The Running Diaries: Part I

Thank you again to everyone over the years who has read and supported the blog. Not to overload you guys with this as I've mentioned it before, but if you are missing your fix of etrain writing I did write a book that recently went up on Amazon. Here's the link:

This is Part I of the series and Part II is in the final stages (hoping to release it in time for XC season) so if you enjoyed my writing here on the site and are looking for more, feel free to check out the book. Otherwise, I hope everyone is having an enjoyable summer with good training and is ready to run some PRs!

Dreams and Records

Yesterday I went back and read my first ever blog post. And I’m not talking first post on this blog. I’m talking all the way back in the etrain’s Track Blog: Nuff Said days. Posted on June 25, 2010, it was called Dreams and Records and recounted the journey of the CB South boys record setting 4x8 in 2009. Apparently, I used to be a big fan of exclamation points. I didn’t know how to spell ridiculous (still don’t honestly, but I use spell check more nowadays) and I wasn’t afraid to utilize the mid-post rhetorical question concept. The article still has zero comments and only 78 views. If you didn’t look for it, you would never know it was there.

But the post set the tone for everything that would come after. At the end of the article I wrote: “Don’t listen to the doubters, set big goals, work hard and don’t stop believing”. Journey references aside, I still feel like these words defined the next eight years. Hopefully not just for me, but also for the runners who would eventually read my words.

Three years later, I announced my (first) retirement. On May 27, 2013 I wrote Brett Favre where I said my good bye to the blog community. I took the time to go back and read this one too. It contained some nice sentiments and touching moments, but what I found the most entertaining was a prediction. A prediction that, consistent with most of the predictions I’ve made on these blogs, has been proved completely wrong.

I mistakenly wrote that, five years from now, I would be “completely unconnected to this blog and to the high school track scene. The etrain name will likely disappear into obscurity”. Whoops. Turns out that no matter how much information and experience you have, you can’t predict the future.

Yes, life is unpredictable – and not always in the fun way. I know many of the runners on this site have overcome serious obstacles during their career to reach this point. I hope they can understand that their struggle has been an inspiration, even if it wasn’t necessarily chronicled on this site or others like it. One 4x800 squad in particular stood out to me among the performances, drawing success from the remnants of tragedy. I dedicate this final post to that team and all others with stories like it that I may not know.

Although I’ve typed over one million words on these sites, I continue to believe the most important words were the ones that each of my commenters posted. The stories, the analysis, the predictions. Each contribution builds off one another. As individuals, the trials and tribulations of life and training can overwhelm us. But as a community of runners, there is nothing we cannot overcome.

Today this blog ends, but our community is stronger than ever. What was cultivated here on this site will endure. It will evolve. But regardless of what form it comes in, the next iteration of this blog will continue to be what the ones before it were. A place to learn. A place to grow. A place to come together.

A place for dreams and records.     

This Is It: 2018 State Previews

Well folks, this is it. I've finally completed my last state preview articles. I hope you enjoy. As always, #DerailtheTrain. I'll figure out over the next couple days if I'll be in attendance at states and keep you guys in the loop about that.

Update: I will be in Shippensburg on Saturday morning so be on the lookout for a glasses wearing kid in a green etrain shirt if you’d like to say hello. Best of luck to everybody this weekend.

AA 3200m
AA 4x800m
AA 1600m
AA 800m

AAA 3200m
AAA 4x800m
AAA 1600m
AAA 800m

For fun, let's look back on where I predicted the state champions would finish in each year that I've been making predictions on this blog. Interesting that I have been alternating between nailing AAA and completely missing. Bad sign for this year's predictions. AA on the other hand has been consistently not that great. So ... bad sign also?

