 20th overall (19:20). In Class AA, Elk County Catholic’s Kennedy Weisner was second (19:10) and Elk Lake’s Liz Trowbridge was 11th (19:48).
Most veterans can remember their first state meet. It often got the best of them.
Whether it was the opening, elbow-ridden gauntlet, or the pulsing, cramping up sensation they were feeling in their legs, inevitably at some point freshmen always hit their wall.
Young runners rarely have the sage awareness their older kind display by the time they are juniors and seniors.
Not the case with Stoner.
“She’s done just phenomenally,“ Pottsville girls’ coach Barb McGinley said. “She’s been running off the charts as a freshman. She’s very determined, but she’s put in a lot of hard work. She’s trained very well, hard. She’s put in the miles.”
Photo by Doug Michaels
In Stoner’s case, what’s helped is training with the boys’ team through the regular season. She’s felt the arm of competition almost on a daily basis, against runners who are faster than she is.
And while that’s hard to quantify in terms of progress, you can see it clearly with Stoner. At the Schuylkill League Championships, she popped off a PA#7, which was 17:57.
It was exactly two minutes and 11 seconds faster than her next closest competitor.
Guess who she beat? A junior. And after that, a senior.
“I knew I was running well,“ Stoner said of that race. “But somewhere in the last mile there was someone and he said if you keep this pace you can break 18 minutes. That just got me really excited.”
So that brings us back to Saturday. Hard to believe Stoner felt like a freshman. She said she didn’t even have nerves.
“No, not today,” Stoner said of being overwhelmed. “Today I was just excited to be here and all the people.”
When the gun went off, Stoner dashed ahead to insert herself in the main pack, just like a veteran. And that’s where she stayed, until about halfway through.
“Probably around the mile and a half, I think there was a group of five or six of us together,“ Stoner said. “And a little over the two mile mark, I took the lead for a little.”
While it was Stoner’s first visit to the state meet, she felt comfortable. She was sitting in a good position. Her body was relaxed. And she was eyeing up Pottsville’s first freshman state medal since 1994.
But therein lies the tricky part. The veteran took over.
“With a mile to go, I had this thing in my head that I could definitely win it,” Rheiner said.
“That feeling of [being] in the last 100, just turning on and really moving, I told myself if I’m in front, I’ll have that adrenaline,” Rheiner added. “And I know I can rely on my kick in the end, so I wanted to stay up there and keep the adrenaline pumping.”
Rheiner eventually did pass Stoner, silencing the freshman’s grandiose hopes of capturing just the 11th state gold medal as a freshmen in the 71-year history of the PIAA.
But guess that’s what being a rookie is all about.
And learning how not to lose next time.
North Allegheny has a chance to win two team titles. And not by chance.
By Cory Mull
John Neff went the diplomatic route, saying he wasn't all that surprised when he found out in early September that North Allegheny had the most state championships -- both team and individual -- in the state of Pennsylvania.
He was humbled, sure, but not surprised.
Thanks to Rod Frisco, a former Patriot News sports writer who researched the subject over the summer, North Allegheny was on the map yet again. If the Tigers 130 state championships weren't enough.
But what was most interesting wasn't the number of championships the school had, Neff said, but within which sport held the most titles. It was none other than boys' cross country, which sported 10 team championships and four individual titles overall.
"I can't say I knew boys cross country was the one sport that had the most before I saw that article either," Neff said. "But I believe it. It's not hard to see that that could be true. We were in very good company."
It was actually fitting that Frisco's findings were published at the time they were, right in front of cross country season. Because the Tigers are in a prime position to claim a few more, if everything holds to court on Saturday in the Class AAA state championship races.
Photo by John Gayler
Currently the boys' team is PA#2 and the girls' team is PA#4. Individually, senior Ryan Gil is also within grasp of his own personal title, holding the ninth best time in Pennsylvania with a 15:33, which he put together at the 8th annual Red, White and Blue Classic.
Neff quickly makes a point to deflect rankings. A 10-year coaching vet who has been with the North Allegheny program for the past six years, he knows how to calmly diffuse a situation. He knows the mind is the runners' worst enemy.
"We're not feeling like we're entitled or anything," said Neff, whose boys' team was second in the state last year in Class AAA. "We don't feel like we'll just mail it in. We have a lot of hard work to do. But I think, it is very exciting to have a chance to do that.
"It's nice to have the rankings," he added later. "But at the end of the day, if you don't win your district meet and don't have a good showing at states, then it wasn't a good season, even if you were ranked No. 1 through the whole season. At the end, you can't look at your season and feel good about it."
Yet, there's no doubt he and his coaching staff have high hopes for both of their teams.
Photo by Doug Michaels
The boys' team is led by Gil, a natural front-runner who placed third in states last year with a time of 16:03, right behind then-North Penn senior Brad Miles and Mount Lebanon's Rad Gunzenhauser. All three became Foot Locker Finalists.
He's the highest placing boys' runner returning, though he would probably admit that he's not the quote-unquote favorite at this point -- he was beat out in the District 7 race by three North Hills runners.
What has helped North Allegheny as a team, though, was the transfer of Logan Steiner from Meadville. The junior was 25th in last year's AAA race, which gave the Tigers a little more muscle to work with. He's raced as fast as 15:54 this year, a time he put together at the District 7 championships, which gave him fifth place.
Those two, along with Joe Pane (16:10), Vincent Tonzo (16:13) and Mike Meehan (16:18) have the ability to help the Tigers clinch the state title for the 11th time in the school's history. So far, everything has gone according to plan.
After mixing and matching their boys' lineup the last few weeks -- after racing hard leading into the Carlisle Invitational -- the Tigers are hoping to rev the engines again. They clinched a 80-86 win over Baldwin in the District 7 championship, for instance.
"We looked at it for our training," North Allegheny assistant coach Liz Bollens said. "At the end of the season, we're gearing everything toward the end of the season. So we have to be smart and selective about racing."
In the girls' case, they too are a threat to win states, by all means, but they have more ground to cover. Without a pure stud, the Lady Tigers have taken to a different dynamic, running five remarkably close girls together.
It's worked wonders through the season and even made for a statement win at the Carlisle Invitational, when North Allegheny outscored second-place State College by nearly 50 points, 56-104.
Lizzie Appleton (19:22), Eleni Marmigas (19:22), Alex Gambill (19:25), Caitlyn Carmody (19:26) and Gabrielle Borza (19:34) run like they came out of the same womb. But at the District 7 meet, they were upended by rival North Hills, 99-109. Some kinks certainly have to be tinkered with and improved.
The end product isn't quite finished just yet.
"The girls really feel connected with each other," said Neff, whose girls' team was fourth in states last year, though only feature two of the same five. "Some people say cross country isn't much of a team sport. I don't really buy that.
Photo by Doug Michaels
"You can really look at our girls and see why that isn't true. The girls know they're hurting in a race, but they'll keep pushing and driving because they know the others are working out there too."
