2017 XC Top 50 Rankings: Week Seven

So new league meets are happening every day to the point where, by the time you leave this, it will already likely be outdated. But, hey, I figured I would give it a go anyway. This is the list as of Wednesday at 9:12 AM. Exactly that time. Not a minute more or a minute less. Got it?

I should also mention this will be the last Top 50 list until after the state meet is finished up. From this point forward it will be purely predictions. Next week is district prediction week and the following week will be state prediction week. Then I get married. So it’s a busy time. For those of you who like fantasy drafts, be on the look-out for another edition of the state XC draft.

We will be running it back in the same anonymous format we used last year so you can sign up starting today if you would like. More information on that to come when we get closer to the big day. The state meet, not the wedding. Should I be calling something not the wedding the big day? Probably not. Let’s just keep this between us.

50. Owen Isham, Jr State College (6 AAA)
49. Chayce Macknair, Jr Mifflin County (6 AAA)
I like both of these guys ability to peak at the right time. Expect them to be close by one another the next couple weeks. That could be good news for Macknair as Isham was a top 50 finisher in the state a year ago.

48. Ben Hoyer, Sr Wissahickon (1 AAA)
47. Brett Brady, Sr Butler (7 AAA)

46. Zack Forney, Sr Ridley (1 AAA)
Seems like Forney should be higher on this list. Either he should be higher or Lederer should be lower I suppose considering they have been next to one another. Really rooting for Forney to make it to his first XC state meet. He’s earned it with an awesome, consistent season.

45. Bryce Ohl, Sr York Suburban (3 AAA)
44. Jack Wisner, Jr Carlisle (3 AAA)

43. Dylan Servis, Jr Twin Valley (3 AAA)
This guy is long overdue for a shout on the list. If he had popped a bigger result at Carlisle, he would have probably carved out a nice spot weekly spot for himself in the 30s. Really strong runner on a good team. Those types are always dangerous. When’s the last time Twin Valley had a state medalist in XC? Might be November, 2017 …

42. Ethan Hermann, Sr Allderdice (8 AAA)
41. Evan Kreider, Jr Cocalico (3 AAA)

40. Andrew Foster, Jr Ephrata (3 AAA)
Big last two races from Foster. He nearly knocked off Groff and race awesome in the champion’s race at Carlisle. Ephrata has had a Top 50 finisher in the state each of the past three seasons. Foster could definitely keep that streak going for another couple years.

39. Payton Sewall, Jr DT West (1 AAA)
38. Jason Cornelison, Jr Cheltenham (1 AAA)
37. Tavonne Davis, Sr Allderdice (8 AAA)
36. Quinn Serfass, Sr Loyalsock (4 AA)
35. Alex Ermold, Jr Governor Mifflin (3 AAA)
34. Vincent Twomey, So LaSalle (12 AAA)
33. Michael Samson, Sr CB West (1 AAA)

32. Patrick Anderson, So Mount Lebanon (7 AAA)
I can’t think of a proper adjective to decide how huge Anderson’s race this past weekend was. His run at Coopers was transformative for Lebo. If he duplicates that or, dare I say, continues to improve at this rate, he is going to do big things. He was knocking on the door of Dan McGoey, a guy who has spent some time in the top 10 of my rankings. Lebo needs a front runner like him to win the state title (which they definitely could win). Hopefully, he drags Costentino and Brandenstein up with him. Then things are really looking up. On the flip, I’d like to see him duplicate this once more to slot him in state medal position.

31. Jacob McKenna, Sr Spring Ford (1 AAA)
30. Peter Borger, Sr Malvern Prep (Independent)
29. Andrew Healey, So Holy Cross (2 A)
28. Seth Ketler, Jr Seneca Valley (7 AAA)

27. Jack Miller, Jr Jenkintown (1 A)
This isn’t about Miller, but I want to say this about the Jenkintown team. They are really good. Like this is a strong A squad that we should probably talk about more in the state title mix. I know they didn’t topple Thurston or Penns Valley at Foundation, but those teams have at least a tiny bit of questions surrounding them. Ultimately, the title race may come down to which frosh rise to the moment. Two frosh in the top 5 for all three of those teams. Elk CC two sophs of importance. Montrose the deepest and oldest, but is that enough? Shout out to A! It’s going to be a fun championship.

26. Brendan O’Toole, Sr North Penn (1 AAA)

25. Brandan Knepper, Jr Mechanicsburg (3 AAA)
Very high on this kid. Last year, the Mid Penn was absolutely loaded. This year it’s weaker certainly, but it’s still a force to be reckoned with and Knepper was 3rd in this league. He, Cupp and really the whole Mechanicsburg squad have had a strong, consistent improvement curve. I’m in.

24. Riley Williamson, Jr Parkland (11 AAA)

23. Jake Underwood, Sr Wilson (3 AAA)
22. Christian Groff, Sr Hempfield (3 AAA)
If you are looking for someone to upset Cupp at District 3 (or at least give him a good race), I would think these are the top two guys on the list. I lean towards Underwood actually having the better result at the district meet, but Groff posting his 15:40 at Paul Short turned my head.

21. Jonah Powell, Jr Grove City (10 AA)

20. Jack Zardecki, Sr Dallas (2 AA)
He’s got one of the fastest times in the state for AA runners. Holds two XC state medals. Is a part of the reigning XC team champs. Rolled through a strong field yesterday. When should we start hyping Zardecki for a potential individual state title in AA? Apparently, right now.

19. Brendan Miller, Sr Upper Dauphin (3 A)

18. Sam Owori, Jr Seneca Valley (7 AAA)
Big race this weekend. Second at Coopers ahead of McGoey and Snodgrass and only behind Beveridge is big time. If this is a sign of things to come, Owori will likely finish the year Top 5 in the state. The battle for top junior at states should be fun.

17. Avery Lederer, Sr Penncrest (1 AAA)
Lederer is the biggest mystery to me among the current crop of top guys. He didn’t race Foundation, Carlisle, or Paul Short. He did quite well at PTXC  (#3 PA behind only Rusty and Tyler Wirth), he was strong last year and he’s beaten everyone he’s faced in recent weeks. Districts will be very interesting. I think he pops a big time, something like Matt D’Aquila’s performance last year for a similarly hopeful Lower Merion state bid.

16. Dan McGoey, So North Allegheny (7 AAA)
15. Sam Snodgrass, Sr South Fayette (7 AAA)
Two head to head races decided by less than a second. Seems like these guys may belong with one another on the list.

14. Mitchell Etter, Sr State College (6 AAA)
13. Ethan Koza, Sr CR North (1 AAA)
12. Evan Addison, Sr LaSalle (12 AAA)
11. Tristan Forsythe, Sr Winchester Thurston (7 A)
10. Spencer Smucker, Sr Henderson (1 AAA)
9. Ryan Campbell, Sr CR North (1 AAA)
8. Tyler Wirth, Jr Wallenpaupack (2 AAA)
7. Carlos Shultz, So Phoenixville (1 AAA)
6. Morgan Cupp, Sr Mechanicsburg (3 AAA)
5. Josh Hoey, Sr Bishop Shanahan (1 AAA)
4. Liam Conway, Sr Owen J Roberts (1 AAA)

I don’t feel like I have a great read on this tier. It’s pretty loaded up through the top 20 guys on the list which means the top 15 or so spots at AAA states will be absolute madness. I’m not looking forward to those state predictions (who am I kidding, of course I am).

3. Isaac Davis, Sr Jersey Shore (4 AA)
2. Noah Beveridge, Sr Butler (7 AAA)
1. Rusty Kujdych, Sr Neshaminy (1 AAA)

Three really impressive performances from this past weekend. These guys are clearly elite as they put all-time type marks on their respective courses. Davis is the only PA guy to (indirectly) top Kujdych this season. Beveridge is a seasoned, prime time performer. Rusty is absurd. He’s putting together one of the best seasons we’ve seen from a non-reigning state champ (I count Affolder as a reigning state champ). We’ve been spoiled by Russell, Brophy, Affolder the last five years. These kind of talents don’t come along every year. But apparently they do because Rusty is putting up times that get him into the conversation with those guys.

