Coverage includes video interviews, video highlights, photos, race summaries, feature stories and statewide newspaper coverage
Thank you to the athletes and coaches, the PIAA, RunHigh, and my PTXC Team!
If you would like your coverage to be posted here please email the link to Don Rich at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And if you think this level of coverage is worth 3 bucks a month, please subscribe. Thank you.
PCN BROADCAST SCHEDULE OF PIAA STATE XC CHAMPIONSHIPS - Click here to find your local PCN station
Friday November 16th
Class A Girls & Boys 4:00 PM
Class AA Girls & Boys 9:30 PM
Class AAA Girls & Boys 10:30 PM
Three races were decided by 3 points or less - Pennsbury three-peats - Cardinal O'Hara 2nd on a tie-breaker for the 2nd year-in-a-row - Two course records in the hills of Hershey Parkview
Class A Girls: It was the Kennedy Weisner show from the gun as the Elk County Catholic junior led her team to a runner-up spot with her 18:29 - the second fastest time on the day. Elk Lake's Jenny Vaneeten led her team to the title with a 4th place 19:50.
Class AA Girls: Individual favorite Regan Rome of Dallas overcame a side-stitch at 2 miles that cause her to drop the ground, to lead her team to a narrow 3-point loss to Palmyra. Sophomores Maria Tukis and Miranda Salvo took point for team champs with their 9th and 10th place finishes. Senior Adair Gennocro of Saint Mary's captured the title with her 19:00.
Photo by Don Rich
Girls AAA Girls: In stunning fashion, the PA#2, US#9 Pennsbury girls used remarkable 27-second spread behind an 8th place 18:50 by senior Sara Sargent to capture their 3rd straight Class AAA team title. In the process they topped PA# 1 US#4 Unionville 43-86. Their 18:58 team average also broke their own record for the venue by 12 seconds. Unionville junior Courtney Smith set a venue record by going 18:16 for the win.
Class A Boys: Favored Northeast Bradford used their usual 1-2 of Sam WIlliams and Curt Jewett to capture valuable 3rd and 4th place finishes as they tallied just 96 points. Holy Cross senior Rico Galassi reversed his district meet place by holding off Elk Lake's Luke Jones by a second 15:59-16:00. Elk Lake would take the runner-up spot.
Class AA Boys: One of the three-point team wins went to Pottsgrove, 96-99 over Grove City, whose top guys, Daniel Jaskowak, finished 3rd (1 team point), behind this year's breakout runner, Vinny Todaro of Big Spring (16:00) and defending AA champion Brendan Shearn (16:04) of North Schuylkill.
Class AAA Boys: They had to go to video to determine this one. And in almost unbelievable fashion, 2010 runner-up Cardinal O'Hara would finish 2nd for the 2nd year in a row on a 6th man tiebreaker to West Chester Henderson. The Warriors were led by a course record win from junior Tony Russell, who powered to a 15:45.
Photo Galleries: Photo Gallery by Don Rich (300m and Finish) | Photo Gallery by Tim O'Dowd (400m and Poop-Out Hill) | Photo Gallery by Patty Morgan (1000m|2400m|Aloha Hills and Awards) | Photo Gallery by Meghan Clugh (1400m|2000m) | Photo Gallery by Phil Grove |
Feature Stories by Cory Mull: Tell someone they can't do something, it may cost you a ride in a pink limosine | Elk County Catholic is not just a front-runner | Palmyra is led from the middle by Laura Duquette | In a rebuilding year, Elk Lake reconstructs fast | Dallas' Regan Rome literally guts it out to get a point | With no margin for error, LaSalle finishes 5th. That was the easy part of their journey | From Newville to Carlisle to Hershey, Todara moves to the front
Video Interviews: Pennsbury Girls - 3-peating PIAA AAA State Champs | Tony Russell, Henderson, AAA Champ in CR of 15:45 | Courtney Smith, Unionville, AAA Champ in CR of 18:16 | Vinny Todaro, Big Springs, AA Champs in 16:00 | Kennedy Weisner: Girls A Champ: 18:28 | Adair Gennocro: Girls AA Champ in 19:00 | Palmyra: Girls AA Champs | Northeast Bradford: Class A Team Champs | Cardinal O'Hara Coaches Interview | Matt Samuel: Coach of Girls AA Runner-up Dallas | Luke Jones: Boys A Runner-up | Rico Galassi: Boys A Champ in 15:59 |
Race Flow Photo Galleries with Narrative: Click Here
Awards Photos by Patty Morgan: Click Here
Newspaper coverage from around PA (SEND THOSE LINKS): Click here for links to local stories from around PA
Phil's Race Stories
CLASS A GIRLS BY PHIL GROVE
It was her time … finally.
After piling up a string of impressive runner-up finishes in every PIAA competition she had entered, Kennedy Weisner of Elk County Catholic was more than ready to make some history of her own in Saturday’s opening race on the Parkview Course.
The junior continued a stellar 2012 season by showing her heels to the Class A field and capturing the first championship in cross country’s new classification, narrowing missing the existing state meet record by running an uncontested 18:29.
Photo by David Beyerle
“It does (feel wonderful),” Weisner said of winning her first state title after six near-misses in track and cross country. “It’s exciting.”
Weisner, who was runner-up to all-time great Angel Piccirillo by 21 seconds in 2011 and 26 seconds as a freshman in 2010, looked effortless in building a 20-second lead after the opening mile. Entering the Aloha Hills section of the course, she was up 30 seconds, again over Central Cambria’s Alyssa Brandis.
“My coach told me to go out strong, and if I saw her, then I could work my way up to it, not go out with her,” said Brandis, who led Central Cambria to third in the team standings with her runner-up clocking of 19:42. “That’s what I did.”