Ultimately, tradition has helped through the years. There are certain perks to being a perennial state qualifier.
Assistant coach Liz Bollens, who ran for North Hills in high school, said the team has roughly 135 runners between its girls' and boys' team this year. Ask her a name and she'll know it. Pretty impressive, if you ask her.
Neff said he couldn't remember the last time cuts were made, if they ever were.
"Even though the team is pretty big by most standards, we could have more kids on the team," Neff said. "So we haven't had to cut any kids. The kids know that. The kids know this is a place where if they work hard they can see some success."
So North Allegheny rarely has to deal with off cycles. Their winning culture continues to bring students into the program year after year. Though size also helps. The school has an enrollment of just over 1,900 students, which is second only to WPIAL foe Butler.
Bollens is Neff's lead assitant, though North Allegheny also has two more assistant coaches and a host of other managers. All four coaches ran at Division I colleges, with Bollen and assistant E.J. Robertson running at nearby Duquesne University. Neff ran at Penn State before he transferred to the University of Pittsburgh.
Bollens believes the constant delegation from coaches to runners helps them achieve their optimal performance.
"You're constantly recording stuff," she said. "You have clipboard, we have managers. When people are working out, the kids know their workouts. They know who to check in with. And what to do. It's definitely a very structured practice within our whole practice."
There's a system too. Freshman don't have the same workload as seniors. Juniors don't have the same workload as sophomores.
"If you're a freshman, you're doing 80 percent," Bollen said. "When you're first coming in, you're not doing the full volume. And then if you're a sophomore, you do 90 percent. And if you are a junior or senior, you're doing 90 to 100 percent."
It's made for regimented and calculated work. But you can't argue with the success.
Nor can you argue with the tradition.
Or the state championships.
"It's a little humbling to see that you're part of something really outstanding," Neff said. "It really is."
PA 67 Watch List for NXN and Foot Locker contenders - Nov 1 Update (by Jayson Jackson)
West Chester Henderson looked great at the District 1 Championship and looked primed to repeat as State Champs. North Allegheny and Baldwin both have strong chances to bring PIAA trophies back to the west. Altoona was fortunate to be able to coast through districts and get the kinks out as they look to move up to a podium spot. Cardinal O’Hara will look to shake things up in Hershey as they continue their strong season. Germantown Friends won the PA Independent School Championship again and will begin their preparation for Bowdoin Park.
Altoona-Last Week: Won District 6 Championship with ease. Next: PIAA Championship
Baldwin-Last Weekend: 2nd to North Allegheny by 6 points at District 7 Championship. Next: PIAA Championship
Cardinal O’Hara-Last Weekend: Beat La Salle to win District 12 Championship. Next: PIAA Championship
Germantown Friends-Last Weekend: Won PA Independent Schools State Title. Next: Nike Cross Northeast Regional
North Allegheny-Last Weekend: Repeated as District 7 Champions.Next: PIAA Championship
West Chester Henderson-Last Weekend: Crushed the field to repeat as District 1 Champions Next: PIAA Championship
North Hills pulled off the upset in District 7 as the Malone sisters were too much for North Allegheny. North Allegheny’s pack is tough to beat and will still have the slight edge at States because North Hills’ 4 and 5 will have to close it up a bit. Liberty beat Emmaus at Districts, nothing else needs to be said. Pennsbury continues their strong season as they remained unbeaten in PA. They will put their perfect Keystone record on the line in Hershey as they try to win their school’s first ever XC title. State College is another team that benefitted from a light District meet as they used a tight compression to score 20 points. West Chester Henderson will need to close the gap to Pennsbury if they want to make the podium.
Liberty-Last Weekend: Dethroned the triple-less Emmaus squad to win District 11 Championship. Next: PIAA Championship
North Allegheny-Last Weekend:Upset at District 7 Championship by North Hills Next: PIAA Championship
North Hills-Last Weekend: North Hills wins District 7 title over previous PA #2 Next: PIAA Championship
Pennsbury-Last Weekend: Stayed undefeated in PA by winning District 1 Championship Next: PIAA Championship
State College-Last Weekend: Used 32-second compression to repeat as District 6 Champion Next: PIAA Championship
West Chester Henderson-Last Weekend: Runnerup to Pennsbury at District 1 Championship. Next: PIAA Championship
The North Hills Trio of Zach Hebda, Joe Kush, and Juris Silenieks could very well go 1-2-3 at the state meet. They have beat two of the state’s best in recent weekends in Wade Endress and Ryan Gil and have looked unstoppable all season. But Endress looked fresher than he did at Tri-States as he cruised to a new personal best on the District 6 course. Chris Campbell dominated the field in the always tough District 1 Championship. Gil is the highest returning finisher from a year ago and will want to move forward, not backwards in the standings, especially if North Allegheny wants to knock off West Chester Henderson. But to do so, he will have to break up the North Hills trio. Jacob Kildoo will be looking to move up from his 45th place showing from a year ago when he was ill. He bounced back last year to finish 12th at the Foot Locker NE Regional. He will be gunning for top 5 finish in Hershey.
Chris Campbell, Council Rock North-Last Weekend: Won District 1 championship in 15:16. Next: PIAA Championship
Wade Endress, Altoona-Last Weekend: Ran 15:37 to win District 6 Champion. Next: PIAA Championship
Zach Hebda, North Hills-Last Weekend: Won District 7 Championship with a 15:29. Next: PIAA Championship
Ryan Gil, North Allegheny-Last Weekend: 4th at District 7 Championship behind North Hills trio in 15:39. Off Next: PIAA Championship
Jacob Kildoo, Grove City-Last Weekend: Ran 15:47 to win District 10 Championship. Next: PIAA Championship
Joe Kush, North Hills: Last Weekend: 15:38 for 3rd at District 7 Championship. Next: PIAA Championship
Juris Silenieks,North Hills-Last Weekend: Ran 15:37 to finish second at District 7 championship. Next: PIAA Championship
Victoria Gerlach is getting stronger every week and is heading to states off a 17:45 effort at the District 1 Championship. She will face a strong challenge as the top five finishers from 2009 all return, led by defending State Champ Sara Sargent. Katie Kinkead has used a very strategic approach to the season and has already accomplished Season Goal 1: Get her team to Hershey for the first time ever. It’s now onto Goal 2: Win the individual state title. Margo Malone has been the top runner in the west all season and will look to move up from her 5th place finish a year ago. In AA, it should be a rematch of the District 6 Championship as Angel Piccirillo and Leah Anne Wirfel have been the top two girls all season. Right now Piccirillo looks like the best girl in the state, regardless of classification. District 7 AA Champ Nicole Hilton has the best shot of anyone to break up the District 6 duo.