And yet, I think the AAA state champ predictions will be fairly evenly distributed between Beveridge and Kujdych (with possibly a few other names getting thrown in there). Maybe I’m overestimating people’s preferences, but it’s just the vibe I get from the readership.

I guess we will see …

PA in NY: Manhattan Recap

LaSalle ended the day as the top PA team at Manhattan, a spot they had also earned back in 2014 against eventual state runner-ups Conestoga. LaSalle didn’t look quite as prolific as they did at Carlisle, but they were still excellent. The team averaged 13:20 and got a big step up performance from Koors who ran as the team’s #3 man after being outside the top 4 at Carlisle. The #5 was, realistically, one of the only question marks you could have with LaSalle’s output thus far and Koors made a big statement about that this weekend. If this top five holds up, they will be the favorites for the state championship. As of now, they are the most complete team (although Seneca Valley and Mount Lebo can make good cases for that honor as well).

DT West ran eerily similar to a year earlier at this meet. In 2016, West averaged 13:25. This year, they posted a 13:26 average. Peyton Sewall was once again the team’s #1 runner and clocked the 7th fastest time among PA performers. Evan Kaiser returned to the top 3 with a 13:24 performance that was clutch at the #3 spot. Ultimately, LaSalle’s pack was superior, but DT West is still right in line with where they were a year ago. They will be contenders for a top 5 spot in the state for a 4th straight season.

Bishop Shanahan, without Logan Yoquinto, ended up as the next best PA team from the Championship race. They defeated Henderson in the final standings with an average of 13:32 to Henderson’s 13:39. The Boyertown Bears, however, were the next best team in PA. Boyertown ran out of Race C and averaged 13:27, not far behind DT West. McComb stepped up and took the #1 spot for this school and they continue to post a nice pack. I’ve got them slotted for a state spot, but the pack around them is getting crowded.

Two headliners in that pack are Shanahan and Henderson. Shanahan had their best races of the season at districts, almost across the board. They are adding some depth in the last few races. Meanwhile, Henderson is Henderson. Smucker posted a career best on this course with his 12:56 and joined the short list of sub 13 guys. His teammates behind him ran solid as they averaged 13:39. Last year, they averaged over 14 minutes and still came back to make states out of District One.

Let’s talk individuals. Rusty Kujdych of Neshaminy continues to look invincible. His time of 12:24 is really fast for this course. He bested times of Tony Russell (as a junior) and Brad Miles. Both those guys ended up state and regional champions that season. He also ran faster than Max Kaulbach and Paul Springer, the latter of which ran 14:47 at Lehigh. Only Tony Russell (as a senior) and Nate Affolder ran faster than Rusty and those are two of PA’s all-time best.

Josh Hoey, Spencer Smucker, Evan Addison and Tavonne Davis rounded out the top five times for PA on the course (apologies if I missed someone). Sophomore Vincent Twomey was PA’s best non-senior, clocking a 13:07 for LaSalle. Upper Dublin’s Ben Brugger ran 13:15 out of section A which was good enough for 10th fastest overall. It was faster than the mark posted by all of the Boyertown runners and only a second back of Tyler Rollins of DT West. Brugger will look to bolster his state qualifying potential at leagues.

Checking In Elsewhere

Central League
After a DELCO Championship, the Penncrest boys did it again at Rose Tree Park, rolling to the team title over Haverford and defending champions Lower Merion. The big three of Penncrest was on display yet again as Avery Lederer picked up the individual title, followed by two more top six finishes from Patrick Theveny and Justin Senackerib. Their 4-5 punch of sophomores were both in the low 20s to round out the scoring.
A year ago, Lower Merion scored 58 points with a 16:56 average to win the title. That set them up for a state qualifying run a few weeks later at Lehigh. This year, Penncrest scored 56 points and averaged 16:52 on the course. In theory, that positions them for a big run in a week. Add this school to the long list of contenders in District One.
Individually, I think you can add Zack Forney to the list of D1 contenders as well. The Ridley senior hung tough against Avery Lederer for a second straight week and earned the silver. His time of 16:25 indicates to me that he could potentially make a push for sub 16 at Lehigh. Haverford’s Mike Donnelly bounced back from DELCOs to round out the top 3, barely edging out his fellow sophomore in Theveny. Big shout out to Lower Merion who got a nice lift from Danny Gabor at #5 overall. I think any of Lower Merion’s top 3 guys could make a push for an individual state qualifying mark at districts. A year ago, the top 6 from Central Leagues were all within the state qualifying window. The #11 and #13 guys also advanced to states individually. This is a historically strong league that doesn’t always get a ton of love, but deserves a good look, even after suburban one and the ches-mont have had their day.
The always loaded Mid Penn Championships were contested at Big Spring this past weekend and many of the big names came to play. Morgan Cupp of Mechanicsburg picked up the win with a sub 16 clocking at 15:58, defeating a very capable Mitchell Etter of State College. Meanwhile, pre-race favorites Carlisle stormed through the course with 4 top 14 finishers and post 76 points for the win. Those things held reasonably well with the script to start the day (although Carlisle scoring just 5 points less than they did last year as the #2 team in the state is notable), the real action happened behind those big dogs.
Individually, Mechanicsburg had the #3 and #7 finishers overall. Brandan Knepper continues to build momentum after his sub 16 at Carlisle. The junior had another terrific race, finishing just 5 seconds behind Mitchell Etter, a top 5 guy from Foundation and a top 15 guy on my rankings. For Vigliano, this is a big improvement on his last run at Big Spring and he tops a slew of guys who bested him at Carlisle a few weeks back.
In the team battle, the big winners were Palymra and, you may have guessed it, Mechanicsburg. I never completely counted out Mechanicsburg. They were state qualifiers last year and I really liked their top 3. They clicked big time on race day, helped by Shay Rounsville delivering a solid #5 mark. Enoch Marzano has also made big leaps during his sophomore season. If they run like this again at Districts, they shouldn’t have a problem getting to states. They were 3rd in the team standings behind two perennial top 10 teams in the state in Carlisle and State College.
Palmyra, on the other hand, is a different story. This school was a relative throw in during my District 3 rankings as I opted to focus instead on Cumberland Valley, Chambersburg and others. Palmyra topped both CV and Chambersburg as well as the always formidable Hershey en route to a 4th place finish. Sophomore Matt Carroll finished tops in his class with a 6th place overall run, turning a lot of heads on race day. Palmyra’s 2-3 was a pair of freshman who nearly broke 17 minutes on this difficult course and their 4-5 were in 10th and 9th grade respectively. Wow, what a day for these youngsters. It’s going to be interesting to see if they can duplicate this success at districts. Despite their efforts, Cumberland Valley wasn’t too far behind them in the standings and you have to like CV’s depth they showed. Palmyra isn’t in my top 4 for districts just yet, but they did make a big statement at Big Spring.
A few other notable events to hit: Lower Dauphin had a nice 1-2 punch even without Mark Walsh who was their #1 guy in meet one. If they add him back in, they aren’t necessarily state qualifying contenders, but they are much more formidable. Mifflin County’s Chayce Macknair had a second straight strong race and seems to be catching fire just in time for the post season. His rivalry with Owen Isham seems to be back as those two finished side by side yet again. Milton Hershey was the #1 team in AA without much competition. Caeden Smith of East Pennsboro and Ishmael Kirkwood of Big Spring were the top two individually.
Cheltenham’s Jason Cornelison picked up right where he left off at Tennent, clocking a 16:33 at Neshaminy’s invite to topple Wissahickon standout Ben Hoyer. This should get Cornelison onto the top 50 list and makes him an interesting sleeper pick for a state medal. Both of these two runners have had strong seasons, proving themselves on a variety of course types. I like both of their upside on hills come states.
CB East hasn’t had much state qualifying buzz lately (it’s hard to get your name out in District One), but they made their case this weekend with a dominant team performance at Neshaminy. Without David Endres, the team still posted 5 top 10 finishers, led by Declan Earles. Their spread was just 19 seconds. I’m intrigued by this team and excited to see how they handle CB West and North Penn at leagues. I’m interested to see if their depth can overcome the powerful front running they will be up against.
Rocky Grove
The Zac Tingley-Noah Bernarding rivalry continues in the fight for the #1 spot in District 10 A. This weekend it was the senior Tingley who had the upper hand, winning the Rocky Grove invite by 10 seconds over Bernarding and AA standout Jacob Eshelman. Tingley, the top returner from districts a year ago, is looking to claim that elusive title that he couldn’t quite find with the Curtins and Myerses taking the reins for his prior years. This could be the season, but I’m not ready to crown either of these two just yet.
As for Bernarding’s team, they are looking strong. Cochranton’s top four runners placed in the top 14 overall and they picked up the team title as a result. They scored 62 points and defeated Cambridge Springs for the title. Cambridge Springs, who housed Connor Walsh (two time district champ over the aforementioned Curtin and Myerses), is starting to put together a nice front pack. Alec Bidwell was a state qualifier last year as just a freshman, but he has been running as the #3 on his team for much of this year. That speaks to the depth this of top tier talent this school has. I don’t see enough to make a state qualifying run this year, but the core is fairly young looking ahead.
The Loyalsock boys ears must have been ringing after I slotted them outside the state qualifying picture in my most recent District 4 predictions. Loyalsock dropped 3 top 7 finishers at Shikellamy this weekend and posted a total of 91 points to pick up the victory in what was essentially a district preview (perhaps even more so than what we saw at Coopers). Loyalsock’s big three were the key, but their 4-5 held strong enough to topple Warrior Run’s tight 2-5 spread behind their front runner Moser. I still like Warrior Run’s potential to win the district, but Loyalsock proved that they can handle the big invites well as a pack.
The wildcard in the team race looks like it will be Milton. They didn’t have Tyler Leeser again this weekend which is cause for concern for the defending champions. With Leeser, they likely score under 100 points at this meet and finish right next to Loyalsock. Without him, they were a tight 4th and could have potentially slipped more under different circumstances. Hopefully, Leeser is back healthy for championship season as he is a big talent who could make moves at not just districts, but also states.
Speaking of making moves at states, Isaac Davis absolutely crushed his run this weekend clocking a career best 15:39 to win by over a minute against the defending district champion in Serfass. This coupled with Davis’s monster run on the Foundation course speak volumes about the kind of shape this kid is in. I suspect he will take the state race out at a crazy fast pace, perhaps faster than either of the two other classifications and challenge everyone to hold on. The way he is going right now, it’s hard to imagine anyone will be able to keep up.
A few other quick notes here. Keep an eye on Lewisburg. Their star frosh Calvin Bailey had his best race of the year with a 10th place finish at this meet. It seems like he is hitting his stride at the right time as he adjusts to high school training. He’s one of three key freshman in the Lewisburg rotation that needs to have a big day for them to make states (and it’s certainly possible). Mount Caramel continues to e the top team in class A as they topple Southern Columbia 190 to 253. SC’s Ethan Knoebel was the top runner from A and should provide a low stick advantage, but Mount Caramel’s depth is going to be tough to overcome. Both schools had just 6 finishers. South Williamsport had two top 20 finishers from A as well. Don’t forget that small school has produced three recent district champs in Molino and Crawley.
From earlier in the week
At the Indiana County Championships, Indiana Area was dominant with just 28 total points. However, we knew this team was strong. The real story was the battle between the top D6 schools. Marion Center, behind a big day from Hunter Armstrong, took the #1 spot in that class over Purchase Line (one of my early state picks) and United. Purchase Line looked deepest of the punch with the best #5 while also holding the best #1 runner. There was a Sam Cunkelman sighting in this race as well. The former district champ placed 4th overall in one of his first major invite appearances in recent years. Excited to see him back racing and putting together a strong performance.
At Westmoreland, the Norwin boys overcame a 1-2-3 finish from Greensburg Salem to steal the team title. Frosh Alex Jubert led the way for his team in 7th overall with a pack nipping at his heels. Norwin took spots 7 through 10 en route to the win and got some help from other schools to displace GS’s back two scorers just enough to eke out a win. There were just 3 seniors in the top 22 finishers at this meet. On the flip side, there were 4 freshmen.