Brandis noted that she, like Weisner, was caught without a challenger nearby to keep the tempo from slipping.
“It is really hard,” she said of running alone. “I like people to push me, and I didn’t have anyone to do that.”
With the size of her ever-growing lead sometimes catching spectators by surprise, Weisner forged ahead and led by an insurmountable 42 seconds with just over a mile to go.
“I guess it’s hard to push yourself when you are alone and you are trying to keep pushing,” the soft-spoken junior said. “It is kind of hard.”
The champion noted that the seeds for her first PIAA title were planted six year ago in Hershey.
“I started running when I was 10,” Weisner said. “My sister (Kady) was a freshman in high school, and I remember coming here and walking (the course) and being so excited. I said I want that to be me one day. Yeah, it is (a special day).”
Next up for Weisner is the Foot Locker Northeast Regional meet on the famed course in New York City’s Van Cortlandt Park. Earlier this year, she finished second there over 4 kilometers in the elite Eastern States Race of the Reebok Manhattan Invitational.
“It will help knowing the course a bit more and knowing what to expect,” Weisner said of the value of competing there on October 13. “You get back (in the woods), and it’s so quiet so you have to know to push yourself and keep going.”
Another state championship. Another trophy.
Like Weisner, top-ranked Elk Lake held to form by capturing the team title, a year removed from a narrow runner-up finish in the Class AA standings to St. Basil Academy. Bill Squier's team had a pair of medalists and claimed the golden trophy with 66 points, 34 ahead of West Middlesex.
Photo by Patty Morgan
“The whole business with the rankings is we’ve been ranked, sometimes we haven’t even been ranked and we’ve been in the top two,” Squier said of the instructions to his team. “That could be true with other teams. The reason they are going to run a race is to determine who’s the first-place team. And nobody owns that race until they get to the finish line.”
Sophomore Jenny Vanetten (19:50) was third in the team scoring and fourth overall, while junior Elizabeth Trowbridge was back as a medalist in 13th overall after placing 11th as a freshman and then missing the 2011 season due to injury.
“She has come back and worked and worked,” Squier said of Trowbridge. “She’s coming back really strong, and she was a big factor. And our No. 5 girl, Kirsten Hollister, put together the race of the year, and that was huge.”
West Middlesex coach Bob Morris congratulated the champions and his Big Reds squad, which dominated a week ago to win the District 10 title.
“It was a great day,” he said. “Hats off to Elk Lake. They are a great team, a real great team.
“They won boys and girls together (in 2010). That’s a sweep. That’s the kind of sweep you want.”
Freshman Kristen White, who had been relegated to bicycling up to 19 miles a day recently because of injury, was seventh overall in 19:57 to lead West Middlesex. She was joined by a pair of seniors, three sophomores and another frosh.
“They did a great job,” Morris said of his team. “Up in Mercer County, that’s a hot bed. But there’s only one school that’s got state hardware, and it’s those girls there and they’ve got two of them.”
CLASS AA GIRLS BY PHIL GROVE
For the Palmyra Cougars, Saturday’s gray skies might have put a smile on their faces.
Barb Mellinger’s top-ranked team stuck to its game plan, striking strong and late in the race to slip past Dallas for the Class AA girls’ state championship.
Photo by Patty Morgan
“I did not do the math, but one of my assistant coaches was very optimistic because we felt like we had more energy coming off the hills than Dallas did,” Mellinger said of the key to Saturday’s race. “We passed them after the hills. We were not in first place.”
Sophomores Maria Tukis (19:40) and Miranda Salvo (19:43) were fifth and sixth in the team scoring, setting the tone early for a tight battle with Dallas. Regan and Ally Rome countered for Dallas with 12 combined points to leave the two teams separated by just a point after each had two runners in the chute.
“For us it actually was a pretty quick start,” Palmyra’s coach said. “Our girls are strong at the end no matter what the start is.
“They ran this course a week and a half ago (for districts) in different weather, and this weather today suited us much more than last week’s. I think that helped us a lot. It was too hot and humid (last week). They ran great then, but it was not our kind of day. This is our kind of day.”
The competition continued to be close as both teams had 51 points with just one more runner to score for both teams. Junior Devin Strynkowski provided the margin of victory for Palmyra as she came home as the 40th team runner, giving the Cougars the 91-94 edge.
Photo by Don Rich
“We focus so much on districts,” Mellinger said. “I knew they could win states, but no matter who won they were going to deserve to win. This is the way it should be when it’s that competitive.”
As the scoring would indicate, each Palmyra runner contributed to the team championship.
“Truly from 1-7, they won the race,” Mellinger said.
Adair won a title in the spring… and adds one for the fall.
Photo by Tim O'Dowd
For Adair Gennocro of St. Marys Area, the last segment of the 3.1-mile course was the most challenging. Having taken off alone more than a mile before, the senior was hoping to bring an up-and-down season to a close on a high note.
“I got a little bit of an injury and I let it affect me,” the winner said of her season prior to Hershey. “It really wasn’t that bad. The workouts seemed to be really hard, and I don’t know why I wasn’t hitting my times. At first I wasn’t very confident but having coaches and support gave me the confidence.”
An unexpected surprise meeting with Regan Rome, one of the pre-meet favorites, at the Ridgway Invitational on Oct. 6 also allowed Gennocro the chance to see her primary challenger face to face prior to Parkview. Rome got the best of both Elk County Catholic’s Kennedy Weisner and Gennocro in a course record time in that preview of the District IX meet.
Photo by Patty Morgan
“It definitely gave me an idea of what she could run,” Gennocro said. “She did really well.