Victoria Gerlach, Pennridge-Ran 17:45 to win District 1 Championship. Next: PIAA Championship
Katie Kinkead, Central Bucks East-Last Weekend: 17:55 for 2nd at District 1 Championship Next: PIAA Championship
Margo Malone, North Hills-Last Weekend: Won District 7 AAA Championship with a 18:41 Next: PIAA Championship
Angel Picirillo, Homer Center-Last Weekend: Ran 17:56 to win District 6 Championship. Next: PIAA Championship
Sara Sargent, Pennsbury-Last Weekend: 4th at District 1 Championship with 17:58. Next: PIAA Championship
Leah Anne Wirfel, Forest Hills-Last Weekend: 2nd at District 6 Championship with an 18:39. Next: PIAA Championship
Nicole Hilton, South Fayette-Last Weekend: Won District 7 AA Championship with a 19:10. Next: PIAA Championship
Haverford Township knows what they face in District 1. They spent a year preparing for it.
By Don Rich
This is one of the deepest years in recent memory for AAA girls cross country in District 1.
There are only five team spots in District 1 for qualifying to advance to the PIAA State Championships on November 6th in Hershey.
There are, arguably, eight to ten teams which could finish in the top 15 at the state meet from this district. In fact, in the latest PTXC Top 10 poll published October 26th, there are eight District 1 girls teams in the top ten.
Do the math, and that means three to five quality teams will be left at home.
Haverford Township does not plan to be one of those remaining behind. They have come too far.
They have literally spent a year preparing for this opportunity. And the team and coaches don't kid themselves. They know it is an opportunity.
But they also know that opportunities are not bestowed. They are earned. And during that year, they have dreamt, planned, trained, bonded, trained some more, challenged each other, lifted their expectations, set goals, achieved goals, and become what some would call over-achievers.
If there is one thing they are NOT, it is over-achievers. They are, to put it simply and bluntly, achievers.
This 11-0 league, Central League and Delaware County champion can be defined in many other ways.
They are front-running lifers in the sport. They are swimmers. They are ex-soccer players. They are leaders. They are comedians. They are planners. They are, if truth be told, like any other top cross country team that dreams, plans, and then does the only thing that matters in the end – they execute that plan.
There is history on their side.
The Haverford Township girls are not new to this level, although they are new to this level of consistency.
If there is one thing that Haverford has, it is continuity and tradition among its coaches.
Current Marple-Newton coach Mike McMillan and long-time, and current Haverford boys coach Jay Williams started the
girls program in the late 1970's. Williams had been a member of several of the great Villanova men's cross country teams.
(Sophia Meehan in photo at DELCOS)
Haverford also had some great individual runners – but in 1982, the girls team achieved its best state finish ever, capturing 5th.
A sophomore on that team would go on to the College of William & Mary, and eventually return to her alma mater, serving as an assistant coach to the cross country team in 2001, a year they qualified for the state meet, taking 14th.
Kristie Ritchie would then take over as head coach of the girls team the following year and is now in her 9th year running the program. Haverford would take 16th in 2002, and then improve to 8th in the state the following year.
That was a special group of girls, because it was the core of that cross country team that would go on to win the 2004 Outdoor 4x800 Meter AAA title.
That relay included three seniors and a junior. The seniors were the York twins, Fiana and Alicia, and anchor Adriana Boyle. Fiana qualified as an individual as a freshman, so was a competitor at the state cross country championships her entire high school career.
The junior was Julia Somers, who had finished 38th as a sophomore in cross, 36th as a junior, and then in 2004, qualifying as an individual, took 33rd in the state meet.
Not coincidentally, Julia is now Coach Somers, and a first-year assistant with the Haverford Township girls.
Excellence begets excellence. McMillan-Williams-Ritchie-Somers.
This Haverford group is different than any other state-qualifying team from the school.
"In my experience, and in my eight years here, I have never had a team ready to go from the very first scrimmage" says Coach Ritchie. "And it has made our approach as coaches entirely different."
(Tess Meehan in photo at DELCOS)
While Ritchie sees each step of what has occurred over the past year as critical to the team arriving at this point poised to return to the state meet; she points to two important steps that served as the catalysts for this transformation from a team with potential, to one of the best in the state.
The first was a team gathering at the track in November of 2009 between the District 1 meet and the state championship. Top runners, and sisters Sophia and Tess Meehan had just qualified for the state meet individually. Sophia would be returning for the second time, this time as a sophomore, while younger sister Tess was heading to her first one. Tess would medal the following Saturday, taking 10th.
For some of the girls, this was where they started to see the potential for the 2010 team.
The second catalyst was the selection of the team captains for the 2010 squad in early November, 2009. Seniors Ali Hostler, Maggie Anzalone and Jenna Hannan would take the responsibility given them, and quite literally and figuratively, run with it. Their leadership would propel this team to places they had never gone before.
Cross country teams are not naturally occurring. They are sometimes the result of chance and persuasion.
"I refer to my top 10 or so as varsity level runners even though officially only seven will run at Districts in the varsity race" says Ritchie. She continued, "The Meehans, Amanda, Ellie, Elizabeth, Emily, Jenna, Maggie, and Ali do almost all of the workouts together. Because Courtney is a freshman, I don't always have her do the same workouts or distance runs."
Meet the Varsity 10.
The front-running lifers are the Meehan sisters, junior Sophia and sophomore Tess.
Sophia started it all, deciding she liked the sport when doing an annual elementary school run. She would join the Dashers Track Club out of Bala Cynwyd, and do AAU competitions. A "serious" soccer player for travel squad FC Delco, Sophia really loved that sport as well, but decided to stop when the team was split up. Her middle school running experience was a little too much pressure for her, but she looked forward to joining the high school cross country team as a 9th grader in 2008. "The team's number one runner at the time, Christine Montgomery, really got me to enjoy running again," she shares. "That's when it became a great balance between fun and serious."
Tess simply followed her sister to the Dashers. She had been a gymnast and soccer player, but really focused on running when she joined the team last year. She says the one thing that attracted her to the team was that "she had heard so many great things about the team and the coaches."
The swimmers are sophomore Ellie Houck and junior Amanda Macedo.
Ellie (above left, in photo from DELCOS) swims for the Suburban Swim Club, the same elite Olympic Development club that guided former Haverford swimmer/runner Brendan Hansen, a 2000 Haverford grad who would go on to compete and medal in two Olympics. Houck ran track in middle school and 9th grade, but didn't decide to join the cross country team until this year. She sees the sports as complimentary from both a physical and mental aspect. She says swimming improves her cardio and core for running, and running as a means to stay in shape and improve leg strength. And the big meet atmosphere of swimming, she says, has given her the ability to relax. "Because I am so used to the competitive swim meet feel, I am able to keep my nerves down and stay focused."