The Wait Is Over: A Look At The WPIAL

So I believe I owe you WPIAL fans a check in. We had a nice district preview this weekend as most of the top teams in D7 did battle on the same course where they will seek a state championship birth at the end of the month. Let’s break things down one class at a time (although all classes did race together).

Etrain’s Current State Picks:
1) Winchester Thurston
2) Shenango
3) Riverview
4) Avonworth
5) Eden Christian

Winchester Thurston, unsurprisingly, rolled at this meet. They scored just 29 points at within the A classification. They picked up that low total without their best runner in Tristan Forsythe. But more impressive to me were the performances from their top two runners. Gordon Pollock was the fastest A runner in the entire meet, beating out state medalist Chris Kocent and other top D7 names. His time of 17:05 was 19th across all classifications. Behind him, freshman Patrick Malone had his best race of the year, clocking 17:46 and taking 6th in A. Malone’s development as a legit top 5 guy (along with fellow frosh Ben Bermann) sets Winchester Thurston up well for their rematch with Penns Valley in coming weeks. They’ve got a strong chance to repeat (assuming Forsythe comes back ready to roll).

Shenango has always been on my radar and nothing about their Coopers performance scared me off from projecting them as state qualifiers. They’ve had some quality races thus far and I think they could have potentially even run better today than they did. Matt Salem has a chance to find top 5 in a field like this on the right day. Jensen Lewis ran strong as the team’s #2 and, although they aren’t quite as deep through 5 as a team like Thurston, they hung easily with strong pack running teams like Eden and Avonworth.

Riverview wasn’t at this meet, but I’ve seen enough to believe they can punch another ticket to states. They’ve done it in the past, including some tight finishes (Shenango was on the other half of those the past two seasons). Eden has been staring them down all year and put together yet another nice pack performance at Coopers (although soph Eric Gronbeck emerged as a nice front-running piece). Avonworth is a new team to watch. They were district champs a few years back and are hungry to return to states. They had almost as good of a pack as Eden, but they didn’t have the front runner. If someone steps up at WPIALs than they could jump into the top 3. Our Lady of Sacred Heart is the deep sleeper, assuming they can churn out one more top 5 piece. Their big three can hang with Shenango, it’s just the next spots that are more up for grabs.

The extra variable here is what kind of effect will a smaller race have on these guys at WPIALs? When you eliminate the depth of AAA and AA guys from the field, will that make some of the mid pack guys more confident? Will some of the front runners get out a bit less aggressively and hold on better down the stretch? Will some teams that like to start slow have a bigger advantage as it will be easier to pass people in a smaller field? All things to keep in the back of your mind as you project. I’ll leave it to Mr. Cricket to give me the insight on what the thinks that will mean (for all three classifications) as we look ahead to Districts.

Etrain’s Current State Picks:
1) Indiana Area
2) Greensburg Salem
3) New Castle
4) South Fayette

This was a tricky one to pick. I think Indiana Area, with a big run at Foundation and now an impressive victory at Coopers, has earned my respect. I don’t think they are a lock (there’s four great teams fighting for three spots), but they have put together arguably the most consistent season of any top WPIAL program. Julian Yerger seems to be making a jump at the right time. He was the #3 at each of the past two invites, but he narrowed the gap significantly this week on Bujdos and Branan (two legit front runners). Their #5 was clearly tops in the field and they were the only team with 3 top 10 finishers (including out of district General McLane who took the silvers).

Greensburg Salem was not at Coopers this weekend, but did put down an impressive performance at their league meet against AAA Norwin. There, they took 1-2-3 in the team standings and finished with 49 points, coming up just 2 points shy of the win. If you are going to be skeptical, the 4-5 spot should be the target. That’s where these other top programs will have to work to defeat the defending champs. I actually wouldn’t be surprised at all if this team wins WPIALs this year (I think their 4-5 are going to pull through), but there is enough up in the air around their frosh #5 runner to slot them 2nd for right now. Would have been cool to see them in this race.