3200m - Ben Bumgarner (2nd)
4x800m - Seneca (1st)
1600m - Tristan Forsythe (2nd)
800m - Rob Reichenbaugh (5th)

3200m - Nathan Henderson (1st)
4x800m - CB West (1st)
1600m - Isaac Kole (1st)
800m - Josh Hoey (1st)

3200m - Dominic Hockenbury (1st)
4x800m - Seneca (3rd)
1600m - Domenic Perretta (1st)
800m - Domenic Perretta (1st)

3200m - Matt Kravitz (3rd)
4x800m - State College (1st)
1600m - Alex Milligan (4th)
800m - Joe Espinal (Not Medaling)

3200m - Dominic Hockenbury (2nd)
4x800m - Wyomissing (5th)
1600m - Domenic Perretta (1st)
800m - Domenic Perretta (1st)

3200m - Zach Brehm (1st)
4x800m - Pennsbury (1st)
1600m - Jaxson Hoey (1st)
800m - John Lewis (1st)

3200m - Dominic Hockenbury (2nd)
4x800m - Washington (2nd)
1600m - Domenic Perretta (1st)
800m - Domenic Perretta (2nd)

3200m - Ross Wilson (2nd)
4x800m - State College (2nd)
1600m - Zach Brehm (3rd)
800m - Kyle Francis (3rd)

2018 State Previews: AAA 3200m

AAA 3200m
The Stage
Here we go. I have no idea what order any of you guys read these in (or in what order I will post them up), but in terms of the order I wrote these bad boys in, this was my last one. I’m going to try not to cry as I set the stage for the last state championship preview I’ll ever write for my blog. Hopefully I’ve saved the best for last.

The biggest story in this race has to be Neshaminy’s Rusty Kujdych. As a senior, Kujdych has been nothing short of incredible on the track. He won a state championship in cross country, posting together an impeccable record against the best competition in the area and qualifying for the Footlocker Finals. During indoors, Kujdych smashed his previous best in the mile and rolled to a state championship in the 3k with one of the largest margins of victory we’ve seen. Now, much like Justified, he’s one leg away from the Triple Crown.

We haven’t seen a Triple Crown winner since Jason Weller (not to be confused with Jayson Miller) pulled off the feat in 2006-2007. We haven’t seen a AAA XC State Champ win an outdoor state gold since 2009 (Jimmy Tarsnane) and the last three XC state champs have finished no better than 8th in the 3200. So Kujdych is fighting an uphill battle.

The good news is that last year Nate Henderson came pretty close to that Triple Crown. He won the second two legs (a combo that hadn’t been completed since Weller) and was second in XC. If not for the arrival of all-time great Noah Affolder, the Triple Crown would have been his. But there’s bad news too and that bad news is Noah Beveridge. The Butler senior has been waiting patiently for his first state championship and after leaving the last two dances with silver, he’s hungry for gold. Beveridge has run 4:12 and 9:09 this outdoors and likely contributed an impressive 4x8 split to the Butler relay (he flashed 1:54 speed last year on at least one split).

For whatever reason, the Kujdych-Beveridge match-up reminds me of a 2014 match-up between Tony Russell and Ross Wilson. In that race, Russell was going for his own triple crown of sorts: he had won the XC state title and the indoor mile meaning a 32 gold would give him three. Wilson had been consistently topped by Russell, but on that final lap, Ross found another gear and dug deep to finally knock off Tony in their last head to head contest. In the process, Ross clocked an 8:56 to break a long standing state record that seemed like it would never be broken (ironically, Ross’s record was broken a year later). Maybe Beveridge can find that Ross Wilson-esque gear and bring home the gold. Either that or Kujdych goes Secretariat on everybody.

Or, I suppose, neither of those could happen.

The Race
Believe it or not, there are other people in this race besides the pair I’ve just droned on about for a few precious final paragraphs. Interestingly, if you look at the performance list, you can see a lot of guys with times closely packed together near these top two. District One has a couple great runners from great programs in Spencer Smucker and Ryan Campbell. Those guys sit at #3 and #4 in the seedings and are on the short list of sub 9:20 guys. Campbell is rounding back in to form at the perfect time, dropping a big season’s best at districts and indicating he can be in the conversation for ore in Shippensburg. Meanwhile, Smucker has found good success in his new event and was the closest runner to Kujdych at the Henderson Invite 3200 earlier this month.

Dan McGoey of North Allegheny deserves a mention. The sophomore established himself as a prime time performer at this past fall’s state championships. It was here that McGoey took third overall, behind just Kujdych and Beveridge, and nearly even took down the reigning WPIAL champ in the final straight. It marked the third straight year a sophomore placed in the top 3 in the AAA state championship (a previously absurd concept by the way). The last two guys? Sam Affolder (2nd in the 3200, 2nd in the 1600) and Josh Hoey (3rd in the 1600). McGoey hasn’t shown quite the same speed that these two have (they were 4:10ish milers), but it’s not crazy to speculate he could place in the top 3 at another state championship this spring like these two did.