Macedo (right, in photo from DELCOS) says she definitely saw the mutual benefit of both sports her first year in high school. But by 10th grade, she says she was "overwhelmed with the overlapping seasons" and chose cross country over fall/winter swimming. A stress fracture during cross last year impacted her swimming, but she has stayed with cross for reasons that many find the sport so alluring. "I especially loved how close the team was regardless of running ability or age. Everyone supported you in your accomplishments, but if you failed, or something bad happened, they had your back."
Among the many former soccer players are senior Emily Lawson, junior Elizabeth Clinton, and freshman Courtney Naser.
According to coach Ritchie, Emily Lawson (left, in photo from DELCOS) has been the consistent leader of the junior varsity and would run with the varsity on most other teams. Lawson played soccer her first two years of high school, but also ran track. When she was cut from soccer as a junior, she decided to try cross country. "That definitely was one of the best decisions I ever made," she says. Lawson says she is one of the team members who tries to lighten the mood, and her coach concurs. "Her sense of humor and positive attitude unites the team."
She is also the design guru and waffle iron chief for the team. The RUN HXC shirts are her design. (see below)
As the waffle iron chief, she possibly saved many an injury by informing her under-16 teammates at the hotel they stayed at for the September PIAA Foundation meet that you had to be 16 use use the waffle iron. "I pointed it out, but they made waffles anyway," she deadpanned. Co-captain Jenna Hannan stayed with the wry approach when explaining the 'incident.' "Clearly, you are not mature enough at 15 to use a waffle iron (as we told poor Courtney!). Thankfully, Abby (Marco) turned 16 the next morning and was able to enjoy her waffles before the race."
The consensus most-improved runner on this year's team is part-time Irish dancer and full-time runner Elizabeth Clinton. (right, in photo from DELCOS) The junior credits her older sister with leading her into the sport. With her sister running in college, and having run cross in high school, she joined the middle school team, but also did soccer. "She had an amazing experience. I think I've definitely had the same, if not better, experience." Clinton has closed the gap on the Meehans to become a dependable and very solid #3, even pulling to within 13 seconds of Tess at the Central League race.
One of the unknowns coming into this season was freshman Courtney Naser. (left, in photo from DELCOS) She had played soccer from the time she was in 6th grade. She was "invited" to run in middle school by her science teacher (and middle school cross/track coach) Smitty Sabatini. She enjoyed the new sport, but loved soccer as well. This year though, the "invitation" to cross country came from the other girls on the team. "They seemed really nice and welcoming," she says. "And they told me there was even a pasta party before every meet."
Ritchie says that she likes to gently welcome freshmen into the sport, but because Naser's talent was so obvious, "she never really got to her enjoy her promised year of low pressure. She was promoted to varsity status pretty quickly." Naser's next-to-last race may have been her best so far... a good sign heading into the district meet." She PR'd at the Central League Championships, going 19:52 and finishing virtually side-by-side with Clinton.
The captains of change.
Captains can make a good team, great. And the choice of seniors Maggie Anzalone, Ali Hostler and Jenna Hannan would prove to be not just good, but team-changing.
How'd the three come to the sport?
Anzalone (right, in photo from DELCOS) had run track in middle school, and also played soccer. "I was better at track." Her first season of indoor, she says their 4x400 relay went to states, and she went along as an alternate. That's when she started to get serious. She had not run cross as a freshman, but her track coach kept telling her cross would improve her track times. In 10th grade, she hit the trails.
Hostler (left, in photo by Timothy O'Dowd from PIAA Foundation) had been a basketball player since the third grade. She came out for cross her freshman year to get in shape for the hardwood. It didn't hurt that her two older sisters had run for Haverford. Or that she would see her neighbors, Sophia and Tess running all the time.
Hannan and Clinton were elementary school friends, and definitely big fans of the sport. "Along with Elizabeth, we would climb trees and watch the races at Rose Tree Park." (Bet you haven't heard that one before).
Coach Ritchie says the girls' strengths do complement each other as captains, with only one caveat. "As much as we appreciate their leadership, we never let Ali and Maggie work together in our weekly weightroom circuit training," says Ritchie. "Together, they equal a comedy routine as they can never quite remember which station is next or spend too much time discussing who gets to use the blue exercise ball."
Now we know.
The seeds of this season's rededication to the sport had been planted during the co-captains' junior years.
Hannan (right, in photo from DELCOS) says that she and Anzalone had talked last year about how much fun it would be to find a running camp.
About ten seconds after the three learned they were captains early last November, they reignited the camp talk. Research was started and in January, with Jenna taking point, they found the Aim High Running Camp in upstate New York. It looked like fun. It was affordable. There were good teams that would go to the camp year after year. And the girls were determined to make their senior cross country campaigns – and the team's – the best they possibly could.
Anzalone says that when she, Jenna, and Ali found out they were going to be captains for the 2010 season, "our own hopes for the season became hopes for the whole team. Every day during the summer we would have a good group of girls meet at the track for some training."
The three cleared the camp idea with Coach Ritchie, and proceeded to invite the 19 girls returning from the District 1 squads. Fourteen agreed. As first-time team members, Naser and Houck did not go to the camp. But Ritchie says Naser – who was out of town much of the summer – had asked for the JV workouts, and did each one to the letter.
The girls had been told by the camp in January that it was near capacity. They had a week to get the money in.
Using Facebook, Jenna collected the money from all the girls and made the reservations. "The camp clearly had a good reputation," she says. "It was the camp for us."
The parents were told it was a pleasant three hour drive. While underestimated by 50%, it was a pretty drive to Brantingham, New York in the Adirondack Mountains. A weeklong adventure, the only negative came early in the week when some of the girls expressed a worry that the only food would be canned peaches. That turned out to be an unwarranted concern.
One of the biggest changes for the team – and a reason they could begin the season in better shape than any prior year – is that they had to train for the camp. Meeting several nights a week under the direction of the captains, they would get in their miles.
Once at camp, they did more miles than any had ever done in a week – thanks to the two-a-days.
Lawson says the camp changed her perspective on running by teaching her important lifestyle changes, especially in their diets.
Macedo especially remembers writing out the team goals. "There wasn't one day that was bad (at the camp)."
The camp, started in 1997 by David and Jennifer Patruno, has grown into one of the top camps in the Northeast. The main philosophy around the camp reflects what most know to be the true strength of cross country – everyone matters.
The camp is where Cornwall and its star senior Aisling Cuffe train as well. Cuffe ran in one of the boys' groups, as expected. But Haverford was in some good company according to Hannan. "We had two girls in the 3rd fastest group at camp, four girls in the 4th, and four in the 5th group. Not only was our team faster than we had been in any summer before, but we were also a closer group. We bonded through countless games of volleyball and soccer, stargazing, dance parties, and, of course, runs. We came away with knowledge that we have used all season."
Hostler summed it up... "With two-a-days at Aim High, we soon realized that talk was great, but each and every one of us was going to have to work our butts off to put it all together."
The plan takes shape. The season unfolds.