New Castle was also MIA at Coopers with league duties to attend to. New Castle cruised to the MAC title with 52 points vs. Beaver Area’s 105. For reference, Beaver was 5th at Coopers this weekend with 155 points compared to Indiana’s 65 and South Fayette’s 95. New Castle put three in front of Beaver’s #1 at the MAC which would have translated to 3 top 15 finishers at this meet (pretty legit) with a 4-5 in around the 20 range. I think New Castle can actually run better than they did at their league champs and I’m optimistic that they will get revenge for last year’s championships.

That being said, South Fayette is starting to round into championship form. They scored under 100 points at Coopers and Colin Dunn is starting to really pick things up. He was 6th in this meet after finishing outside the top 40 at Foundation. Dunn and teammate Silas Mays will go a long way in determining how far this team goes. The #5 spot could also be a point of contention. What is cool about South Fayette is that potentially there entire top 5 will all be seniors.

Deer Lakes wasn’t on my radar going into this weekend. They produced a nice result of 150 points with a back all in the top 40. They’ve got a long way to go to catch South Fayette (whose front running puts them in a hole), but they should take some confidence from being only one place back of last year’s 3rd place team in the state. Uniontown is always dangerous. I’m not saying they will make states, but they always seem to hit their stride perfectly at WPIALs. Sam Kllinger leads them very well. He ran 17:23 at Coopers and finished 4th in a strong AA field.

I will say that General McLane, although not a D7 team, is starting to already make me doubt my D10 picks. They finished 2nd overall, led by the dynamic duo of Price and Andrzejewski, but what really caught my eye was the emergence of frosh Dylan Throop. This kid came out of left field to take 12th overall and round out an excellent top 4 for McLane. I was worried they didn’t have enough fire power out front to hang with Harbor Creek or the depth to match Grove City. Right now, they are kind of a combination of those two teams strength. Not quite as good at either’s strengths, but arguably better at each’s weakness. So stay tuned to see how that plays out. The x-factor here will likely be junior Simon Zehr. He will be his team’s swing guy I suspect.

While we’ve got a second, let’s mention the individuals. Sam Snodgrass, Nate Price and Erik Andrzejewski were the clear top tier from this classification. That’s not a huge surprise as Snodgrass and Andrzejewski are returning state medalists from last fall (while Price looks to be heading that way), but does show you exactly what kind of talent level you need to be at to be a top 15 type in AA this season. I think Snodgrass will give Davis a big run for his money in their rematch at Hershey. He could end up the state champ. So if you are Price, ending up just 12 seconds back should make you feel good. Andrzejewski proved last year that he runs the Hershey course really well. He was top 20 last year at states with roughly half of the names ahead of him graduating.

Etrain’s Current State Picks:
1) Seneca Valley
2) North Allegheny
3) Mount Lebanon
4) Butler
5) Norwin

Unlike AA and A, we saw all of the big 4 teams competing in the AAA section at Coopers. This was our first head to head match-up between what is arguably the toughest state qualifying competition we will see this year. On this day Seneca Valley came out on top, but, more importantly, Butler finished in the #4 spot.

I suspect that Butler isn’t feeling too nervous. They were behind the 8 ball last year at this time, but pulled out a clutch run to get their state qualifier when it counted. If Aden Dressler is added back to the lineup and healthy, they close the gap fairly quickly on their opposition. I also think Robbie Hays could continue drop time to districts. He had a big day last year as a top 5 contributor and this weekend he went out well behind his teammates Skyler Vavro and Tim Patterson, making up some 15 seconds on them over the final mile. Vavro is a nice find for a potential #5 guy. Beveridge and Brady are studs.

NA is always tough to overlook. Although they haven’t been the dominant force we’ve seen in the past, they are still a great team. Racing against arguably 2 of the best 4 schools in the state, the Tigers hung tough and left with a 3rd place finish. Their pack is improving each week to the point where they don’t have any liabilities in the scoring. Ethan James was just 16 seconds back of Lebo’s #5 (a great pack running school). The key will be narrowing the gap between McGoey and whoever is #2 as Dan was almost a minute ahead of Cam Phillips this weekend. Keep an eye on Stephen Nalepa who doing some big time running as of late. He’s another sophomore. For once, it looks like NA will actually be bringing back some young talent after getting hit hard by graduation in the past few seasons. Lastly, TJ Robinson was missing from the meet. He could be their x-factor if they want to jump up and catch Lebo or Seneca Valley.

Those two schools are the clear 1-2 punch in the district right now. Either of them could steal the state title this year. I’m not blown away by what I’ve seen from anybody right now in PA. I think this could be a wild ride at states and these two western schools have proven they are battle tested, don’t have weak links and have nice depth (especially Lebo who is quickly becoming the deepest team since the Henderson squads of earlier this decade).

Seneca Valley is clicking at the right time. Sam Owori pulled out a huge run and made his case to be the #1 junior in the state. We know Seth Ketler can run right with his teammate and was only 10 seconds back on race day. Alex Dixon continues to prove he is a top tier #4 and Aidan Domencic has not shied away from the pressure of being in the scoring 5. They’ve proven themselves on the big stage with a WPIAL championship last year and state medals in the 4x8 on the track.

Quite frankly, Lebo has even more upside than Seneca Valley. They are deeper (8 guys in the top 30 of AAA) and perhaps a bit hungrier. They have something to prove after their disappointment at last year’s championships. That’s the thing that everyone will continue to come back to with Lebo. Can they get over the hump at districts? All they need to do is survive district week and I’m confident they can be a top 5 team in the state. But will they survive with all these high quality teams around them?

Patrick Anderson just through down a massive result with his 16:23. Cosentino and Brandenstein have both run right with him (or in front of him) this season, so imagine three guys getting into the 16:30s. That would be huge in the fight with SV. Alex Brokaw stepped up as the best #4 in the district as well. He was nipping at Brandenstein’s heels this weekend, providing some extra push for this team’s top trio.

Lebo may have a similar problem to DT West in that they are too deep for their own good. They had the advantage of running more than 7 varsity guys this weekend so they had some flexibility with who would step up. Thomas Cosentino stepped up this week and Cameron Potts, a potential top 4 guy on this team, was actually out of the top 7. Now it shouldn’t be a huge issue as they had #5 through 8 within 4 seconds this weekend (in other words, any of those guys could have been taken out and it wouldn’t have had a big impact on the score), but there may be an extra push each individual runner gets from running side by side with their teammates, knowing there is a varsity spot on the line. Just an extra thing to keep in mind with these really deep teams.

I’ll throw a couple quick individual notes on here as well. Noah Beveridge is legit. He rolled a 15:46 with nobody else in site. Big day for Sam Owori. His individual potential got a lot higher. Lots of sophomores to watch in this district. How about 5 in the top 11 for AAA? That’s wild. Patrick Anderson obviously making the biggest statement, but Zach Leachman had an impressive day (especially considering he raced a league championship mid-week). The WPIAL is excellent in AAA this year. Last year it was a little underwhelming to me, but this year I think they’ve got a nice contingent of medal contenders. Beveridge may be the state championship favorite depending on your opinion of Rusty’s heavy racing schedule. I’m not too nervous about Rusty’s schedule, but what I do know is that Noah had his best race of the year on the Hershey hills a season ago. 

Half Way State Qualifying Predictions: Part II

Note: For my WPIAL fans, I left you guys out of this halfway report. Not because I hate you, but because it seems kind of silly to do an in depth look at that district when basically all the top programs are about to face off at Slippery Rock this upcoming weekend. They will get their own special post after that meet where I break down the team qualifying field in depth. But for now, you will have to wait.