McGoey is joined in the top 10 seeds by classmates Christian Fitch (Fox Chapel), Cole Walker (Unionville) and Zach Leachman (Mars). None of these three have hopped on the medal stand just yet, but they all have a chance at bling in this race. I particularly like Fitch’s odds as he has been an incredibly consistent presence in the long distance events recently which is impressive for such a young talent.

Oh, by the way, the AA XC State Champ is in this race. People may not realize (he’s seeded 23rd), but Isaac Davis of Jersey Shore is in this field and you can bet he’s going to try and pull off the upset. Davis has had by far his best season on the track which comes fresh on the heels of a monster XC campaign. I don’t think people quite realize how good Davis was during XC, particularly his 15:56 time at states (which came with a massive margin of victory). He’s beaten Brendan Miller this year and has clocked 9:24 for 3200. I could see him dropping a big PR.

The District 3 champ, Andrew Foster, has scratched this event to focus on the 4x8. That opens the door for Mechanicsburg senior Morgan Cupp. Cupp was a stud during XC and has had some nice flashes of brilliance on the track as well. The loss to Foster last week should act as some extra motivation heading into the state meet, but he will need to get past that 9:30 barrier which has been blocking his path to date. Ian Miller of Manheim Township, an indoor state medalist at 3k, seems like a potential sleeper from that district as well.

Some other quick hits: I’m in Nate Price’s corner. I think the General McLane junior would be in the state title talks if he was in AA (like he is for XC). This race may be a bit too quick for him, but I think the last medal spots are wide open. Carlisle has three guys in this race and LaSalle has two. I never count out those programs at the state championships. The District 11 guys sitting at #11 and #12 are good value picks in prediction contests as well. The District has more than held its own in AAA the best few seasons, most notably seeing Colin Abert nearly win a state championship in 2015 (to bring things full circle, Abert would have been under Ross Wilson’s state record, but Zach Brehm beat him to it with an 8:55.60).

OK, for the last time, here are my picks:

8. Jacob McKenna 9:24.00
7. Ryan Campbell 9:22.31
6. Morgan Cupp 9:21.70
5. Spencer Smucker 9:19.48
4. Dan McGoey 9:19.45
3. Isaac Davis 9:12.99
2. Rusty Kujdych 9:04.88
1. Noah Beveridge 9:04.25

2018 State Previews: AA 3200m

AA 3200m
The Stage
With Ben Bumgarner and Zach Skolnekovich graduating, the top returner for this year’s state championship is also the #1 seed – Ben Miller of Upper Dauphin. The senior, who placed 3rd a year ago, owns the top seed with a time of 9:21.05. That’s 11 seconds better than the field. He’s also got the fastest PR and 3k best (he ran an 8:34 at the Penn Relays) and a 15:40 5k PR from this past fall. It feels like Miller’s championship to lose.

That being said, there are is a long list of title hopefuls trying to take it from. Heading the list is Andrew Stanley of Southern Huntingdon. The senior won the 3200 at the District 6 championships (against strong competition) and was also likely a key contributor on Southern Huntingdon’s district champion 4x8 plus he added an SQS in the 16. Last year, Stanley made a name for himself by posting a 9:29 and finishing in 4th place overall at states, less than a second behind Miller.

Also in contention will be a group of sophomores who are running well above their age. Ben Kuhn of Wyomissing, Andrew Healey of Holy Cross and Ben Hoffman of Elk County Catholic all look like dangerous sleeper candidates in this event. 10th graders Tanner Walter (Milton), Krystof Lapotsky (Mt Carmel), Scott Routledge (Winchester Thurston) and Adam Hessler (Freedom) are also among the top 12 overall seeds entering Saturday’s final.

The Race
As mentioned at the top, I think Miller has a great chance to win this. He looked incredible at the District 3 championships, running a new best of 9:21. Plus, his 3k best from the Penn Relays converts to about 9:12. Those times are in another ball park from what we’ve seen out of this group to date. We know Miller has great strength and won’t be afraid to push the pace and put the pressure on his opponents. He has the tools needed to win his first state gold.