“However, I let it affect me a lot so I didn’t run what I wanted to. I didn’t even know (she was there) until 30 minutes before that race so I was thrown off.”
There were no surprises Saturday as Gennocro followed Rome through the mile, with the Dallas runner’s 5:32 slightly ahead of Gennocro’s 5:34.
“The plan was to run an easy one mile and work from there,” Gennocro said. “I took the lead about a mile and a half to 2 on the hill.
“I wasn’t sure if (Regan) would come back through the half mile or not so I just kind of kept going, kept going. I started getting real tired, and I said I have to finish.”
In the meantime, Elizabeth Chikotas of Saucon Valley slipped into second as Rome was forced to the ground briefly with a side stitch midway through the championship race.
“It was definitely hard coming up that last hill,” said Gennocro, who held form enough to cross the line in 19:00 and beat Chikotas by eight seconds. “I was dead after 3 miles. It was rough, it really was.”
Saturday’s championship now bookends a 3,200-meter state track title last May for Gennocro.
“It was great, I couldn’t wait to get to my parents and my coaches,” Gennocro said of Saturday’s run. “(This is) definitely second. The 3,200 by far is my favorite, but I’m really happy I got this.”
CLASS AAA GIRLS BY PHIL GROVE
The state’s top ranked teams – Unionville and Pennsbury – were on a collision course in Saturday’s Class AAA girls’ championship.
When all was said and done, the Aloha Hills were a major focus of the winning game plans as each school went home with some gold and meet history. Unionville’s Courtney Smith separated herself from the field for good during the second mile en route to a course record, and Don Little’s Falcons collected their third consecutive team championship as their top five runners all walked away with individual medals.
Photo by Don Rich
Sharing the lead at the mile in 5:34, Smith sought to gauge the resiliency of the large lead pack that crossed the bridge together. The junior, who was fourth a year ago, found out quickly that the race was now in her hands after her surge at the bottom of the first large hill went largely unanswered.
“I definitely wanted to use the hills to my advantage,” said Smith, whose winning time of 18:16 broke the field’s spirit and the course record of 18:28 set last year by North Penn’s Meghan McGovern. “I knew that I was strong coming into this. I knew that there were a lot of other strong runners, too, but I wanted to break up (the pack).
“Twenty people is a lot, you never know what will happen with that so just by testing it I thought it would make the pack smaller and become more like that kind of race. Not really anyone came with me so it kind of changed my plan a little bit.”
In the short distance to the two-mile mark, Smith opened a nine-second advantage over a slew of fellow underclassmen – Pennridge’s Marissa Sheva, Shaler Area’s Brianna Schwartz and Cumberland Valley’s Mady Clahane – and senior Stephanie Aldrich of West Chester Henderson. Smith’s 11:34 split also put her on target for history.
“I could kind of tell just from the crowd reaction,” Smith said of her increasing lead. “You can kind of gauge what’s going on. I couldn’t really hear anyone behind me, but you never know. There could always be someone there.
“On the downhill I just kept striding. If I can put a gap in now, then it could make them give up and compete for second place or something. As soon as that happened, I just tried to make the gap as quick as I could so hopefully that would get in their heads.”
Sheva stayed the closest as the next four will be back again next year. None, however, threatened Smith in her run for the record book.
“That’s incredible,” Smith said of the runners that she passed on the state meet charts, including Angel Piccirillo, McGovern and Kennedy Weisner. “I’ve been looking up to those runners for so long. They’re so amazing, and it’s so cool to finally be with them. It’s an honor.”
Photos by Tim O'Dowd
The battle for team honors was wrapped up in about the same location as Smith disposed of any challengers for individual glory. With senior and former state champion Sara Sargent leading its charge to the front, Pennsbury also ran aggressively – and for another championship – on the Aloha Hills.
“The girls stuck to the race plan exactly,” Little said. “They went through the mile may be a little faster than we anticipated, but the wind was at their back for the whole first mile. And then the goal was to work very hard through the hills and then cross the bridge, get to the 800-meter mark and your whole season is 800 meters away and how bad do you want it. And the girls wanted it.”
Sargent finished eighth overall and was followed by junior Erica Gray (10th), and freshmen Maddie Sauer (12th), Olivia Sargent (13th) and Hannah Molloy (23rd) for an impressive 27-second spread for Pennsbury’s first five runners. The Falcons checked in with 43 points, with Unionville at 86 and Central Bucks West with 141.
“We were getting closer and closer to the under 30-second mark,” Little said of his team’s scoring spread. “That was the goal last week, we were very close to that also, and we were able to do that again this week and it made a big difference.”
A week ago at the District 1 meet, Unionville defeated Pennsbury by 15 points despite the Falcons delivering a 25-second spread.
“We didn’t really think points at all,” said Little, whose squad put up 42 points a year ago after winning in 2010 with 81. “We looked at us and Unionville, and we knew that CB West was also a very good team. We felt that in order to win, we would have to put five girls in the top 30. However, the points work out, the points work out, but the overall goal was try to get five girls in the top 30. If we could get five in the first 30, we could win.”
In winning again over a district rival, Pennsbury was strong through its entire lineup. The winners’ 1-6 spread was a sharp 33 seconds, while just 1:03 lapsed between their first and seventh finishers.
“It really in every way is a team effort,” Little said. “And it’s a matter of fact that the girls see each other, lean on each other, work with each other and run with each other. We talked before the meet, and I said each one of you has six other girls that are relying on you to do your part. And you’ve got to do it not just for you, but you have to do it for them, too. And they really bought in.
“They just have to see each other (on the course). That’s all that it really comes down to and then we position ourselves on the course the best we can in order to give them as good of commands as we can to get them to do what we need them to do.”