District 3
A (2 Teams)
1. York Catholic
2. Delone Catholic
3. Tulephocken

The York Catholic boys have been tops in the District at their only two invites of the year, a couple major ones at Big Spring and Hershey. That’s a good sign for a team that has been waiting patiently for a chance to bust into the state championship picture. Personally, I believe these guys may end up a top 10 team at states (they were 5th at Foundation). By season’s end, I think they will have a dynamite big three with potential for more.

Delone Catholic is kind of the young blood of this race. I may be anointing them prematurely as Tulpehocken has a nice pack and experience on their side, but I’m rolling with Adler Brinninger (just a sophomore) and DC team that lost on a 6th man tiebreaker to that same Tulpehocken team last year. I think they get their long awaited revenge in 2017. Camp Hill was state champs just two years ago and, although they haven’t made a ton of noise so far, should never be completely overlooked in a post about D3 A.

AA (3 Teams)
1. York Suburban
2. Wyomissing
3. Milton Hershey
4. Lancaster Mennonite

Look, the easy thing to say is that Wyomissing and York Suburban will both be state qualifiers. But putting these teams in order? That’s a lot trickier. Wyomissing made a strong case to be the #1 team in the state after a big showing at Paul Short. They had 6 guys under 17 minutes and 3 guys under 16:15! That’s fantastic stuff! And that was just their first major race of the season! So we could just be scratching the surface with this team. I was super high on them in the preseason and I am ready to jump all in on this team.

That being said, you have to respect York Suburban. The reigning district champs have a knack for peaking at the right time, showing up for championship meets and developing that top 5. Their top 2 are running fantastic and you can see the pieces of a strong pack when you look at the depth chart. Based on purely what I’ve seen so far this season, I think Wyomissing is better. But when you incorporate history, I’ll take my chances with York Suburban. For now anyway.

Hershey seems like the logical pick for the 3rd spot. They qualified for states last year. They won at Big Spring AA this year (convincingly) and they were the top AA team at Carlisle with a 17:12 average. Their #5 at Carlisle was their #1 at districts last year so there’s actually even more upside than that for Milton.

So, yes, I’ve got a boring top 3 that is exactly the same as last year. My apologies fans. If you are looking for upsets, the real wildcard here is Lancaster Mennonite. They have 3 of the best dudes in the entire district. Logan Horst is going to be competing for a top 5 spot with Yoder and Abebe likely state qualifiers as well. But they will need some step up marks at the 4-5 to really contend. When you have that strong of a top 3, it makes finding depth a bit easier, so keep an eye on where the end of their season goes. Home field advantage Big Spring could also be a deep sleeper.

AAA (4 Teams)
1. Carlisle
2. Twin Valley
3. Hempfield
4. Cumberland Valley
5. Lower Dauphin
6. Mechanicsburg
7. Chambersburg
8. Palmyra
9. Manheim Township

A year ago, we saw some of the most surprising state qualifiers from District 3. I can still remember the surprised messages about Manheim Central and Mechanicsburg. That was a wild district meet with some 10 teams that had realistic hopes of punching a ticket to states. Well, the story looks no different this year in District 3. At the top, Carlisle seems safe. They are consistent state qualifiers, defending champions and have proven themselves emphatically with a 3rd place finish at their home invite, easily the top performance of all local teams. Twin Valley, too, seems like a reasonable bet to make states. Twin Valley showed just what they were made of at William Tennent last weekend, taking 2nd ahead of DT West. They were the #2 D3 team at Carlisle despite arguably leaving a couple points on the table. TV has also proven they have a knack for performing at districts. They qualified for states in 2013 and 2014 and just missed in 2015.

After that, I start to get less confident. You have to like Hempfield’s results so far. The 2014 and 2015 District Champions were tops at Big Spring and tops at Paul Short for the D3 AAA schools. If we are being honest, at those meets there wasn’t much top tier D3 competition (although Manheim Township intrigues me), but they handled their business which you have to respect. Christian Groff is a stud front runner and Justin Rittenhouse is an emerging stand out. I like this team’s potential and, although they were a surprise miss in 2016, still believe in their ability to peak. Even in an “off year” they send 3 guys to states. I’ll feel comfortable hitching my wagon to this squad.

After that, I think things are really up for grabs. I really like some of Lower Dauphin’s pieces. They were 3rd at Big Spring, but ended up the top squad in the Champions race at Carlisle. It appears based on the results that they pulled this off without returning state medalist Jared Giannascoli (who is hopefully healthy) and with a big performance by Josiah Helmer. If they find a #5 they are in a position to upset some schools. Mechanicsburg tells a similar story. They have what is arguably the best top 3 in the district including the likely district champ in Morgan Cupp. They don’t have a ton of firepower at 4-5, but all they need is one guy to emerge and they are contenders, the same formula as a year ago applies.

But for now, I’m betting on Cumberland Valley. They were the top of this crow at Carlisle and looked good at Gettysburg, even if Chambersburg was snipping at their heels. I like their depth, I think Andrew Brown is having a big season and I expect one or two guys to pop off a big result at districts. I just have a tough time betting against this program.

If you are looking for a fun deep sleeper, don’t overlook Palmyra. One of the smaller schools in the district, Palmyra was 21st a year ago. However, their pack is looking much better this year and front runner Matt Carroll impressed with a 16:11 time at Carlisle. They’ve got 3 under 17 with potentially more to come by season’s end.

District 10
A (2 Teams)
1. Seneca
2. North East
3. Cochranton
4. West Middlesex

Seneca is the defending champions and has been dominant in D10 for about a half decade. But here’s the catch, this season they won’t have the Myers twins to lead them in their quest for a title. It’s hard to overstate just how big of a loss two of the most accomplished 4 year runners in the district are. But here’s the thing, I think there’s a legacy here. Usually the great runners leave a trail for a year or two at the least and Seneca clearly has pieces hanging around to contend. I think the past few races have given me confidence in the back half of their varsity and I’ve already been on board with Brock Smith and Jake Schneider as the 1-2.

I’m in Seneca’s corner, but they are far from a lock. There’s a host of teams that are coming for the throne and looking strong. Let’s check in quickly on some of the key western meets. Early at Big Red we saw North East-Cochranton-West Middlesex take the top D10 spots. Cochranton was best through 4, but North East stole it on the 5. At Commodore Perry it was Cochranton-Seneca-Reynolds as the top D10 A schools. Cochranton edged out Seneca, but Seneca was missing Nick Post in the lineup. Cochrnaton topped Seneca again at Sharpsville, this time more convincingly with West Middlesex pretty far back. Cochranton also won big at their home invite. So it seems like they should be the pick, right?

Well, I’m not positive. I like this squad, but I also think North East has the pieces to win the district. At McQuaid they had a monster line up with 4 under 17, 1 under 16 (Josh Lewis) and a 5 at 17:18. They didn’t look as convincingly strong this weekend, but I think this is the most talented team in the district. If they falter, Cochranton will be waiting.

If you thought this paragraph as all over the place, that’s because it was. I’m feeling all over the place myself in this district. Watch for West Middlesex (the qualifiers last year), Reynolds, Lakeview and Cambridge Springs to try and further complicate this playoff picture in the coming weeks.

AA (2 Teams)
1. Grove City
2. Harbor Creek
3. General McLane

For me this would be a no brainer if it wasn’t for last year. Grove City missed states a year ago and, if they read this blog, they are probably sick of hearing about it. This squad is loaded again in 2017, but they will have some demons to exercise at districts. I’d be shocked to see them go down again (arguably more surprised this year), but you never know. Harbor Creek is a strong challenger. Their top 3, when healthy, is better. The 4-5 are improving enough that I wouldn’t be surprised if HC wins the district meet. Regardless of who is first in the standings, I think these top two squads are close to locks at this stage, barring injury.

It’s worth noting that General McLane was the 2nd team to make states out of this district a year ago. And they return their 1-2 punch that helped lead them there in Nate Price and Erik Andrzejewski. Those guys are top 10 contenders at states in AA. I really like Price as a sleeper pick for a top 5 finish. Both guys are just juniors. I think General McLane is a #5 runner away from making a run. That #5 guy might be Dylan Throop who was solid in Meet #1 this season, but didn’t end up in the results at McQuaid. Keep an eye on where that goes as that could help catapult this squad into contention.