With all the talent that has come through Haverford, Coach Ritchie says she has never had a team so ready to go at the very first scrimmage.
(left, team captains Ali Hostler, Jenna Hannan and Maggie Anzalone)
The team did not run a heavy invitational schedule, but they did run a strategic, challenging one. They started by finishing 2nd to season-long PA#1 Pennsbury at the Abington Invitational on September 11th. For the first overnight the girls had ever done for an invitational, they traveled to Hershey for the PIAA Foundation meet where they would take 4th to Pennsbury, Liberty and Council Rock North after avoiding the possible waffle iron troubles. If you plug in Ali Hostler's time finishing 2nd in the Junior Varsity race that day, they would have finished 2nd. The meet was a confidence booster for many of the girls.
Fast-forward six days, and the girls are in the always competitive Paul Short Run at Lehigh University. They would finish 4th again, and again to Pennsbury and Liberty, and behind Centerville, Ohio.
Two weeks later, they dominated the Delco Championships at the hilly Rose Tree Park with a season-best 1:14 compression off of a PR 19:01 by Sophia Meehan.
And seven days later, it was a comfortable win at the Central League Champs, again at Rose Tree.
What was unique for the team, and for Ritchie was the fact that they did not peak for Centrals – the usual process for this team. "We did a hard quarters workout mid-week, and a lot of the girls said they had tired legs," said the coach. "This week will be different."
In dual meets, the girls dominated the Central League from start to finish, finishing 11-0.
Success comes full circle.
Each of the girls credits teammates with helping them with nerves, racing, training and support. But each of the girls also has incredible respect for their coaches, Kristie Ritchie and Jay Williams.
Co-Captain Jenna Hannan says, "Coach Ritchie works with each individual to make them the best runner they can be. Whether you run an 18:30 or 34:00 5K, she will support and develop your running skills. Along with Mr. Williams, she believes in creating life long runners."
Hostler concurs. "You know what she (Coach Ritchie) expects, so you especially want to work as hard as you can to not let her down."
And from the team's #1, Sophia Meehan, "Mrs. Ritchie and Mr Williams really care about my whole running career and not just about high school."
It sounds a lot like this is not just a team of achievers, but a team that will become achievers in whatever they do.
But first there is the District 1 Championships. A year in the making, but just another step on the trail.
It was all about redemption for Kelsey Ibarra at the YAIAA Champs - but the PR is cool too.
By CORY MULL
Sean Potts kept looking back at the clock. His lead runner kept pounding away.
Central York sophomore Kelsey Ibarra was on pace to break 19-minutes for the first time since her freshman campaign. And Potts, the Lady Panthers head coach, knew it.
So for that last 800 meters on Tuesday at the YAIAA Championships at John Rudy Park, Potts was as nervous as anyone. Ibarra? To the contrary.
Ibarra not only broke the barrier, she did it quite easily. She clocked in at 18:42, which was the course‘s second best finish in its history, only behind Red Lion’s Kate Papenburg, who secured the league record in 2003 with an 18:35.
“She was waiting for this for a long time,” Potts said. “This was sort of a statement race for her. So I was really proud of the way she held on. She has that determination that not most kids have. I know she’s not going to wilt.”
Photo by Tim O'Dowd, IrishRunner.com
She didn’t have much reason to anyway. Her main competition, York Catholic senior Kady Schrann, was ruled out due to injury. The senior, a two-time winner, sustained a knee injury on Friday and, to be safe, opted to forgo the league meet.
So that left Ibarra mostly out there by herself, with all due respect to York Suburban junior Lily Corsaro, who finished in second at 19:12.
While Ibarra had logged a fourth-place finish at the Carlisle Invitational in late September, she sensed that the York-Adam’s meet was her first opportunity to break 19 minutes.
“I had a [personal record] last year at Paul Short and it was 18:58,” Ibarra said. “And so I definitely wanted to beat that, but I hadn’t yet. I thought this was the best race to do it.”
Without Schrann, who traditionally liked to take the race out, Ibarra was forced to be the race leader. She had to take charge, to establish her will. And that she did, slipping in front in less than 30 seconds after the gun went off.
On the first turn, approximately 200 meters into the action, Ibarra sat comfortably in front.
It wasn’t quite the approach she anticipated, but she couldn’t help it. Potts ultimately thought it was his runner’s best move.
“She likes to run in the front,” Potts said. “We talked today about not going out as fast, but - and I don’t think she did to be honest with you. She had a nice lead. But she advanced the lead as she went. She didn’t advance the lead like she could have.”
As a freshman in 2009, Ibarra had a uniquely different experience.
Shortly after that first turn, she was tripped and was cut by a runner’s spike. She got up and continued to race, but there was a real sense of pain in her face. Potts saw something, but he didn’t know what.
“I’ll be honest with you,” Potts said, “last year I didn’t even know she fell. I knew it was in the first mile, but I was yelling at her because I thought she was upset. I said ‘If I see you cry again I’m yanking you out.’ I didn’t know she had fallen.”
Turns out, Ibarra used any runner’s worst nightmare as fuel. She actually rebounded from the mishap, working her way up the race before she settled with a fifth-place finish.
The race toughened her up. Figuratively and physically. She had a scar to prove it. So she admitted, with no hesitation, that Tuesday was about redemption.
“I wanted to redeem myself,“ she said. “I have a reminder of it every day.”
There were many factors working in Ibarra’s favor, including her recent form and motivation, but another variable was environment. John Rudy Park has been Ibarra’s home course since she started running four years ago in the seventh grade.
“It definitely is an advantage because we practice once a week on this course,“ she said. “And I’ve been running parts of my middle school years on this course since the seventh grade. So I know the divits in the course. It was helpful.”
Ibarra first realized she was more than just a fair-weather runner when she began comparing her times in the seventh and eighth grade. It motivated her, drove her to become better.
“I guess as I tried comparing my times with everyone else, I started realizing that it was definitely achievable to be up there,” she said.
Only a sophomore, Ibarra has been a quick study this season. After taking a wrong turn in a dual meet to begin her season, almost costing her team a loss, she’s quietly exceeded every expectation placed upon her.
The start of her postseason was the first step. Districts are next up.
“I think this year she has the big picture in mind,” Potts said. “We know sometimes here at the end we’re running shorter workouts, but they’re faster workouts, so we’re ready to do well in meets like this.
“Today was exactly what we wanted. We wanted her to go out and win it.”
Dustin Wilson had to choose between football, soccer and running. He made the smart choice. And it's only getting smarter.
By DON RICH
Chestnut Hill Academy is in the Inter-Ac League. "Ac' stands for Academic. Academic means it's a great education, and absolutely nothing is gift-wrapped for a student.
A tough environment.
And junior Dustin Wilson is third in his class.
That makes him a pretty good student.
So now that he has transformed himself into one of the top runners in the state – with a lot of expert guidance from Chestnut Hill's long-time cross country and track & field coach Paul Hines – it should surprise no one that Wilson is a very good student of the sport, as well.