NOTE: 2011 medalist Greta Lindsley of Penn Manor was a DNF.
CLASS A BOYS BY PHIL GROVE
It was a simple game of catch us if you can.
And nobody could equal Rico Galassi of Holy Cross or Northeast Bradford in the Class A boys’ race Saturday in Hershey.
Galassi held on for the individual gold, while Mike Murphy’s top-ranked Panthers had the second-largest margin of victory on the day for the team title.
“It was really their race to lose, I thought,” Murphy said of his team, which had 96 points for the win. “That was kind of the message that we sent all season.
“We trained harder this year than we ever have before. I think we had our thumb on them more than we ever have before. Social media, academics … everything. In 2010, we realized that you need the whole package. You can’t just have fit, fast kids, you have to have everything. It’s high school sports.”
With seniors Sam Williams and Curt Jewett third and fourth overall and counting second and third in the team scoring, Northeast Bradford was well on its way to a championship with more than 200 runners still on the course. Junior Brandon Devonshire’s seventh in the team scoring sealed the deal.
“Curt and Sam have been here a lot and have a lot of state experience so we were looking to them to be leaders,” Murphy said. “Brandon was here as a freshman, and he medaled today. The two rookies – Levin (Upham) and Derek (Allabaugh) – it was their first state meet. I don’t think it was their strongest race, but they didn’t have to have their strongest race today.
“We were hoping to get them some experience, get them in the mix and hopefully be back next year. I think the younger kids were nervous, and I think the older kids were a little nervous, too.
Elk Lake was next in the team standings with 133 points, while District 10 champion Saegertown concluded a strong year-end run for third at 142.
“Experience is important to doing well here, not to mention just the atmosphere of the state meet,” the winning coach said. “You can’t reproduce this anywhere you go. That is the key to get them here when they’re young and really expect some serious results when they’re juniors and seniors.
“With Curt and Sam among the top runners in the state, they had to go where the competition was so we went to Kutztown for Penn TrackXC-4, to Rochester for McQuaid and everywhere in between. We traveled quite a bit, the team had a lot of big meet experience. It was a great year for us.”
Front-running approach pays off for Galassi
One could not accuse Holy Cross’ Galassi of being anything but serious about his race strategy over the challenging 5,000-meter layout. He roared through the mile with the day’s fastest split – 4:41 – en route to a six-second lead crossing the bridge to the Aloha Hills as state track champion Ryan Smathers of North East and rival Luke Jones of Elk Lake gave chase.
Photo by Don Rich
“My coach wanted me to stay with the pack,” Galassi said. “He told me he was going to kill me if I went out. I don’t want to do that. You don’t want to kill yourself, whoever went out fast they killed themselves right after the first mile.”
The lead jumped to nine seconds after two miles as Galassi again was the day’s fastest to the next checkpoint in a heady 9:56.
“I didn’t think he was going to be going out that fast,” said Jones, who was second in Class AA in 2011 while Galassi was third.
The margin at the front began to slip away as Galassi knew he couldn’t afford to sneak a glimpse of his nearest competitor. With Jones now only a few strides behind as the seniors started the final climb on the course, the Holy Cross senior stayed in tune with the spectators and made it to the line first in 15:59 with Jones a second behind.
“I was just listening to the crowd,” he said of the barometer for measuring the size of his lead on the field. “My friends and family were telling me how close the runners were behind me.
“You don’t really want to turn around. If you look this way, he could come to the other side and pass you up. You don’t want to do that, you slow down. You just listen to the crowd.”
CLASS AA BOYS BY PHIL GROVE
Pack running was the order of the day for the Class AA boys’ championship.
It guided top-ranked Pottsgrove to a three-point victory over No. 2 Grove City; and breaking away from an unexpectedly oversized lead pack enabled Vinny Todaro of Big Spring to beat a defending champion to the tape and set off a Bulldog celebration.
Photo by Patty Morgan
“Our strength the whole year has been our pack,” said Pottsgrove coach Larry Rechtin, whose team recorded 96 points to win. “Today, we were able to get six in within 33 seconds of each other, and that’s been our strength. We don’t have the front runner, Grove City has two powerful runners up front so our only chance, our hope, was that we could pack enough guys together. It worked out for us today.”
Photo by David Beyerle
Mike Sample’s Eagles, who have been led the past two years by 2011 AAA runner-up Daniel Jaskowak, went head to head with Pottsgrove earlier this year in the PIAA Foundation meet on the Parkview Course, finishing 40 points behind in third. With Jaskowak once again battling with the leaders, Grove City was a different team on its return trip to Hershey.
“We just came back home knowing we weren’t as good as we thought we were,” Sample said of the days and weeks following the Sept. 22 meet. “We needed to work harder, we knew what we needed to do to beat Pottsgrove, who was running some tremendous times. We definitely ended up doing what we needed to do, it just wasn’t enough.”
Helping to counter Pottsgrove’s pack led by seniors Ian Yanusko and Morgan Moonan was Jaskowak finishing first in the team standings followed by sophomore Aaron Benka adding points for fifth.
“I knew double digits was going to win it, where in the double digits I didn’t know,” Sample said. “But considering where we were against them a month and a half ago and where we are now, they were the front runner, they were the better team. We thought we had a shot, and we came close.”
The winners chipped away at Grove City’s nine-point edge after the first two runners were scored, ultimately winning the title with scoring from the No. 5 runners.
“We’ve always been a second-half team,” Rechtin said. “Our kids are big mileage runners, they have the strength later in the race to come on. I think we were able to fight through the crowds and do that.