AAA (1 Team)
1. McDowell
2. Cathedral Prep

Cathedral Prep and McDowell tend to trade this bad boy back and forth. I think this year it goes back to McDowell. The two have yet to go head to head this year, but McDowell has three big dogs in Daubert, Holmberg and Zimmerman that translate pretty easily as contenders for tops in D10. I think that big three will clinch it for McDowell, but the always formidable Catherdal Prep pack will loom as challengers. Keep an eye on Race Nicolia. Not only does he ever a great first name, he’s also the team’s top returner form districts last year. After a relatively slow start, he’s been gaining steam in a hurry in recent weeks and may peak perfectly for the championships.

District 6
A (2 Teams)
1. Penns Valley
2. St. Joesph’s
3. Purchase Line

Penns Valley is one of the biggest no brainers on this list. The defending champions have been the clear cut #1 team in the state through the opening month. No reason to pick against them at this stage in the game (come states maybe I’ll sing a different tune).

The battle for the #2 spot likely revolves around Purchase Line and St Joesph’s Catholic. SJC is a fun, up and coming team. They were 4th at the Foundation meet and were led by 4 sophomores including Carter Kauffman, a medal threat in A this season. Meanwhile, Purchase Line is a perennial power. They were state qualifiers last year and also threw down one of the fastest 4x8 in the state for AA. It’s just a good strong program who showed some major talent at the Crimson Hawk Invite with three top 7 finishers. Of course at that meet, United had 4 top 10 finishers and the sleeper pick in this district scored 45 points to the Line’s 45, toppling PL on a tie breaker.

Purchase Line, United and Westmont Hilltop were all also tightly packed at the Red Flash Invite although this time Purchase Line was best of the bunch by 7 points over United. St. Joe’s has been traveling in slightly different circles from that bunch, going to meets like Ben Blosser, Carlisle and Ridgway to race out district competition. I kinda like this strategy as the younger team gets experience in a variety of races. Maybe that will make them a bit more comfortable at Districts.

AA (1 Team)
1. Central Cambria
2. Forrest Hills

This is going to be a lame answer, but I’d be stunned to see anybody outside of Central Cambria atop the podium. They were dominant last year and return practically all the key pieces from that core. They rolled again at the Red Flash Invite and, even without some of their big names, had five guys under 18 minutes at Carlisle. I’ve got Central Cambria as my champ with a battle behind to make noise.

AAA (1 Team)
1. State College
2. Mifflin County

So this doesn’t seem like as much of a homer run as it has been in past years, but I’ve got State College doing work and advancing to states once again. The Little Lions have added Mitchell Etter seamlessly to the equation and suddenly have arguably the two best runners in the district. Now Mifflin County will look to counter that with their own formidable 1-2 punch of freshman Brayden Harris and the ascending Chayce Macknair.

Of course, as is the case in most big meets, this race comes down to the runners that are not necessarily the stars. Can Mifflin County’s pack hang with State College? Seth Phillips and Garren Wolfgang, a pair of sub 2 minute 800 guys, will be the names to watch in this upset push. For State College, they will lean on Sam Horn, Bennett Norton, Ari Gluckman and Joe Messner for the back end of the scoring. I think I have a bit more faith in State College’s depth, especially given their recent success, but I expect this one to be a nail bitter on race day.

District 1
A (1 Team)
1. Jenkintown
2. Christopher Dock

Jenkintown is absolutely rolling right now. They won the district meet in convincingly fashion last year, bring back most of their core and added a couple freshmen with talent. If we are being honest, this team is likely looking past districts and hoping to improve on their state finish from a year ago. I think this team is really strong and am excited to see them hit the postseason.

AA (1 Team)
1. Pope John Paul
2. HG Prep

I don’t know what to make of this district. I really don’t. On the one hand, Pope John Paul seems like an easy pick. They return all of their key runners from a year ago, they’ve tested themselves at big meets like Foundation and they held their own against some strong teams. That being said, the specter of Holy Ghost still looms. They are the defending champions and, even though graduation depleted their roster, they have a history of contending on the big stage. For now, PJP is a clear favorite, but I’ll be watching closely to see if Prep can develop a bit more firepower out front. I liked their run at Safari, but they still have some work to do to catch up.

AAA (5 Teams)
1. CR North
2. Spring Ford
3. DT West
4. Henderson
5. Boyertown
6. Owen J Roberts
7. CB West
8. Shanahan
9. CB East
10. North Penn
11. Penncrest
12. Unionville
13. Oxford
14. Phoenixville
15. Great Valley

Realistically, there is a long list of teams that could make it to states and an even longer list of teams that can break into the top 10. Being top 10 in District One should be a goal to be proud of for a lot of teams. It’s really hard, especially this year. I listed out 15 teams and still left out some programs with talent. I’ll try to share as much insight as I can here before I end the post.

For the sake of efficiency, I’m going to attack this in tiers.

The Super Powers: CR North, DT West, Henderson
CR North, DT West and Henderson have established themselves as programs we just expect to punch tickets to states. They’ve all won state titles in the past five years, they’ve each made a big run when they were counted out and, so far this season, they’ve each shown me enough to be confident they will make it to states. CRN is probably my pick to win the thing right now (although I am excited to watch Seneca Valley next weekend). So basically my reasoning for these teams is, look at the names on the jersey.

The Pioneer Pioneers: Spring Ford, Boyertown, Owen J Roberts
Three teams from the Pioneer League have made my top 6 overall. Their league championship should tell us a lot about which direction each team is trending. As I mentioned in my District 1 by the numbers post, this league hasn’t had a single state qualifying team since 2008 so having three seems like a real long shot. However, Spring Ford and Boyertown have been excellent this year and Owen J has the prototypical formula for a 5th place team in the district. Boyertown is the team to watch. They slipped just a bit at Paul Short and watched a couple teams shoot past them. I want to see how they react to this defeat and if they rally back past Spring Ford at leagues.

The Almost Theres: CB West, North Penn
I think these guys are ascending. They both have a history of sticking their nose in it at districts and CB West has made states each of the past three seasons. I bet against them seemingly every year and seemingly every year they prove me wrong. That being said, I just think these teams project to be near misses. However, they are improving from week to week, having strong front running and just need a step up performance to become really dangerous. Keep an eye on the back half of their varsity to close out the season.

The Something to Proves: Shanahan, CB East
I like both of these teams rosters, but I have found it hard to jump all in on either squad. Shanahan has two sub 16 guys and a potential district champion. However, I’m not ready to throw them in my top 5. If Logan Yoquinto is their #5 guy at districts, I think this team can do big things. As for CB East, I feel like they have to prove that their young core is ready to handle the pressure of districts. They were a hot team early in the season a year ago, but didn’t end up with any state qualifiers when the clock stopped at Lehigh. This year, they’ve got an arguably better team, but the district may be better as well.

The Maybe … I Just Haven’t Seen Enoughs: Unionville, Penncrest
Unionville has gotten some buzz and they did beat a Smuckerless Henderson at Oberod, but I haven’t seen enough big races from this team to have any sort of feel for them. They do have a dynamite 1-2 punch in Conway and Walker (I think they are two top 15 types in the district if things break right) and an improving pack that could make noise. Did you see their track results from last night? 4 guys at 10:05 or faster for 3200 and another at 10:12. But I don’t have enough data to feel comfortable with them anywhere higher than 10th. Penncrest is a bit more of a known commodity, but I still need to study their 4-5 a bit more. Are they deep enough to make a run at states? Are they too young? Their top 3 seems strong, but they didn’t race at Carlisle or Paul Short or Tennent or Foundation. That makes it tricky for me to have a great read.

The Etrain’s Favs: Oxford, Great Valley, Phoenixville
The title speaks for itself. I’m rooting for these teams. They each have intriguing storylines. Great Valley has a crazy pack. Phoenixville has a super soph and races 4 on 5. Oxford is a Cinderella with a chance to turn heads. I’m also excited to watch WC East battle over the final weeks of the season, particularly at Ches-monts. CR South and Lower Merion could be fun too. And Pennsbury. Don’t forget about Pennsbury. Man, District One is crowded.