That being said, any time you have a big favorite out there to be shot at, you can expect there to be challengers. Andrew Stanley was very aggressive in his racing strategy at this meet last year and won’t be afraid of Miller. Although I think Brendan has made big strides since his final race last spring, Stanley finished right alongside him at the state championships so it’s not crazy to think he can keep it close again. Plus, Stanley has shown some serious speed in recent weeks, most notably his golds at the D6 championships.

However, I think the biggest challenger to Miller is going to be Josh Lewis of North East. Lewis has already run in the 9:20s this year, holding his own in a stacked field at Baldwin. Plus he has low 4:20s speed on the track. The junior actually reminds me a bit of Miller a year ago. Like Miller, Lewis had a breakout XC season during his 11th grade year and won a district title against a strong field. However, at the state championships, Miller faltered and finished outside the medals. That didn’t get Brendan down and he ended up getting that coveted state medal in the spring with a third place finish. Lewis is on a similar path, but has arguably been more impressive than even Brendan was last year to this point. He still needs to prove he can handle the pressure that comes with states, but if he brings his best stuff to Shippensburg he might leave with gold.

One guy that I’ve barely touched on to date is Quinn Serfass of Loyalsock. The senior has been incredibly consistent this year, but has had the misfortunate of finding himself lost in the shuffle on more than one occasion. He’s raced excellent competition like Jersey Shore’s Isaac Davis and Brendan Miller as well as top mile guys like Leeser and Knoebel plus he’s delivered 4x8 relay legs for a state qualifying squad. He’s got great range and has always performed up to his capabilities in championship races, including strong showings during last fall’s AA state championships and 2017’s 3200 state meet (6th and #3 returner).

It’s very rare for a sophomore to win a state championship, especially in the 3200. Since 2000, there’s only been one soph to pull it off – Dominic Hockenbury back in 2014 (I think that was back when I used to call him Huckleberry by accident). I think Ben Kuhn of Wyomissing and Andrew Healey of Holy Cross both have the potential to make this race interesting, but I’m not sure either will emerge victorious. Kuhn has been phenomenal on the track this year and would have been a factor in the 1600 finals had he picked that event (4:21 best). I think Kuhn is the best pure miler in this field which could give him an advantage in a sprint finish. Meanwhile, Healey is fresh off a 4:24 PR at his district championship. He hasn’t put together a super flashy 3200, but he also hasn’t had the push he will get at states. Healey was 9th last year as a freshman. Fun fact, that’s better than Huckleberry (AKA Hockenbury) placed at states his freshman season (11th).

I’ve got a long list of sleepers, probably too long to completely list here but I’ll throw out some names. Watch the Penns Valley freshman Colton Sands and Brendan Colwell, both were XC medalists. If they add medals in this event, it will be one of the best all-around freshman campaigns in small school history. Sands has been the faster of the pair thus far, but is slated for a busy weekend of racing with the 1600 prelims and the 4x8 prelims on his plate before this one. Jack Miller from Jenkintown was an absolute monster during cross who crushed the 16 minute barrier at Paul Short and nearly knocked off Brendan Miller at states in A. He’s had some solid success on the track, but not to quite the same degree he did on the trails. Once it clicks for him on the track, I think a time in the 9:30s or faster is coming.

This almost goes without saying, but the top seeds like Horst, Driben, Sullivan, Gould, Walter and Lapotsky are all solid medal picks. Only Driben competed here last year in this event so the others will be rookies. It took 9:41 to medal in 2017 which means a PR performance from any of these guys puts them right in the mix for a top spot.

Here’s my prediction for exactly how those top spots unfold:

8. Jack Miller 9:37.91
7. Ben Hoffman 9:36.75
6. Andrew Stanley 9:29.03
5. Quinn Serfass 9:27.40
4. Ben Kuhn 9:27.06
3. Josh Lewis 9:26.48
2. Andrew Healey 9:25.57
1. Brendan Miller 9:19.75

2018 State Previews: AAA 800m

AAA 800m
The Stage
In 2016, the stage seemed set for absolute madness in the AAA 800. District 12 stand outs Dave Whitfield of Bonner and Stephen McClellan rocked their championship meet and entered as the top seeds. Although Jaxson Hoey and Matt Wisner were in the race and had big meet pedigree, there was still a general feeling among the state that these two could falter (whether through sickness or doubling). However, almost no one saw Joe Espinal of Wilson (11) coming. The senior went from a personal best of 1:55 to a 1:51.09 PR in a blink and stunned the state landscape en route to gold.