“That’s something that we prided ourselves on all year. We don’t get passed from the two-mile mark on in. I think some of our kids got caught a little bit today, but still the second part of the race is what did it for us.”
Todaro caps the perfect season.
The last mile of the 5,000-meter test also was what did it for the senior Todaro. With five runners checking in at 10:16 for two miles, the racing started in earnest soon after.
Photo by Tim O'Dowd
“I expected a pack, but I don’t know if I expected that much,” the winner said of the group bunched up in the middle of the Aloha Hills. “Honestly, I was expecting me and (North Schuylkill’s Brendan) Shearn and Jaskowak. Either way I definitely expected to be in a pack.”
According to Jaskowak, the challenge came from the defending champion before the trio crossed the bridge for the second time.
“I figured it was going to be tight for most of it, and then Brendan just made a move going up the second Aloha Hill,” Jaskowak said.
Shearn held the lead until the base of the final hill as Todaro’s pass was decisive as the duo launched up the hill with the Grove City leader slightly out of contact. The final left turn was a formality as the Big Spring standout ran 16:00 to Shearn’s 16:04 and Jaskowak’s 16:12.
“Like most of the bigger races I’ve had this year, with Carlisle being one of the bigger ones, I just wanted to sit and kick,” the winner said. “So far this year, I’ve found I have a much better kick than I thought. So just sit on Jaskowak and Shearn and anybody else who takes the lead and go for it. I caught him about three-quarters of the way up the hill and just went.”
CLASS AAA BOYS BY PHIL GROVE
Being a part of history can be a blast, just ask Tony Russell and his West Chester Henderson teammates.
It also can be a bitter pill to swallow as Cardinal O’Hara can attest to yet again.
Photo by David Beyerle
Russell’s decisive move in the latter stages of the Class AAA boys’ race propelled the junior to a course-record victory and served as the catalyst for the Warriors’ tiebreaker victory over O’Hara.
“In the middle of the second mile, I felt like if I didn’t do something now maybe all of the energy that I had then would go away,” said the junior, whose winning time of 15:45 clipped two seconds off the record set in 2009 by North Penn’s Brad Miles. “I’m not going to take that chance and didn’t want to leave the course with any regrets. I tried to stay in the front group, and after I went to the front just keep away.
Photo by Don Rich
“I trust that with all of the training we’ve gone through, I trust myself to be able to feel good later. I made sure not to do anything too stupid, but I definitely wasn’t being conservative.”
As is the norm with races on the Parkview Course, the AAA boys’ field blazed the opening mile, with the leader hitting in 4:42 and the main pack about six seconds back. By the time the leaders reached the bridge leading to the Aloha Hills, the pre-race favorites were at the point of the front pack with plenty of company.
“The first mile was really hectic, a little pushing and shoving and I kind of fell down a little bit at three-quarters,” said Corry Area’s Austin Pondel, who wound up third in 15:56. “I just planned on trying to be up in the top group. We went through in (4:49), and it didn’t feel that hard at all. I just positioned myself to come down the hill go across the bridge and put myself in the front and took it from there until two miles.”
The pack began to thin out throughout the Aloha Hills as Pondel led after two miles in 10:03, three seconds up on Kiski Area’s Brent Kennedy and another second ahead of Russell. Positions starting changing again as the eventual winner decided it was time to start his run for the finish.
“Coach (Kevin) Kelly is absolutely amazing, I would not be where I am now right now if it wasn’t for him,” Russell said. “I trusted all of his training, I trusted that he was going to give me the ability to do what I did and all of this training would turn out to something great. And it really did, and I thank him for all that.”
With a solid lead with only Poop-Out Hill and the lengthy finishing straight ahead, Russell’s title run was not to be denied.
“I can’t take anything away from Tony at all, he had a great race,” runner-up Brent Kennedy said after finishing seven seconds behind the Henderson standout. “He definitely deserved it today.”
Tiebreaker decides team title yet again
Awards photos by Patty Morgan
For the second consecutive year, the five scoring runners were not enough to decide the team champion in Class AAA. The state’s top ranked teams were separated by only a few points as each of their runners began to reach the chute at Parkview.
Originally, the results listed Henderson as a two-point winner, 68-70, over O’Hara, but a review of the finish line video requested by O’Hara revealed that a Lion runner had finished between a pair from Henderson – Nos. 4 and 5 – and not behind them as registered by the timing chips on the runners’ shoes. The revised scoring created the 69-69 deadlock and forced meet officials to see which team’s sixth runner finished first.
“If you look at those results, it’s a lot of close places there that it came down to,” said Kelly, who spotlighted the efforts of juniors Sam Haugh and Seamus Collins in closing out Henderson’s scoring in solid fashion. “We probably won by an inch.
“I feel bad for O’Hara. They ran great. Two years in a row … a tiebreaker … that’s unbelievable.”
In 2011, North Penn and O’Hara were deadlocked with 132 points after each team’s fifth runner was scored. North Penn was awarded first on the strength of its sixth runner finishing 13 seconds ahead of O’Hara’s.
On Saturday, Henderson was awarded the team title because its sixth runner – junior Eric Stratman – finished 21 seconds ahead of his counterpart from O’Hara.
“I really didn’t say much to the team at all,” O’Hara coach Tom Kennedy said of the second consecutive heartbreaking verdict. “They are a pretty resilient bunch of kids. Like all great cross country teams, there’s definitely a brotherhood factor working there. They are there for each other.
“We are very disappointed, there’s no way around that. But this year we do have other things to go to. Now we’re focused on the Nike Northeast Regionals (on November 24). I have confidence that our kids, they got knocked down, they’ll get back up and be ready to go in a couple of weeks.”