Half Way State Qualifying Predictions: Part I

Instead of the typical team rankings this week, I'm going to do things a little bit differently. I'll be giving my early predictions for which teams will qualify for states at the end of this month. Later on, I'll be doing my official district previews similar to what I've done in the past few years (i.e. predicting everyone who will qualify for states from every district). Here's the first round of districts for you right here. Feel free to share your thoughts on these and the ones that are still outstanding in the comments.

District 8
AAA (1 Team)
1. Allderdice

I’ll give this prediction the best odds of any that I make in this post. Last year Allderdice swept the top 7 spots in this championship and this year’s team might be better. The real question for this squad is how high can they place as a team? If they have two medal contenders in Davis and Hermann that’s a nice start. Freeman has had a nice season contributing in the pack as well.

District 5
A (1 Team)
1. Winber
2. Southern Fulton

Southern Fulton has historically been the class of this … well … class, but Winber Area is off to a fast start in 2017. At the SFU Red Flash Invitational, Winber placed 5th as a team, mixing it up with some strong D6 A programs and even toppling the likes of Penn Cambria and Westmont Hilltop. Tyler Napora was their surprise #1 in race one but they also feature a nice 2-3 punch of Trenton Noon (6th at districts last year) and Matt Shank.

But here’s the catch, Southern Fulton returns three top ten finishers from last year’s district championships. They are experienced, they show up for championship season and they have a reputation to protect. They scored 23 points at least year’s championships and rolled past Winber and a strong Meyersdale crew. They could certainly come out and do something like that again, we just haven’t seen them compete in a big invite yet.

AA (1 Team)
1. Somerset
2. Bedford

A year ago, in the first AA District 5 championship, Somerset and Bedford faced off in essentially a dual meet for the team title. Somerset came out on top, essentially clinching the title with a 1-2 finish from Dominic Mazzariello and Cejay Walker. Both Mazz and Walker are back, but Bedford has an individual title contender on their roster as well in frosh Van May. When all is said and done, May may win the title in D5 (he’s that good), but I’m not sure that would be enough. Somerset looked like the more complete team at Foundation (although Bedford was missing a key piece in Alex Calhoun). I think the top 3 guys match up well, but Somerset will win this thing on the back end. That being said, it’s worth noting that Mazzariello has missed a couple meets this year. Hopefully he is healthy and ready to roll come championship season as he’s the defending district champ.

The other x-factor: both teams could make states if the losing team’s 5 scorers are ahead of the representatives from all other schools. Last year on Ean Flick (now graduated) stopped the District from sending an at large school to states.

District 4
A (1 Team)
1. Mount Caramel
2. Northeast Bradford
3. Southern Columbia
4. Wyalusing Valley

Thus far, Mount Caramel has proven to be the most complete team in the district. At the Northeast Invite, MC took the top A honors with 199 points, a score that dwarfed top contenders Southern Columbia by 82 points. That was thanks to a strong pack performance from the early D4 favorites. Caramel also looked great on the fast Lock Haven course in the early season and they have some championship pedigree from their AA days. That being said, if you want to poke holes in their roster, they could be vulnerable if a team gets enough runners in front of their front running pack. Maybe the depth will be bigger out front than it is mid-pack, opening up an opportunity for a team like Southern Columbia (who has the early pick for district champ in Ethan Knoebel) to seize a victory.

The team lurking is the always dangerous Northeast Bradford. They haven’t wowed me yet, but they put together a nice pack at McQuaid. Typically, this team peaks at the right time and brings home an impressive district championship. But I’m not sure they’ve had to deal with a program like Mount Caramel in recent years. Small shout out to Wyalusing Valley as well with Patton and Heeman leading the charge as game changing front runners, they could surprise if the 4-5 have a big day.

AA (2 Teams)
1. Milton Area
2. Warrior Run
3. Lewisburg
4. Loyalsock
5. Danville
6. Jersey Shore

Alright! Our first two teamer of the post! Well, this one is going to be tricky to call. At the top, there’s Milton Area. The defending champions have shown flashes so far this season, including a nice top three at Paul Short without their best runner in Tyler Leeser. Nick Doresky looks like a top 10 threat after a sub 17 at Lehigh. Kellan Guinn-Bailey, Sam Kendall (who also didn’t race at PS or PTXC) and Leeser. were already there last year. I just hope everyone is healthy and we get to see this team chase something big. If you add Leeser and Kendall in top form to that Paul Short squad this team could threaten top 5 in the state in a wide open AA. Without that pair, they will be grasping at straws just to get to Hershey.

I’m a big Warrior Run fan. Not just because they have a dope school name, but also because they’ve put up results every step of the way. After a 5th place finish at Foundation, this squad rolled to a victory at the Northeast Invite after most of their primary rivals from the district. Look closer at their foundation results and see one of their best runners, Cassidy Hoffman, didn’t even have his best day. If he runs with their top pack, they are even better. This team, in theory, should be the favorites for the district championship. But they were just 6th last year and have to overcome that if they want to make it to Hershey.

What makes it even tougher for me to pick Warrior Run is the fact that there are so many teams lurking behind them. Lewisburg is always a contender and the green mile was close behind the Warriors at Foundation and Northeast, even if a tier below. They’ve got a very young team with a lot of freshman to lean on, but this program has championship pedigree. By the way, the boys from Danville fall into this category as well. Danville always shows up for districts and they were also a top 10 team at Foundation and 3rd at Northeast. Don’t be surprised if they make it to states.

Lastly, you have to mention some of the x-factors. Loyalsock’s top 3 is dynamic. Throw Quinn Serfass into their results from Northeast and Loyalsock likely has less than 12 points through 3 guys. It’s close to a 90 point swing in the results and moves Loyalsock right into the Lewisburg-Danville tier. Jersey Shore could see similar growth on their performance from Northeast if you throw Isaac Davis into the mix, however, they don’t boast quite the same firepower behind him (Sullivan and Quintana for Loyalsock were 4th and 5th at Northeast, the top 2 D4 AA finishers).

District 9
A (2 Teams)
1. Elk County Catholic
2. Smethport
3. Clarion

At the top, I think that this one is pretty straight forward. Elk County Catholic is a clear favorite for the title. They are the defending champions, return a bunch of stars and have their eyes on doing big things at states. Not much else to say that I haven’t said already. The battle for #2 is a little more interesting. Clarion looked strong at Foundation behind front runner Nathaniel Lerch, but Smethport took over the top contenders position after an excellent run at Ridgway. Smethport also has a win over Clarion and other top squads from the Bradford Invite. What makes Smethport so dangerous is that 1-2 punch of Gregory and Tanner, both of whom can strike the medal positions at states this fall. Freshman Jordan Pavlock has been a key addition as well. Clarion does appear to be deeper past the #5 runner so if off days come into play, they may be able to sneak by. But for now, Smethport and Elk CC seem like safe bets.

AA (1 Team)
1. Bradford
2. Punxsutawney

Bradford has now handled themselves well against a very good Elk County Catholic team on two separate occasions. Logan Caruso in top form and would be my early pick for the title individually. Punxsutawney was victorious a year ago, helped by a 1-2-3 finish, but they lost a key contributor to graduation and then another to transfer. This opens the door for Bradford to roll through and take back the title. Then the question becomes, how will they match up in Hershey?

District 12
A (2 Teams)
1. Masterman
2. Paul Robeson

There hasn’t been much action in this district outside of Masterman (who looks solid), so I went with the two teams who competed at states a year ago. I’d be very surprised if Masterman doesn’t take the title and after that it may be up for grabs. Paul Robeson has historically showed up big at districts and punched their ticket, but Motivation, Science Leadership and Constitution have all put together teams in the past that have been contenders. But the story for now is definitely Masterman. Can they be a top 10 team in A?