For whatever reason, things feel similar to me this year. Rarely does the state meet play out exactly as you suspect (or at least not as I suspect) and you’ve got to call that one more wacky gold medalist to nail your predictions. That was Espinal in 2016 (well, him and Matt Kravitz), Zach Brehm in 2015 for the 3200 and Isaac Kole in 2017. And long before all that, back in 2008, it was Tom Mallon.

Tyler Shue of Ephrata is hoping he can follow in Mallon’s ’08 footsteps. Shue was second at the indoor state championships behind only Liam Conway (who is only running the 16 outdoors) and has been near invincible this outdoor season. He will have tired legs for the 800 final (Ephrata is among the title contenders in the 4x8), but he’s proven he can double. Plus, the last two sophomores to win AAA gold in the 800 each also ran the 4x8 (Mallon in ’08 and Brehm in ’13).

But Shue will need to jump the two top seeds in the competition to earn that gold. Collin Ebling of Pottsville proved me very wrong at his district championship, running under 50 seconds for 400 meters before turning around and crushing a 1:53.84 to win the 800 title over Sam Morgan of Parkland. Ebling has dropped the 400 to go all in on the 800 and, as the #2 seed in the event, that looks like a smart decision. He may be the favorite on paper.

Of course Franklin Regional’s Matt Busche will have something to say about that. Busche, who was a state medalist last year on his fourth race of the weekend, had a major breakthrough at the WPIAL championships. After living in the 1:56 range so far this spring, Busche found his legs at the right time and dominated a stacked field with a time of 1:53.31. He had a roughly 2 second margin of victory over Seth Ketler and holds nearly a second advantage in seed time for this championships.

The wildcards will be our buddies from District One. The states deepest district is sending 8 guys to states in this event, despite sub optimal conditions at Coatesville this past weekend. Aidan Sauer was the district champion last week and is all on in this event with no 4x8 qualified while a tight knit group followed within a second or so of the Pennsbury senior. Sauer’s brother ran 1:51.00 at this meet in 2015 to take silver behind state meet record holder John Lewis.

The Prelims
I said this in the AA preview and I’ll repeat again here – the 800 prelims at states are the hardest race to navigate in the state. The odds say that at least one big name will be bounced as we are talking 16-17 guys per heat fighting for just 4 automatic qualifying spots in the finals (the next 4 fastest times between the two heats will also advance, setting up a 12 person final). We’ve seen the #1 seed go out in the prelims more than once in recent years so no one is safe.

Ultimately, here are my guess for who advances: Matt Busche, Collin Ebling, Tyler Shue, Aidan Sauer, Jack Baker, Seth Ketler, Matt Eissler, Collin Ochs, Hudson Delisle, Ethan Zeh, Mitchell Forgash, Jed Scratchard.

This one was really hard for me to pick. The biggest name I left out was Sam Morgan of Parkland who I easily could have swapped in for one of the bubble picks. I like the advantage the District One guys will have after already seeing a prelim-final set up at their district meet this weekend. That could give them an edge.

Some other sleepers I left out include Seth Phillips of Mifflin County (low 1:55 PR, does have 4x8 duties), Jonah Powell (another 1:55 guy on the double) and Jared Thompson from Williamsport (1:56 victory at districts, but has the 400 on his schedule as well). I really like Matt Wehrle of Punxsutawney’s upside as a finals sleeper and you can’t count out anybody who wears the CR North jersey. Sam Earley has a history of showing up for the big meets and he started things rolling that way with a clutch PR at districts.

I think Baker is going to get an auto Q for Cedar Cliff, but he’s a little more vulnerable than others without some of the states experience. Mitchell Forgash of District 2 seems like a bit of a boom-bust pick, but he showed awesome potential at Shippensburg with his 1:56.10 best. I think he drops that this weekend. Jed Scratchard is my real wild card. He barely made it into this meet, needing a couple CB West scratches to qualify. But I honestly feel like that stroke of good fortunate is going to lead to something magical at states. He has a sub 1:55 PR and can handle this stage. If he gets on the podium, I’ll coordinate a meeting between him and the CB West guys to hug it out.

