By Cory Mull
Get ready for new directions.
Undoubtedly, the 2010 PIAA Class AAA girls’ meet will be characteristically different this year.
After a remarkable three-year run by Emmaus, who finished off its three-peat in 2009 -- it was the first time any girls AAA team had done it since State College from 1979-81 -- this season could be the mark of change.
No less than five or six teams will be vying for team hardware on Saturday during the final PIAA meet of the season. Last year’s third-place finisher, PA#1 Pennsbury, is the presumed favorite, if only because they have last year’s individual winner, Sara Sargent, and their top 5 girls from last year’s team back.
It certainly helps that the Falcons, who have been ranked at the top of the state the entire year, have backed up their acclaim with performances left and right. Wins at Abington, Foundation, Paul Short, the SOL National Conference Championships and the District 1 meet have all led to Hershey, where Pennsbury looks to cap off a very successful season.
Sargent, a sophomore, leads the way for the Falcons. She’s logged an impressive season, helmed by a win at Abington, a second-place finish at Briarwood, a win at Foundation, a win at the Paul Short Run (in a season best 17:43), a win in her conference meet and a fourth-place finish in District 1.
Yet, without a healthy Ann Herman -- who was under the weather in last year‘s competition and finished fourth for the team -- and Morgan Perry, Erica Gray and Stephanie Radzinski, the Falcons wouldn’t be where they are today. The first four have clocked times below 19-minutes and Razinski is just a hair over 19, making for a 93 second spread.
That team dynamic will come in handy against a handful of contenders, including PA#6 Downingtown East, PA#2 West Chester Henderson. To be fair, rankings mean little at this time in the season. When it comes down to it, what matters is who is running their best right now.
An argument can be made for newly minted PA#3 North Hills (Photos by Doug Michaels) out of District 7, who boast perhaps the best 1-2-3 in the state in Margo, Shannon and Mary Malone. The sisters -- a junior, sophomore and freshman, respectively -- helped their team secure a District 7 win over PA#4 North Allegheny, finishing in 1st, 3rd and 7th to score 99 points to North Allegheny’s 109.
Over the course of the season, North Hills, which was eighth last year, has recorded a win at the Pittsburgh Central Catholic invite, a third-place finish at Slippery Rock and a second-place finish at the Red, White and Blue Invite.
Of course, their main competition has been North Allegheny, who sports an incredibly tight spread between their five runners. Up until District 7, in races North Allegheny fielded their best five, the team had come up with wins at the Red, White and Blue Invite, Boardman and Carlisle.
The team’s first five -- Lizzie Appleton, Eleni Mermigas, Alex Gambill, Caitlyn Carmody and Gabrielle Borza -- have registered season best times that are only 12 seconds distant from one another. North Allegheny finished fourth in last year’s race.
At Hershey’s Parkview, which is often a race within a race, the smartest teams will have the best shot at winning the team trophy. West Chester Henderson, which was seventh last year, is led by last year’s No. 4 finisher Janie Augustyn.
The sleeper team of AAA could be State College, who drilled competition in the District 6 meet by finishing their first five runners all in the top 10, led by Tatum DelBosco’s 19:27.
Last year’s winner, Sara Sargent, will have plenty of competition to deal with, including three from her own district.
Pennridge sophomore Tori Gerlach (Photo by Don Rich) captured an incredible win at District 1, going 17:45, which was 21 seconds better than her PR set at the SOL Continental Conference Championships.
Flanked behind Gerlach were second-place Katie Kinkead, last year’s state runner-up. Kinkead clocked a 17:55, tying a season best, and Council Rock North’s Lindsay Rheiner was third in 17:56. Sargent was fourth, registering a 17:58.
But make no mistake, the sophomore heads in as one of the meet’s favorites. She recorded PA#1 at the Paul Short Run, finishing in 17:43 and has registered top-end finishes in most of her invites this year.
Depth will be the biggest storyline in 2010.
In all, 14 of the state’s top 20 return for this year’s meet. That means it could be anyone’s race to win.
Kinkead has logged quite a season on her end, helping Central Bucks East win the SOL Continental Conference Championships with a race-leading 17:55. She also placed fourth at Briarwood and was second at the Central Bucks East invite. Her team took the final spot at District 1, making the state meet for the first time in the team's 35-year history. (Photo to right by Don Rich)
Wherever Kinkead goes, teammate Jenny Guidera is sure to follow. Guidera was 24th last season at states and this season she hasn't finished worst than 9th at any invitational. She has run her two best races of the season in the last two weeks. She ran 17:59 to finish 2nd behind Kinkead at SOL Continental and she ran 18:00 at the District 1 Championship to finish 5th. The 1-2 combo of Kinkead and Guidera will make it tough on other individuals and will help them get a jump on the competition in the team standings.
Last year’s third-place finisher, Cumberland Valley senior Leigha Anderson, was recently squeezed out of first place in District 3 by upstart sophomore Kelsey Ibarra of Central York, who finished in 19:02, five seconds better than Anderson.
Racing on Parkview could be both a gift and a curse for District 3 contestants, considering the course is riddled with subtle and not-so-subtle hills. It made little difference for Anderson last year, as she won the district and then went on to place third. But for Ibarra, who was fourth in last year’s district race, she went on to place 40th at states. A freshman a year ago, maybe expereince makes all the difference.
West Chester Henderson’s Janie Augustyn was fourth a year ago and had her season best time at the District 1 Championships, clocking in at 18:31. North Hill’s Margo Malone was fifth at states in 2009 and won District 7 this season in 18:41.
North Penn’s Meghan McGovern (18:05), Liberty’s Jess Cygan (18:18), owners of PA#10 and #11 respectively; and Pottsville freshamn Paige Stoner, who was only 13 seconds back from Cygan in District 11, could make a case for top 5 finishes as well. It is difficult to compare Cygan's and Stoner's frosh District times because they are two entirely different courses. D11 moved from Lehigh to Bethlehem last year.
Other contenders: Strath Haven’s Hannah Grossman, Methacton’s Kara Steinke, Pennsbury’s Ann Herman, Lower Dauphin’s DeeDee Shea.
(Place, Name, School, Class, District)
1. Sara Sargent, Pennsbury, sophomore, 1 (left in photo by Don Rich)
2. Katie Kinkead, Central Bucks East, senior, 1
3. Leigha Anderson, Cumberland Valley, senior, 3
4. Janie Augustyn, West Chester Henderson, junior, 1
5. Margo Malone, North Hills, junior, 7
8. Meghan McGovern, North Penn, junior, 1
9. Jess Cygan, Liberty, senior, 11
10. Tess Meehan, Haverford Township, sophomore, 1
11. Shannon Malone, North Hills, sophomore, 7
12. Angelica Peck, Blackhawk, senior, 7
13. Amy Darlington, Liberty, junior, 11
14. Kayla Lampe, Bishop Shanahan, senior, 1
18. Rachel Sowinski, Holy Redeemer, sophomore, 2
* In all, 23 out of the top 35 placers from last year’s State Meet are returning.