Noting that his squad hit its marks throughout, Kennedy said Saturday’s finale was “an odd race.”
“I thought there was an inordinate number of kids around for a mile and a half,” he said. “I was kind of expecting Russell to take it as a runaway race and maybe one or two brave kids go after him, but it didn’t happen that way at all (although) Russell at the finish looked like he wanted to go around again.
“It was an odd race, but I don’t think that affected us at all. We did pretty much what we wanted to do. We had talked about having five or six guys go after state medals, and obviously we didn’t get that. As far as the race effort, I can’t fault our kids at all.”
Senior Ernie Pitone led a trio of O'Hara medalists in ninth overall in 16:05 as the Lions had a 1-5 spread of 41 seconds. Council Rock North was third in the team standings with 137 points, while North Allegheny was fourth at 149. Henderson's spread was 55 seconds.
Henderson has now won four boys titles since 2002 (2002, 2003, 2009 and 2012), and have been runner-uip four times (1997, 2001, 2006 and 2010)
Cory's Feature Stories
Tell someone they can't do something, it may cost you a ride in a pink limosine.
At the end of the 2011 season, Strath Haven head girls’ cross country coach Bill Coren thumbed his roster looking for answers.
His initial forecast wasn’t good.
His team’s lead-runner, Hannah Grossman, had graduated, leaving the Panthers with youth and inexperience. He thought he was in for a rebuilding year in 2012.
PHOTO COURTESY HANNAH HERRERA
“I’ll be honest with you, after looking at that roster last year, I wasn’t optimistic,” Coren said. “Our next best girl at the District 1 meet was 114th [sic]. I thought we had no chance getting to states.”
Naturally, his team surprised him, qualifying for the PIAA Class AAA championships after a fifth-place performance at the District 1 meet at Paul Short. But while the Panthers’ 16th place finish at Hershey on Saturday ideally wasn’t how they would have liked to see the season end, the effort had long been recognized in full.
Since he began coaching the Panthers 20 years ago, Coren had bought his girls’ team pink hats to recognize their season’s efforts. It had become a program staple, almost a unifying bond between classes.
His 2012 team took it one step farther, though, betting Coren that if they made states, he would have to pay for a pink limo to take the team to Hershey as a reward.
“The parents wanted to chip in, and the school wasn’t really happy, but I was going to honor that bet,” said Coren, who emptied his own pocket to pay for the $450 fee for the limo. “It was the least I could do.”
On a difficult course Saturday, juniors Alice Puchalsky and Samantha Snyder led the way, finishing 1-2 for the team as they had been doing all season. Puchalsky was 42nd in 20 minutes, 13 seconds, while Snyder was 69th in 20:49. A little more than a week earlier, Snyder had scorched Paul Short with an 18:56, while Puchalsky followed with a time of 19:07.
The story goes deeper with the tandem. Puchalsky was the fifth runner on last year’s 2011 team, while Snyder was seventh.
Before the season even began, both runner’s had approached Coren asking for more mileage. The idea, he said, was that they wanted to keep the program at a high level.
“We took a chance on them,” Coren said. “They didn’t really have that mileage as sophomores, but I looked at them and they weren’t injury prone. I asked them if they could handle it, and made the decision that they could. They were the ones that wanted to run farther. They went in all the way.”
Ultimately, the juniors laid the groundwork. As they upped their mileage to over 40 miles a week, the team responded, Coren said, and the Panthers began to form a chemistry. By late September at the Bull Run Invitational, Strath Haven was a team to be reckoned with, finishing second in an eye-opening race.
“I looked at that meet and was amazed,” Coren said. “They ran scary well, almost better than any other team I’ve ever had. That race proved to me that we were a good team.”
By October, all cylinders were firing at the District 1 meet.
“They’re really good kids,” Coren said. “They certainly surprised me this season.
Class A Girls
Elk County Catholic is not just a front-runner
Photo by David Beyerle
When you represent the top girls’ runner in your class, sometimes your team gets overlooked.
Elk County Catholic wasn’t overlooked in 2012.
On Saturday, the Class A girls’ team finished fourth in the state, anchored by junior front-runner Kennedy Weisner, who cruised en route to a winning individual time of 18:29, which was over a minute faster than the second-place finisher.
It was Weisner’s first cross country state title. The junior had finished runner-up to Homer Center’s Angel Piccirillo in 2010 and 2011.
The time was also 23 seconds faster than her sophomore campaign and 41 seconds quicker than her freshman debut.
“We have a group of girls this season who were committed to the sport,” Crusaders head coach Weej Ferman said. “They showed a great deal of commitment, and it showed this year.”
Senior Cassie Thompson scored third for the Crusaders on Saturday, finishing in 21 minutes, 7 seconds.
“I came into this season thinking that we could be a good team,” Thompson said. “So I felt an obligation to do well and work hard. Everyone came together.
“I learned more about the sport this year than ever before,” she later added. “It’s been way more mental than physical.”
A trio of sophomores came up big for the Crusaders. Victoria Dippold was second on the team in 20:26, while Nicole Florio was fourth in 22:02 and Ellie Pearson was fifth in 23:44. Dippold finished 15th overall, earning a medal.
“Our focus was on the things that we could control,” Ferman said. “If we could do that today, we thought we could finish well as a team.”
Ultimately, Weisner took the lead for Elk Catholic, scoring an impressive victory on a course that typically eats away at runners. Ferman was impressed with the junior.
“She leads by example,” he said. “For as long as I’ve been around, she’s as dedicated to this sport as any one I’ve seen before. Her focus is immense. And she can control how she runs very well.”
Class AA Girls
Palmyra is led from the middle by Laura Duquette
Tears fell from Lois Duquette’s eyes. She watched intently as things began to come full circle.