The Finals
I’m having a really difficult time calling this race. I think it’s not unrealistic to have a long list of potential champions. Clearly, I’ve been in Shue’s corner for much of the year, but the District One guys are super dangerous. Sauer and Eissler both ran strong times in crappy 800 conditions this past weekend and they already know how to handle two races in a weekend. Plus, both of these guys made the state finals last year (although Sauer didn’t actually run it). It’s no secret that I think Eissler has the talent to win the state title, but he’s got to get by guys with fresher legs.

Don’t count out a couple sleepers in Hudson Delisle and Collin Ochs. Delisle ran 1:52 this year and has been gradually working back to peak form this spring. He’s the top returner from last year’s meet and fits the story of an upset champion. Delisle’s been working back, waiting to peak at the right moment and, when it clicks, he’s the most talented for the field and grabs gold. That may be asking too much of Hudson, but is something to keep in the back of your mind. Ochs has really impressed me all season and I feel like the kid is just a winner. I suspect he’ll stick his nose in the race and contend on the last straightaway.

I don’t know what to make of Busche and Ebling honestly. I think Ebling has a better chance of winning gold because I’ve been super impressed by his 400-800 doubles and I like his raw speed. But Busche has been in this final before and ran well. Maybe this past week was the perfect breakthrough he needed to surprise at states. If he can cut three more seconds off his seed time again, I guarantee he will win.

Alright, enough chat. Here’s the picks.

8. Jed Scratchard 1:54.43
7. Hudson Delisle 1:54.02
6. Collin Ochs 1:53.96
5. Matt Busche 1:53.46
4. Matt Eissler 1:53.32
3. Aidan Sauer 1:53.16
2. Collin Ebling 1:52.80
1. Tyler Shue 1:52.65

2018 State Previews: AAA 1600m

AAA 1600m
The Stage
A year ago the 1600 was one perhaps the wildest race of the state championships with a slew of runners battling on the last lap. Breaking through with a massive PR and an upset victory was Isaac Kole of Carlisle, who won the race in 4:12. Trying hard to run him down in the final meters was Owen J. Robert’s Liam Conway, who enters this year’s race as the top returner and reigning indoor state champ (in the mile and the 800). Conway’s personal best from last year’s state championships is 4:13.00, which makes him the fastest guy in this field on paper. He’s also proven that his tactics are sound and he can win a variety of races, including a kicker’s style format that seems so common in championship settings.

Although Conway won a competitive district one final, he does not enter as the #1 seed. Instead, that honor belongs to Evan Addison of LaSalle. Addison has been strong in the mile to date, but Conway has had his number in the big races to date. However, Addison has strong together some consistent results including a new 3200 PR at Henderson (finishing ahead of Conway) and now a 4:13.85 bomb at the District 12 championships (which he won by 8 seconds over his two teammates). Suddenly the LaSalle senior looks like a championship contender.

Two juniors won the other major districts, 3 and 7, as Jack Wisner of Carlisle and Cameron Binda of Greensburg Salem enter as perhaps unlikely #2 and #3 seeds. Neither of these guys has made a state championship final, but both have killer momentum. Wisner looks to keep the title in house for Carlisle while Binda is accompanied by two other promising teammates, including his twin brother Dylan.

Lastly, you’ve got to mention the story of the year in the 1600 – the District 2 boys. Tyler Wirth and Kyle Burke have been fantastic this year and the pair dueled to a second straight memorable district championship, with Burke outlasting Wirth. Tyler has the faster PR, running 4:14 in a match up with Burke earlier in the year (Kyle ran 4:16). These two should both have state gold aspirations and, perhaps more importantly, will have their own inter-district rivalry to help propel them around the track.

The Prelims
I’m sure you getting sick of me explaining this by now, but I’ll say it again in case this is the first one of these you’ve read. To get to the finals of the 1600, runners will need to survive the qualifying heats. That means they need to be top 4 in their heat or among the next 4 fastest times from the two heats combined. In total, that’s 12 guys through to the finals.