He experiences. He asks. He learns. He gets better. PR to PR.
"He is one of the very few I can talk to about the purpose of a workout," says Hines. "He just dives into reading about running and workouts."
That need to know has always been there for Wilson, and he uses that instinctive curiosity to study other runners, the history of an event... the missed opportunities of races... whatever he needs to succeed the next time.
But it's not just a thirst for knowledge that drives this runner.
He is competitive.
Doesn't act it. Just does it.
Running was not his sport, until he was forced to choose.
When Wilson was entering the 6th grade at Chestnut Hill Academy, the school required students to select a sport.
"I wasn't very good in soccer," WIlson admits"
"He's not built for football," his coach understated.
So cross country would have to do.
According to Wilson, the middle school running program; or Lower School as they call it at Chestnut Hill Academy; was not really formal.
The cross country courses were somewhere between 1.8 and 2 miles. There were no formal workouts. "Basically, it was two years of just running around, getting miles on my legs" he said.
That running around produced a 5:20 miler in 7th grade.
Coach Hines remembers it as a bit more than just running around, because the league did hold a middle school cross country championship every year. Wilson won it all three years, from 6th through 8th grades.
It was entering 8th grade where Wilson started to get a bit more serious. After that third championship, Wilson says he started to like running more... so much so that he found a way to work in training with the varsity (Upper School) that winter.
He was actually assigned to what the school calls "General Fitness," which, according to Hines, is school speak for anyone not on the squash or basketball teams.
WIlson did the workouts with the older guys. Actually, "half workouts" as he relates it.
He had a mentor on the team who showed him how to prepare for and do the workouts, talked about racing, and more. The 8th grader listened to then-senior Ned Cunningham – and he learned.
"Ned was a 4:32 miler and sub-10 for the two mile, and a very hard worker" says Hines.
Wilson would break five minutes in the mile that spring.
He was hooked on the sport.
Wilson came out for cross after a summer of training and immediately inherited (took) the #1 spot on the team.
But he was not the best runner in the league. At the Boys' Inter-Ac Championships, he would take 2nd to a pretty good runner from Malvern Prep; Matt McCullough, then a senior.
And at the PA Independent Schools Champs a few days later, Wilson would take 5th behind McCullough, plus a pretty good junior from always strong Germantown Friends; Gus McKenzie; and two top seniors from Friends' Central, Pat Desabato and Ivo Milic-Straklj. Not bad for a freshman.
He would try his legs in the Seeded race at the Foot Locker Northeast Regionals at Van Cortlandt Park in New York. It was eye-opening, but his time of 16:48.60 was pretty good for the level of competition.
(Photo by Don Rich)
The season simply got WIlson even more fired up. "I just wanted to beat him (McCullough) once before he left school."
Indoor would provide plenty of other top runners to chase. To WIlson, it was a chance to learn. "I distinctly remember running against Neal Berman (Lower Merion) indoor. That was a great opportunity, and helped me learn to to deal with competition."
Wilson would qualify for and take 11th in the 3000 meter run at the PTFCA Indoor Championships. (Photo by Don Rich) It was a bit off of his season best and then PR of 8:55.36 run at the TFCAGP Meet of Champs. "States was a poor race, and I was thinking of not going to Nationals (Nike Indoor). I was a little tired, but I looked at previous results and figured it would be good experience."
It was. He would post a then-PR of 4:32.61 and win the Freshman Mile.
Spring would bring the fulfillment of his season-long goal.
Wilson would set more PR's, taking 5th in a then-PR of 9:29.68 in the 2-mile at the elite Henderson Invitational in early May. The race included an en-route 8:52.70 3000 - another PR. But McCullough was ahead.
Two weeks later he would triple at the Inter-Ac Champs, taking 3rd in the 800, 2nd (to MuCullough) in the 3200 in 9:45.62, but most significantly, capture the 1600 meter run in a then PR of 4:28.35, with McCullough 2nd in 4:28.52.
His freshman campaign would finish at the Nike Outdoor Nationals, where WIlson discovered that heat and humidity were not his friends. He would run 4:32.01 for 3rd in the freshman mile, a PR for the distance. The day before, he was 15th in the Emerging Elite 2 mile.
It wasn't a great race. The heat really took a toll. But to Wilson, as usual, he learned something from both races.
There are no wasted opportunities for this student of the sport.
After a spectacular freshman year, Wilson sets his sights even higher.
He would begin his fall campaign with a course record of 15:37 on his home 3-mile layout.
He would venture to the nasty hills of Brandywine Creek State Park in Delaware at the Salesianum Invitational, where he was 2nd in the Varsity C race in the 7th best time of the day.
"I left Delaware thinking track will be OK. I'm not a great hill runner, but I wasn't terrified of them, either."
The sophomore would take his Inter-Ac title for a second year in a row.
He would move up the food chain a few more spots, finishing 2nd at the independent League Championships to McKenzie, then a senior.
Wilson points out that he has never won that league title, something he says he will correct this year.
At Foot Locker Northeast – moved to a very tough, sandy and unforgiving Sunken Meadow State Park on Long Island – he learned some things about himself, and the course.
"I was afraid of the course. But coming out of it, I could understand what people are afraid of it. It's a strength course.... and ultimately, that will play toward my strong suit."
He was too far behind the leaders during the critical first mile, but moved up during the second mile. The two mile mark is half way up the sharp incline known as "Cardiac Hill".
"I got in the low 20's, and was moving OK. If all had gone right from there, I could have made the mid-teens," he says confidently.
"He would lose spots to the finish, and end up 42nd.
But he came away with one thought. The course plays to his strong suit. "It's not for track lovers. You need to be a strong runner. Going in, I was not sure I was that strong. Coming out... I know I'll be OK. This time the course won, but I will be better prepared."
The confidence of cross country quickly translated into some fast indoor times.
Wilson again focused on the 3000.
(Photo by Don Rich)
He'd PR (indoor) at the PTFCA Indoor Track Carnival in mid-February, going 8:54.15, taking 2nd.
At the PTFCA State Championships, he would capture his first true all-inclusive state medal, taking 6th in an indoor PR of 8:47.42.
Not content to finish the season without another few laps around one of his favorite tracks at the Nike Indoor Nationals in Boston, he entering the 5000 meter run. He came close to his goal of 15, running 15:12.51 for 4th place.
"That was a learning experience. Actually getting lapped motivated me a little more." He was the top underclassmen behind three seniors, and was only lapped by Kirubel Erassa's near national record.
The next day, he was virtually alone in his heat in the 2 mile, running a PR of 9:22.08. "I was in 9:08 shape."
He would have to wait just over a month for another big PR.
The Penn Relays is the ultimate hallowed training ground.
