As hot, muggy weather settled in, the top finishers – individual and team – registered some important milestones as all eyes started to turn seriously toward Hershey and the state meet in four weeks.
Goal Time, Course Record No Match for Gronbeck
Lauren Gronbeck said she had a time in mind for her return trip to Grove City’s Memorial Park. As it turns out, the sophomore was too much for her goal, more than 100 competitors and a 2-year-old course record.
The Eden Christian Academy standout showed her heels to the field early on and never looked back. Her reward was the gold medal and a course record time of 19 minutes, 4 seconds.
“I was just hoping to go out actually and break 19:30, so I was really pleased with the results,” said Gronbeck, who was not aware at the time that her effort resulted in a course record. “It’s a really great course. It’s really fast.”
A year ago, Gronbeck was an even 2 minutes slower in eighth place when the footing was not as firm due to rainy weather. The winner in 2012 was Avonworth’s Beth Shenck, who defeated Gronbeck earlier this year and was her closest pursuer Saturday.
By the time the field had covered just over 800 meters and emerged from the first wooded section, Gronbeck already had a several second cushion over Shenck and Grove City’s Catie Jaskowak. Two weeks ago at the Vulcan invitational at California, Shenck beat Gronbeck to the finish line by almost 30 seconds, but the order was going to be different this time.
Leading by five seconds after the first mile, Gronbeck extended her margin to 16 seconds after two miles as she was on her way to the record books. The sophomore snipped two seconds off the 19:06 by former Hickory standout Morgan Richards in a dual meet in September 2011.
“I was pretty tired, and I knew Beth has a really great finishing kick,” Gronbeck said of her thoughts during the final mile. “She’s really strong. I was just trying to hang in there because I was really tired, but God really helped me through.
“It feels really great (to win an invitational). I’m so thankful to my coaches, to my team, to God most of all so thank you so much.”
Shenck finished in 19:22, while sophomore Molly Kennedy of Riverview was third in 19:29 and Jaskowak, another 10th-grader, was fourth in 20:01.
Lady Greyhounds Flex Muscles Against District Teams
Nine teams put their No. 1 runner ahead of the first finishing Lady Greyhound from Wilmington Area. The Class A team from District 10 showed what it means to be a team, picking up the first-place plaque by being the first squad to have five finishers and needing only 35 seconds between their first and fifth scorers.
“We were very focused on the kids going out there and performing their best today,” said Wilmington Area coach Mary Beth Acker. “We wanted to go out and really run hard today, and they did.”
Juniors Hannah Winters and Allison Baldwin got the ball rolling for the winners, checking in at the two-mile mark with the same time and only being one second apart at the finish in 12th and 13th overall, respectively. Classmate Hannah Drake was 17th, while senior Rikki Brumbaugh placed 20th and freshman Lexi Brumbaugh was 25th to complete the course.
“We have a large junior class,” Acker said of a key to her squad’s success. “That’s nice because they have some experience, and they know what they’re doing. It’s a great group of kids to work with. They work together very well.”
Two Class AA teams from the district were next in the standings, with Meadville having 94 points and the host Eagles with 111. Wilmington Area was the only team with a scoring spread of less than 1:50.
“I’m pleased with them,” Acker said. “I thought they competed well as a team today. I was happy with that.”
Benka Extends Grove City Streak in Invitational
To say that Grove City has had a lock on the individual title in the boys’ varsity race would be a considerable understatement. An Eagle has crossed the line first in each race since the fall of 2007.
Aaron Benka wasn’t about to let the streak end this year as the junior pulled away from teammate and classmate Ryan Budnik when the field was out of sight of most spectators during the race’s second mile. He cruised to victory in a PR 16:08.
“It was a big goal,” he said of the first-place finish. “It was a big mind game because Altoona has a great team. My goal was to run with their No. 1 runner because he has a better PR than me. I had to push through it, keep up there and pull out the win.”
With the victory, Benka became the seventh consecutive boys’ race winner to wear the Grove City colors. Current Notre Dame runner Jake Kildoo won four in a row before Dan Jaskowak, now a freshman at Virginia Tech, won the two previous invitational crowns.
“It felt great (to) carry on the tradition of the great runners of Grove City,” Benka said. “Go ahead in Danny’s steps and Jake Kildoo’s steps, just carrying on the tradition of the great runner.”
Budnik was the leader through a 4:57 opening mile, with Benka off his shoulder. Budnik was 10 seconds behind after two miles and used all he had left to hold off Plum sophomore Jacob Susalla for the runner-up spot, 16:29 to 16:30. Brad Foust of Altoona Area was fourth at 16:45, while teammate Dominic Stroh was next in 16:50.
“The mud in the woods was kind of slick,” the winner said of the footing where he made his break. “You just had to plow through it and keep going.”
Mountain Lions Get ‘Surprise’ One-Point Win
With Benka setting the pace, the Eagles were the first with three runners in, but Lee Baranik’s Altoona Area squad made the long trip a worthwhile one. Erasing a nine-point deficit after the third scoring spot, the Mountain Lions won by a single digit over Grove City, 45-46.
“We really thought, with about 600 meters to go, we were going to end up second,” Baranik said. “We thought they just had maybe enough points to pull it out.
“It was a nice surprise that we were the winners. They have a great team. They will do well.”
In their first trip west to the Mercer County meet, Baranik found what they were looking for and maybe a little bit extra … in the unseasonably warm weather.
“We watch all of the results, of course on Penn TrackXC like everybody does, and we knew at Red, White and Blue, they had an outstanding day,” the veteran coach said of the host team and one of the reasons for the new destination on their 2013 schedule. “We knew they had people coming back who were very good, we wanted to find a competitive race for today because we’re not in a league.
“This seemed like a good fit. We heard good things about it, and we made arrangements with (Grove City coach) Mike Sample and were very, very pleased today.”
Backing up the lead juniors for Altoona were a back-to-back-to-back trio that closed out the scoring and, in effect, the host Eagles. Junior Jerrod Sunderland was 11th overall in 17:04, while seniors Mitch Endress and Kyle Heasley were 12th and 13th, respectively, and only four seconds back for a 1-5 scoring spread of just 23 seconds for the winners.
“I love the heat, the kids hate the heat, and I was obviously very concerned about the heat,” Baranik said. “With a 12 noon start the way it worked out today, I knew it would take its toll on some of the athletes. Most of our guys hung in their pretty well so I was pleased with that.”
Although his team wound up on the short end of the one-point difference, Sample said the Eagles made real progress on their home course.
“That’s OK,” Sample said, convincingly. “We know where we’re at and we know where we stand. We know how good of a team Altoona was and gave it our best shot. Now we’ve closed the gap definitely.
“We knew we weren’t as far back in the statistics that we saw previously. We thought maybe we could give them a run for their money, one point. A bigger race (it) might be different. These are great ways to measure what you’re doing, but the end result is what you do at districts and state.”
The Eagles had two other runners in the top 15, with senior Ryan Whiteman placing eighth in 16:58 and junior John Paul Depew 15th in 17:11.
Click here for the rest of the weekend coverage