AA (2 Teams)
1. Bonner
2. Swenson

Again, we don’t have much to go on outside of the defending champions. Bonner looks poised to stay at the top of the district, led by reigning district champ Anthony Harper and some upstart freshmen. Behind them, last year’s silver medalists from Conwell Egan haven’t raced with a full five runners yet this year, opening the door for Swenson (third last year and returning their top 3). Again, we likely won’t know what we are dealing with until the Philly Public/Catholic League Finals are complete, but it’s an open battle on paper right now.

AAA (2 Teams)
1. LaSalle
2. O’Hara
3. St. Joe’s

Since the move to two teams in District 12 AAA, LaSalle and O’Hara have been clear favorites to make states. This year, the same narrative is in place. LaSalle is currently my #1 ranked team in the state after their emphatic run at Carlisle. Although O’Hara isn’t quite the star studded team they were in 2011-2014, they are still a strong, deep team that has a pack to get them to states. St. Joe’s Prep, the perennial third placers, won’t go quietly. Calvin Willie and Patrick Lorei (hasn’t raced yet) were state qualifiers last year, Ricky Raup is an x-factor and James Brooks is off to a great start. They had four guys at 17:15 or faster at Paul Short and, with a step up performance at #5, could maybe sneak ahead of O’Hara. I don’t see that happening as things currently stand, but you never know.

District 11
A (1 Team)
1. Mahanoy
2. Notre Dame ES

The top 7 runners from last year’s district meet return and that includes three guys from Mahanoy. At Foundation, Mahanoy’s top competition didn’t race a full five guys (Notre Dame ES) so it was tough to really get a feel for home the teams match up. As of now, based on Manahoy’s showing at PTXC and Northampton (three under 18), I think this team is in a good spot to repeat. Notre Dame probably still heads the contenders, based on a nice result at the Lions Invite where they put 5 guys at 19:30 or faster. Andrew Beers leads their squad.

AA (2 Teams)
1. Notre Dame GP
2. North Schuylkill
3. Blue Mountain
4. Allentown Central Catholic

The defending district champions have a new weapon in 2017. Notre Dame Green Pond returned a state medalist in John Koons, but they’ve added a prime time running made for the junior in Seamus Hammerston. Both guys were under 16 minutes at the McQuaid Invite 3 miler. They were joined by a nice pack behind them including Anthony Pacchioli who was 6th at districts last year. My gut says they will run away with the title this year. However, North Schuylkill gave them a close run last year and does return their 1-2 punch of McCabe and McCormick. They haven’t blown me away thus far, but they look solid.

I like Blue Mountain’s upside. They knocked off North Schuylkill by a nose at the Northeast Invitational (206-212) and actually had a better 1-2 punch with a faster #5. They don’t have the proven pedigree that NS showed last year, but they’ve clearly got talent. Allentown Central Catholic always seems to be in contention. They had a rare misstep last year and missed states, but they will be back in the hunt this season. They too had a close fight with Blue Mountain, this battle coming at Foundation (393-414). They were really a front runner away from climbing the Mountaineers in the final standings.

Northwestern Lehigh could emerge as a deep sleeper. They have perhaps the best 1-2 punch in the district with Phillip Castrine and Robert Leiser on the roster. They have a pack behind them that, if they step up over the final stretch of the season, could become contenders.

AAA (2 Teams)
1. Easton
2. Parkland
3. Stroudsburg
4. Southern Lehigh

This is an interesting one. Parkland seems to be the safe pick. They’ve rolled through this district in the past and are defending champs. However, both Easton and Stroudsburg, two teams with a chip on their shoulder after missing states last fall, have come storming out the gates. This Easton team has a chance to be special. Joseph Ozgar is a bold front runner with potential and the Cardones posted a one-two punch under 16:20 at Paul Short. They had a great pack, a bold group and a top 4 that looks excellent. They bring back 4 of their top 5 next season as well.

Stroudsburg is interesting. They didn’t have a perfect day at Paul Short, but still came within two points of Parkland. We saw just how strong they could be when things clicked at Centaur. For Parkland, they are missing a key piece in Sam Morgan, but Riley Williamson has stepped up big time to fill the #1 spot. He looks like he might be the district champ. Add in a consistently improving pack of young guys and this team is likely the favorite to keep their state qualifying streak going.

Southern Lehigh became everyone’s favorite Cinderella last season when they nearly stole the district title at Bethlehem Municipal with a group of relative unknowns. They returned a lot of pieces, but we’ve yet to see most of their big guns race. So far there has been no sign of Matsumura, Welsh or Klar-Chaudhuri, their top 3 returners. However, their #4 returner, Colin Cramer, has been outstanding and placed near the top of a loaded Foundation field. If they get their big guns back, the district should be on alert.

District 2
A (1 Team)
1. Montrose
2. Lakeland
3. Elk Lake

Unfortunately for the other high quality teams in this district, it looks like Montrose will be hard to beat again in 2017. The 2016 runaway champs rolled to a victory last year and seem to be just as potent a year later. Some JV runners have stepped up to become capable varsity runners and the confident bunch already knocked off Dallas at Cliff Robbins. They had 7 guys under 17 minutes at McQuaid, including Brandon Curley at 15:27 for the 3 mile distance.

Although Elk Lake used to be the class of this division before Montrose showed up, they will have to worry about Lakeland this year if they want to even stay in the top 2. At the Lackawanna invite, despite a 1-3 finish from Peyton Jones and Cody Oswald, Lakeland ended up the top A team. Zach Reeves, a sophomore, led the way with a 4th place finish in that meet and the team’s 3 through 5 finished right next to each other in the line-up. Lakeland actually put 7 guys in front of Elk Lake’s #5 in their most recent match up. This should be an exciting match up and, although it technically doesn’t affect the state picture, is still a great match up between top notch programs.

AA (2 Teams)
1. Dallas
2. Holy Redeemer
3. Crestwood

Dallas is the defending champs, a proven program and returns a bunch of talent. It’s hard to imagine them slipping from their top spot. Much like Montrose in A, the storyline will be centered around states for this program. However, the battle for second seems a bit more up for grabs. For now, I’d pick Holy Redeemer. They showed their fortitude last year at these championships and return most of that core. They were among the top AA schools at Foundation and they’ve got a nice amount of depth. They haven’t blown me away, but it’s hard to argue for any other team to surpass them.

As of right now, a true challenger hasn’t emerged. Tunkhannock and Scranton Prep are on my short list of contenders but that is more a testament to the pedigree of their programs than their results to date. They have been solid, but not quite explosive enough to give me confidence they can knock off either of the two teams that sits in the driver seat for states. Maybe Crestwood could make a surge behind front runner Clay Kimsal, but they will need a bit more of a pack behind him to match Redeemer.

AAA (1 Team)
1. Wallenpaupack
2. Abington Heights
3. Scranton

With two races somewhat decided already, the AAA championships seems much more up for grabs. Defending champions Abington Heights will look to ward off the challengers from Wallenpaupack (while also holding off Hazleton and Scranton). Wallenpaupack ended up third in the final standings a year ago, but this season they picked up XC rookie Tyler Wirth (currently #10 on my rankings) and frosh Deiter Burckes (sub 16:45 at Paul Short) to help bolster their roster alongside Thomas Johnson. That top three outmatches the top three of Abington Heights which includes sub 16 man Kyle Burke and Dan Uhranowsky. That being said, in a smaller meet (as opposed to Paul Short where these teams last met) that front running advantage shrinks a bit, meaning the pressure will be on Stephen Haggerty and ryan Siebecker (along with Damon Martin) to step up for Abington Heights and swing the title.

Don’t count out Hazleton or Scranton. Hazleton has a strong front runner in Franklin Cunningham and ran well behind him at the Northeast Invite. Scranton actually beat Hazleton by 9 in the opening meet of the season. Their front runner isn’t quite as good as the superstars from their competition, but their pack may be the deepest out of anybody in this field. On the flip side, Scranton was 5th last year with no top 20 finishers. They’ll need to step their game up to contend this year.