His indoor time had qualified him for the prestigious boys 3000 meter Championship of America on Friday afternoon. Ever the student, Wilson says he noticed that 8:28 had won in the past. He figured; and his training agreed; he was in that kind of shape.
(Photo by Don Rich)
He had a very strong race. He came in seeded 22nd, and walked out of Franklin Field with an 11th place on his resume. More importantly, he had PRed again, going 8:30.96.
Once again, building on success and experience, WIlson and his coach figured that an 8:30 meant he could do a fast 3200 and a fast mile.
They aimed for the May 1st Colonial Classic at Plymouth Whitemarsh for a PR in the 1600.
(Photo by Don Rich)
Wilson had hoped to find some guys who had run in the teens, but soon realized he would have to take the race himself. He had never broken 4:28, but found the strength and drive to record at 4:20.27 that day. "I fell off a little in the 3rd lap, but for a hot day, I was happy with it."
Fast-forward just six days, and Wilson would take that 4:20 confidence and bust out an incredible race at the Henderson T&F Invitational, beating top runners from PA while going 9:06.54.
Guys he beat that day? Oh, just Vince Perozze, Matt Fischer, Reece Ayers, Glen Burkhardt, Scott Armstrong, Ned Willig, Tom Trainer, Ian Barnhill and Gus McKenzie, and others. Familiar, talented names all.
Exactly two weeks later, and WIlson is on the track for his 2nd outdoor Inter-Ac Championship.
After a 1st, 2nd and 3rd in 2009, the deck seemed clear to sweep the distance events.
He PRed in the 800, going 1:59.94. He cruised to a 4:27.76 win in the 1600. And he did likewise in the 3200, just dipping under 10.
WIlson would again take a crack at the heat and humidity of North Carolina in testing himself in the longer races. His 15:15.40 in the 5000 was good for 9th. He two mile was not exactly what he wanted, but a 9:22.70 19th was a decent end to an incredible sophomore year.
Only Matt Fischer, Unionville, and Ryan Gil, North Allegheny, would surpass his 3200 time from Henderson in early May... and that was at the PIAA T&F State Championships.
Being a student of the sport, also means listening to your body.
Competition is one thing.
A stress fracture is an entirely different opponent.
Following his mid-June foray to the south, Wilson took a little time off and started in on his summer cross country training.
"Something just didn't feel right," he admits now.
In early July, he went to the doctor, where it was diagnosed as shin splints.
He took two weeks off, but did a lot of biking during that time.
"It didn't feel that bad when I came back. But after a week of running, I knew I needed an MRI."
It was a stress fracture of the right tibia.
That put him out until the end of August, when he was able to begin jogging. By the middle of September, Wilson says he was feeling pretty good. During the entire stretch, he was in the pool, swimming and aqua-jogging.
But his season was off to a very late start.
His first race would be his home invitational on his home 3.0 miles course, where he would lower his own course record by 14 seconds to 15:23.
(Photo by Ted Hodgins)
His first big invitational would be the October 1st Paul Short Run.
"I still felt like I was in August training."
So his 4th place 15:54.00 against some formidable competition is even more impressive. "He even passed two runners in the final stretch," says Coach Hines.
(Photo by Timothy O'Dowd, IrishRunner.com)
Again, building off success, Wilson came back on October 12th in his final race on his home 3.0 mile course to get another season goal.
"He really wanted to break 15," his coach said. "He would not be denied."
His 14:58 should last awhile. At least until next year when he has another chance at it.
Wilson thinks the time off may actually help him reach his season goals of winning his third Inter-Ac title in a row... this one on October 18th on his home 3.1 mlle course; capturing his first PA Independent League title at Belmont Plateau in Philadelphia on October 30th; and of course, taking a real run at qualifying for Foot Locker Nationals on November 27th.
"I probably will not be burned out."
WIlson says he may have run some races that make him think he may not be a great hill runner, but he quickly adds that he has done a lot of workouts that give him confidence.
Obviously, the cross country goals are tops on WIlson's short list.
But as a student of the sport, and watching his own progression last spring from a 4:20 1600 to a 9:06 3200, he has some specific things in mind.
His coach sees low teens or better in the mile.
Wilson sees sub-9 in the 3200.
Both see him winning a lot of races.
After all, he has improved from season to season for several years. Racing. Learning. Adjusting. And winning. Talent and smarts say Wilson will only get better.
Dustin Wilson's Sample Training
XC: Monday run under an hour, Tuesday dual meet, Wednesday-Thursday under an hour. Friday workout - Strength tempo, mile repeats
Indoor: Tuesday short workout, Thursday longer, Saturday - race. Hour runs on other days, occasionally over an hour. Keep relaxed. If teammate Mike Fuery is with him, they get a little antsy and pick up the last few miles.
Outdoor: About the same as XC. Use Tuesday as workout. Try to use duals for workouts.
Chestnut Hill Head Coach Paul Hines
Paul Hines was an assistant for the first five years of his career with Brother Benway at Cardinal Dougherty. He has spent the past 25 years as head coach at Chestnut Hill Academy, where he has coached some other stellar athletes as well, among them 1999 PA Outdoor Male Athlete of the Year Brian Derby, who went on to become an all-American 400m Hurdler at Penn State and a three-time Olympic Trials Qualifier; Theis Weckesser, the 1999 Indoor PTFCA Male Athlete of the Year who was a 61'5.75" shot putter; and chris Crawley who was a 48'8.50" triple jumper and 23'3.50" long jumper.
PA 67 Watch List for NXN and Foot Locker contenders - Oct 15 Update (by Jayson Jackson)
Altoona-Last Week: Won State College Invite, while still missing their #’s 1,2, and 6. Next: Tri-States
Baldwin-This Weekend: Mingo Classic. Next: Tri-States 10/21
Cardinal O’Hara-Last Weekend: Off. Next: DELCOs 10/16
Cumberland Valley-Last Weekend: Off. Next: Mid-Penns 10/16
North Allegheny-Last Weekend: Off.Next: Tri-States 10/21
West Chester Henderson-Last Weekend: Off. Ran 3200 track race 10/13. Next Ches-Mont Championships 10/21.
Downingtown East-Last Weekend: Won William Tennent Invite by 81. Next: Ches-Mont 10/21.
North Allegheny-Last Weekend:Off. Next: Tri-States 10/21.
North Hills-Last Weekend: Off Next: Tri-States 10/21.
Pennsbury-Last Weekend: 9th at Eastern States while missing #’s 2 and 3 due to SATs Next: SOL Nationals 10/21
State College-Last Weekend: Won State College Invite. Next: District 6 Championship
West Chester Henderson-Last Weekend: Off. Next: Ches-Mont Championships 10/21
Reece Ayers, Tunkhannock-Last Weekend: Off due to college visit. Next: ?