Here’s who I have slated to be those 12 guys: Evan Addison, Kyle Burke, Tyler Wirth, Liam Conway, Jonah Hoey, Jack Wisner, Cameron Binda, Dylan Binda, Connor Shields, Kyle Malmstrom, Jonah Powell, Nathan Grucelski.

There were some tough omissions here. I think heat two looks pretty darn formidable with four of the biggest names around all in that heat so I wouldn’t want to have drawn that heat from an auto perspective, but maybe someone is willing to take the pace and keep things quick enough that they get extra time qualifiers. Meanwhile, in the other section, I think this sets up nicely for Jack and Cameron, who can transition a bit onto the big stage without having to battle all the biggest names. That being said, I really like sleepers from this heat like Jonah Powell and Chayce Macknair (if he can double back from the 4x8 well, he will be a finalist).

Dylan Binda’s run at the WPIALs was really impressive. The kid has great 800 speed, but he didn’t have much 1600 experience. Smart coaching from this squad to push Dylan up in distance and let him use that speed to drop a fast PR at 4:21. And good for Dylan for not being afraid of the longer event. He may just be starting to scratch the surface of his potential (and he gets to race alongside his brother in the prelims).

I’m rooting for Matsumura of Southern Lehigh to have a big race. He’s overcome injuries to run away with the district title and qualify for a second straight state meet. He’s definitely a sleeper. Then you’ve got some guys on the 4x8 double in Patrick Anderson and Aiden Tomov who have proven they could be state medalists on the right day that I’ve also left out of the finals. Super soph Anderson seems like a likely candidate to make me look silly for leaving him out of the final. I’m still surprised he dropped the race he did at districts.

The Finals
I think this is going to be a truly exciting race once again. I’d say Conway is the favorite (and will probably be my pick to win at the end of this paragraph), but I also suspect this race is going to have some wild moments. People know about Conway’s kick, particularly Addison who has seen it up close. Maybe he uses some of that 4:13 strength to make a mid-race surge and throw a wrench in Conway’s race plan. How to Wirth and Burke figure in? These guys both have big kicks and they’ve run some really quick 16s so they won’t be afraid of a quick pace. It doesn’t feel like either of these guys will be crowned the champion on Saturday, but did it really feel like Kole would be this time last year? How about Matt Kravitz or Joe Espinal before him?

Ultimately, I think the state champ will end up being whoever has the best day from those four. I’ve been riding hard for Cameron Binda all spring, but I think the junior may be a year away from winning gold on this stage. The same is true for Jack Wisner. He’s come on at the perfect time (typical Carlisle), he’s got championship pedigree all around him and he’s got a strong finishing kick. But again, I think he’s a year away.

I’d be stunned to see this guy win the title, but you know who is really, really good? Jonah Powell of Grove City. He was able to cruise a bit at districts, but the Grove City junior has run a 4:20 mile and a 1:55 800 this season. He was 3rd in the state in XC and has raced some of the biggest names out west. Don’t sleep on him just because he didn’t run fast at districts. We’ll see if the decision to double up between 16 and 8 spreads him thin at all.

Of course, we’ve got to mention the biggest name in the room. Jonah Hoey, brother of state record holder Josh Hoey and 2015 1600 state champ Jaxson Hoey, is entered in this event after taking 2nd at the District One championships. He chose the 16 over the 800 which I found a surprising choice (he’s run 1:53 this year), but that means that this sophomore has confidence in his ability to close and go for the win in this race.

Like I said at the top, this one is tough to call. The door seems open for an upset compared to indoors, but I see the crazy race this year being the 800 (not that we can’t have two) so I think this one holds a bit more true to form.

8. Jack Wisner, Carlisle 4:16.54
7. Jonah Hoey, Bishop Shanahan 4:16.30
6. Jonah Powell, Grove City 4:15.98
5. Cameron Binda, Greensburg Salem 4:15.13
4. Evan Addison, LaSalle 4:14.45
3. Kyle Burke, Abington Heights 4:14.01
2. Tyler Wirth, Wallenpaupack 4:13.23
1. Liam Conway, Owen J Roberts 4:12.75

2018 State Previews: AAA 4x800m

AAA 4x800m
The Stage
The defending champions from CB West will look to repeat as gold medal winners in this event after claiming the District One title this past weekend. Making things more interesting – West got that District victory without the guy who anchored them to the 2017 championship, Jake Claricurzio, as the senior was kept fresh for the open 800 according to the Penntrack twitter feed. West won’t have that conflict of interest to worry about at states as Claricurzio and Brian Baker both scratched from the open event to focus on the relay(s).