Photo by Don Rich
Her daughter, Laura, notched her first big high school running accomplishment on Saturday, helping her Palmyra team claim their first Class AA state cross country title. It came just one year after the team qualified for states for the first time since 1979.
And in the same year they claimed their first district championship, the state title followed just 10 days later.
Duquette finished with a time of 20:21, scoring fourth for her team. Sophomore lead-runner Maria Tukis paced the Cougars with a time of 19:40, while Miranda Salvo followed just three seconds later in 19:43.
Lois, a former a Footlocker Regional champion in 1982, held few words for the moment. Nothing seemed to be more important than this.
“I’m so proud of her,” she said.
For Duquette, who was Palmyra’s third or fourth scoring runner in 2012, this season has been defined by a number of roles.
Leader. Teammate. Teacher.
Head coach Barb Mellinger had seen growth from the senior, as she went from the team’s leading runner in 2011 to a role player in 2012. The change in position didn’t alter her mentality.
“She’s a fighter,” Mellinger said. “She’s one of the toughest girls I’ve maybe ever coached, her mentality, her approach to the sport. She’s just very tough.”
As the fourth scorer on a team of strong runners, Duquette‘s performances were as important as ever.
While Tukis and Salvo set the ground floor, it was runners like Duquette, Olivia Farabaugh and Devin Strynkowski who laid the bricks.
“When you look at her position, she becomes an invaluable part to this team,” Mellinger said. “If she doesn’t score high, we ultimately move down in position. We need her every single meet.”
It’s a role that Duquette ultimately embraced.
“I really had to perform well and show good leadership,” Duquette said. “My role with this team was just to help them whenever and wherever possible.
“Last year we didn’t know how good we were until Mid-Penns,” she continued of their league title. “This year, our goals were to win districts and place high at states.”
The Cougars did their expectations one better, scoring the state title for a program that seems to be on the up and up.
“It’s an amazing feeling to win like this,” Duquette said.
Class A Boys
In a rebuilding year, Elk Lake reconstructs fast.
At the two-mile mark of the PIAA Class A boys’ run, Elk Lake High wasn’t even in contention for a top five finish.
By the end, however, the northeastern school had silenced some doubters, placing second overall in the Class A boys’ field.
Afterward, head coach Bill Squier huddled up his team and offered a few words for their accomplishment.
“Today, we ran the best race of our year,” he said.
It was a simple enough statement, but it hit home. State champions in 2008 and 2010, the Warriors weren’t expected to contend in 2012.
Photo by Don Rich
But behind a remarkable second-place effort from senior Luke Jones, who finished in 16 minutes after rushing out to a 4:44 opening mile, the Warriors were in a good position to challenge.
Sophomore Eddie Cumens was second on the team in 17:16, while sophomore Dalton Sherman was third in 17:56. Freshman Hunter Bedell was fourth in 18:18, while senior Seth Carney finished out the scoring in fifth with a time of 18:28.
While the spread between the first and fifth runners was 2:18, each runner held their ground throughout a tough Hershey course.
“We weren’t even on the radar at two miles,” Squier said. “But that’s where we made up ground. Sometimes it’s a mistake to go out at that fast speed. I think we made up for it.”
In Elk Lake’s 2008 state title run, the story was similar. Quaker Valley went out early before the Warriors picked them off late. It has become a staple of Squier’s coaching philosophy.
Finish stronger than you start. Simple as that.
“We coach in these big races with the mindset that our guys will need to have reserves ready late in the race,” Squier said. “That last mile is tough, so we have to make sure our guys have juice at the end to finish.”
Elk Lake may have been overlooked heading into the meet following the District 2 championships, which saw unorthodox times fill the score sheet. What most didn’t know, however, was that the district meet was run in a muddied up course that bogged down times.
“That could have helped us,” Squier said.
As for Jones, who narrowly missed out on a state title of his own, his 16 minute time was less than a second off his season best of 15:59.46, which he captured at the Mansfield University Invitational.
“He’s such a gutsy runner,” Squier said. “He has another layer of gut. He doesn’t ever believe, even if you beat him the first time, that you will come back and beat him again.
“That’s the type of mindset that sets him apart.”
Class AA Girls
Dallas' Regan Rome literally guts it out to get a point.
At two-mile point Saturday during the girls’ PIAA Class AA race, Dallas junior Regan Rome had to physically stop on the course and sit.
The side-stitch she was feeling at this point, no lie, not even words could describe it.
Photo by Patty Morgan
So she sat, maybe for five seconds.
“The pain was unbearable,” Rome said. “My whole torso was cramping up. At this point I start getting dramatic and I start crying, saying how I need to finish the race.
“Then this guy, I wasn’t sure who he was, says to me, ‘Well get up and do it then! At that point I just got up and toughed it out.”
At the point of stoppage, Rome sat in third. After her minor break, she finished the rest of the course and crossed the line in 19:14 – leaning a bit to the right while grabbing her side in pain – and earning her team a valuable point in the team standings.
Dallas eventually placed second overall as a team, scoring 94 points, just three shy of Palmyra’s winning mark of 91. Dallas was state champion in 2003 and 2005.
“I told myself I had to get up and finish the race for my team,” Rome said. “If this was any other meet, I may have just disqualified myself from the race. But this was states.”
“I would have regretted it for the rest of my life if I stopped,” she added. “I’m glad I continued on.”
Class AAA Boys
With no margin for error, LaSalle finishes 5th. That was the easy part of their journey.
Tom Coyle thought the ending was fit for a movie. At the very least, Greg Bielecki thought it was impressive . Andrew Stone was still pulsating with adrenaline to come up with the right words to say.