Chris Campbell, Council Rock North-Last Weekend: Off. Next: SOL 10/21
Wade Endress, Altoona-Last Weekend: Off due to college visit. Next: Tri-States 10/21
Ryan Gil, North Allegheny-Last Weekend: Off Next: Tri-States 10/21
Zach Hebda & Joe Kush North Hills-Last Weekend: Off Next: Tri-States 10/21
Matt Kacyon, Whitehall-Last Weekend: Off. Next: ?
Jacob Kildoo, Grove City-Last Weekend: Won Harbor Creek Invite by 36 seconds. Next: ?
Leigha Anderson, Cumberland Valley-Last weekend: Off Next: Mid-Penn 10/16
Katie Kinkead, Central Bucks East-Last Weekend:Off. Next: SOL Conference 10/21
Margo Malone, North Hills-Last Weekend: Off. Next: Tri-States 10/21
Meghan McGovern, North Penn-Last Weekend: Won Varsity E with a 14:54, second year in a row she won a section race. Next: SOL Conference 10/21
Angel Picirillo, Homer Center-Last Weekend: Off Next: Heritage Conference 10/21
Sara Sargent, Pennsbury-Last Weekend: 6th at Eastern States with 14:47. Next: SOL Conference 10/21
Leah Anne Wirfel, Forest Hills-Last Weekend: Off Next: ?.
Quinn Devlin doesn't remember his dad's top 10 Ironmans.
But he certainly races like he does.
By CORY MULL
Jeff Devlin likes to joke that when his son was barely three years old in the mid 1990s, he was traveling across the country to abstract locations like Hawaii and Switzerland. Only his son will never quite recall those experiences.
The pictures of Quinn Devlin, now a junior at Downingtown West High, remain as those fleeting images, the stamps of recognition during a time in which Quinn’s father was perhaps one of the ten best triathletes in the world during that period.
During an esteemed six-year run, when Jeff was in the prime of his professional career, he placed in the top-10 at the World Championship Ironman race -- 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, 26.2 mile run -- in Kona, Hawaii in five consecutive years, including two third-place finishes in ‘91 and ‘94.
“I didn’t really know,” Devlin said of his father’s successful professional career. “Heck, I didn’t even start running until the seventh grade in track.”
Fast track 16 years to the present.
Quinn certainly knows now. And some, if not all, of his father’s abilities have rubbed off.
“I’ve seen him progress since he was a first-time runner,” Quinn‘s father, Jeff said. “He was doing okay, but not great. But by the end of eighth grade, more or less he was the fastest in the school in the two mile and the mile. Going into high school, he immediately did well.”
Long limbed like his father and no doubt as quick, Quinn is arguably one of the top 10 best runners in all of Class AAA.
(Photo by Timothy O'Dowd, IrishRunner.com)
He sports long, wavy, oak tinged hair, which flusters back and forth with every step he takes. His quadriceps vibrate as the balls of his feet strike the ground. They pulsate as he fires through the 4:30 miles which he‘s sometimes been known to rip off.
His arms move like turbines, alternating ferociously to keep up with his effortless motor.
And then you have his vision. The attribute of his style that can easily be defined by what he sees in front of him.
In most cases, it’s nothing. His peripheral does the dirty work. It has to be in constant flux, scanning what’s to the right and left of him. Because you see, Quinn Devlin is a front runner. To the core.
“Quinn is a front runner,“ Downingtown West head boys’ coach Scott Burns said. “That’s just sort of his nature. He’s a very focused and very determined young kid that’s just going to go to the front regardless of who he’s racing against.”
He doesn’t have patience for the strategists of cross country. It simply is not his style. You can’t bottle up his vigor. And so that‘s why Devlin likes to lead. To feel in control. To be the decision-maker. It’s in his blood.
(Carlisle photo by Megan Clugh for PennTrackXC.com)
“I think that Quinn feeds off of being in front,“ Burns said of his varsity runner. “And his personality and his confidence are his strength. So for him to race well, he needs to know that he is in command and that he is in control of the situation.”
So far, no one can deny Devlin’s control this season.
All signs are pointing toward a breakthrough postseason for the junior, who as a freshman recorded a 43rd place finish at the District 1 race with a time of 16 minute, 4 seconds.
With a fifth-place finish (15:57) at the Carlisle Invitational in late September and a second-place clocking (15:49) at the Paul Short Invitational a week later, Devlin has moved up the pecking order in Class AAA.
Within striking distance of Altoona Area’s Wade Endress and North Allegheny’s Ryan Gil.
It wasn’t so easy last year.
The road to November is often filled with potholes.
All Devlin needed for confirmation was that freshman year. He was a leader, a contender.
All he needed was an index of experience. He could lead into his sophomore campaign with a bank of goal-setting. His 43rd place finish at the District 1 meet, no doubt one of the most talented fields 2008 had to offer, was enough evidence.
It was his best time of the season. His mile pace was 5:11, no doubt even quicker during that first rambunctious mile.
So Devlin was ready, set, hoping to jumpstart his sophomore year with a bang.
Which he did.
He popped off a 16-flat at the Bulldog Invitational, cruising by for a second-place finish. He was only fourth-tenths slower than his junior teammate, Ian Barnhill, who had just transferred over from Marple Newtown.
Things were looking great in those opening weeks. Before a simple, every day injury knifed through his system.
“He twisted his ankle,“ Jeff said. “He was out for about two weeks. Right at the start of the season. And he felt like he never got back to where he wanted to be. He had a couple of good races. But I don’t think he was satisfied.”
The source of his injury tracked back to the summer, when Devlin was putting in long miles, hard miles and an inscrutable grind on his body. He felt he could endure. And so that’s why he pushed forward. Harder. Faster.
“He’s got a huge capacity for work and a high pain tolerance,” Jeff said. “It’s easy for him to go out there and grind himself to the ground and to not think much of it.”
Perhaps it’s in the blood. He saw his father’s remarkable work rate and believed he could do it too.
But even Quinn’s father has learned from his mistakes. The years of short recoveries and quick rebounds were past him. So he lent a helping hand down to his son.
“I had certain years where I was the guy who could go out there and beat everyone up in workouts and then I would jump to race day and my races wouldn’t be nearly what I expected or anyone I trained with expected,” Jeff said. “It took me some time to get a grasp on the whole moderation and training concept. And when I did it made a huge difference.”
Devlin still managed a pretty good postseason -- in fairness, most other’s pail in comparison.
But it didn’t cut it for Devlin. He was sixth in the Chest-Mont Championships (16:40), behind Barnhill and three West Chester Henderson runners. Then he was eighth at the District 1 Championships (16:08), behind the winner and eventual Class AAA champion Brad Miles of North Penn.
He was 41st at the state meet, clocking in at 16:48.
And that was a disappointment in his eyes, mostly because he eyed a medal at states. It didn’t help that he had a slight case of the flu.
“He was under the weather at states,“ Burns said. “The whole experience at states was a little overwhelming the first time he was up there. We didn’t think he ran to his potential last year.”
The adjustment period is over.