The story of how La Salle College finished fifth in the PIAA Class AAA boys’ field at Hershey on Sunday is rather remarkable.
How they got into the field. The adversity they had to overcome. The actual race itself. It all filled a narrative that was almost too crazy to believe.
First, we must date back to the District 12 race, where La Salle placed second to Cardinal O’Hara, the top-ranked school in the state. Unfortunately for La Salle, only one team from District 12 was given automatic entry into the state meet.
They were dealt a blow less than a day before the race. The team’s third runner, Matt Greco, fell to the ground during a shakeout run with a collapsed lung. He was out for the season.
Photo by Don Rich
“It was crazy, because this is a day before districts,” Bielecki, the team’s head coach, said. “I told the kids to finish their run while I took Matt to the hospital.”
La Salle immediately responded, though, scoring its first five finishers next to Cardinal O’Hara’s first five to place in the top 12 of the meet. All five of La Salle’s runners earned the ONLY five individual spots from the district, and qualified through place to the state meet. Bring five to states, and you have enough to form a scoring team.
“I thought our team ran a very tough race,” Bielecki said. “That’s what it came down to. We had to be competitive. And we really had no margin for error.
“A lot of people said we couldn’t do it,” said Coyle, the team‘s leading runner. “But look at us. It was unique for sure.”
Coyle, meanwhile, had run just three actual races entering states after he worked through a hip flexor injury most of the season. After returning for the first time, he waited just a few days before running for the first time on the season.
“In the end, we overcome a lot of adversity just to get here,” Coyle said.
Coyle came up big on Saturday, though, finishing first for La Salle in 16:12. Stone finished second in 16:28, while senior Jack Magee was third in 17:00 and Evan Quain was fourth in 17:11. Junior Brendan Bilotta rounded out the scoring in fifth with a 17:49.
Stone's race was one of his best of the season, Coyle said, and a measure of how far the team had come in just a few weeks. He endured a 4:52 opening mile, a pace in which he had never gone out before in a meet.
"I looked at the clock and said 4:52," Stone said, "and I was 40th. At that point I knew something was up, but it was a turning point. I got through it and our team finished very well."
“Today’s race was phenomenal,” Bielecki said. “The work these guys put in, the adversity they overcame, there was no better way to end this season.”
Class AA Boys
From Newville to Carlisle to Hershey, Todara moves to the front
He knew something had changed in Carlisle.
Photo by Don Rich
He knew his season was headed in the right direction, perhaps toward bigger things.
And at least in his mind, Big Spring senior Vinny Todaro now knew he could hang with the best.
Once postseason came around, he was ready.
He claimed his league championship. Then he clocked the field in the District 3 meet. And then on Saturday in Hershey, he won the PIAA Class AA boys’ state title, finishing in 16-minutes flat to beat the returning state champion in the field and another highly touted runner.
It was an impressive string of victories, all capped off by a little known Big Spring runner who cut his teeth on hills growing up around Newville.
He points to Carlisle as the race that changed everything.
“Probably the biggest meet was at Carlisle,“ Todaro said. “That was probably one of the biggest meets that I had. I was able to beat everyone.”
It certainly was a great race. He clocked a 15:31, the fastest of his career, on a mostly flat course. But when he entered Hershey, Todaro was still mostly unknown.
He played second fiddle to guys like North Schuylkill’s Brendan Shearn, the 2011 state champ who finished second on Saturday in 16:04.
He was overlooked in favor of Grove City’s Daniel Jaskowak, who was runner-up in Class AAA in 2011 and who was third Saturday in 16:12.
“I don’t necessarily think I was overlooked, but definitely I was underestimated a little bit,” said Todaro, a High Point NC recruit. “That helped. I wanted to prove everyone wrong. That was my first racing those two.”
Todaro’s infamous kick came into focus with less than 800 meters to go. With Shearn clinging to the lead, Todaro passed the returning state champ on poop-out hill and chugged along through the last straightaway.
But it was his consistent splits that earned him good position throughout. He flew through an opening first mile in 4:48, then hung tough with Shearn and Jaskowak before making his final move.
“I think the kick definitely helps,“ he said. “I definitely felt like I could go faster in middle parts. But no matter what, I was confident in my kick that I could save it in the end.”
Newspaper coverage from around PA...
PhillyBurbs.com: Pennsbury races to three-peat
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Kiski junior places second at state cross country finals
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: West Xtra: Freedom twosome stay close to the end
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: Steep hills scuttle PIAA title shot for Kiski Area’s Kennedy
Pottstown Mercury: Pottsgrove boys capture AA team title
Scranton Times-Tribune: PIAA CROSS COUNTRY: Elk Lake girls win Class A title; boys take second
Delco Times: Bonner-Prendergast, Meehan head home satisfied
Morning Call: Easton's Abert top 3A finisher among freshmen, sophomores
The Sentinel: CV's Clahane, Strock earn top 10 finishes
The Sentinel: Todaro takes Class AA title
MSA Sports Network: WPIAL runners come up empty on gold
Morning Call: Saucon Valley's Chikotas places 2nd at States
Delco Times: O'Hara boys team frustrated again
Standard Speaker: Shearn places 2nd at PIAA cross country championships
During an early practice in August, the Strath Haven varsity girls asked their coach, Bill Coren, if they had a chance to qualify for the AAA Girls race in Hershey out of the ultra-competitive District 1. His experience told him they had little chance. And that's that he told them. In response, they asked him if he'd pay for a ride to the state meet in a pink limo for them, IF they qualified. He said yes.
You can see the final results. Congratulations girls!
PHOTO COURTESY HANNAH HERRERA