If CB West wins the gold medals this spring, it will be the first time we’ve seen back to back champions in this event since North Penn did it in 2007-2008. Other squads have come close including, ironically, State College who CB West narrowly edged out in last year’s final.

There are a long list of teams hoping to unseat West including, oh man another ironic twist, a long list of teams from the West. Five teams cracked 8 minutes at the WPIAL championships meaning the district is responsible for five of the top 10 seeds. Seneca Valley, the indoor state champions in the DMR over CB West, won the district title in the 7.

The Prelims
In case you skipped the AA posts, there will be two preliminary heats on Friday from which 12 teams will be selected for Saturday’s final. The qualifiers are selected as follows: top 4 places in each heat plus the next four fastest times overall. As of the typing of this post, I have yet to see Heat Sheets which, normally, isn’t a big deal as they typically just snake the seeds. However, it looks like they let 6 automatics from District 3 in this year (listed online as 5) and I’m not sure if that’s intentional or not so that could affect the seedings if they take somebody out.

Another interesting wrinkle with respect to the prelims is the lack of a District One presence. The last four seasons there have been 6, 6, 7 and 7 District One teams in the state finals for the 4x8, accounting for 23 of the 32 state medals handed out during that span. However, this year we only saw 5 teams get through the slop at Coatesville which means there will be some new blood in the state championship final. That’s good news for qualifiers from small districts like Parkland (D11) and LaSalle (D12).

Despite that advantage, I think the West ends up picking up the slack and sending through a crop of it’s own squads to the state final. Here’s what I think the top 12 will be: Seneca Valley, Butler, Ephrata, CB West, Pennridge, Mifflin County, Mount Lebanon, North Allegheny, CB East, Boyertown, State College, Haverford.

Assuming I’m mapping out the heats correctly, the second heat is going to be absolutely stacked. My top 12 has eight teams from that heat and it doesn’t even count some of my D3 sleepers like Cumberland Valley and Twin Valley. Meanwhile, in the other heat you have someone like Butler among the top seeds, but it’s not necessarily guaranteed their best runner in Noah Beveridge will be featured in the line-up as he has some serious individual title aspirations in the 3200 the next morning.

LaSalle was left out of my top 12, but they would be a very interesting team. We won’t see Addison or Twomey in the prelims (they’ve got the 16), but if, hypothetically, this deep team can find a spot in the finals and one of their individual pieces falters, they can make a swap and add another lethal piece to the puzzle. They and Indiana are my two biggest sleepers that I left out of the prelims. I’m also intrigued a lot by Parkland who has two full blown stars in Morgan and Ringer.

The Finals
On paper, this race seems like CB West’s to lose. They are the defending champions from last outdoors. They are the defending champions from this past indoors. They’ve got three legs back from the squad that ran 7:40 last year and a deep crop of guys to pick from to fill the remaining slots. West is deep enough they can even rest one of their top guys in the prelims to keep fresher for the finals. They are the only squad who has three legs with the ability to go 1:54 or better and Claricurzio looks more and more like his state champion form with every week. It’s definitely the safe pick.

That being said I’ve taken a good hard look at three other competitors. First is Seneca Valley. The WPIAL champs ran 7:46 last year and return all four legs from that squad. Since that race, Seth Ketler has taken massive strides forward and developed into an individual qualifier at 800 as well as a top 10 guy during XC. They seem to be a bit more distance based than the CB West boys who have monster raw speed, but this team is ultra-talented. That indoor DMR win said a lot about what this team was ready for this spring and, because they have barely contested the 4x8, I think we haven’t come close to seeing their potential. Expect them to contend for gold.

I’ve made no secret about the fact that I expect Pennridge to compete for gold. After the Rams topped CB West at their home invite, I thought Pennridge was ready to claim the throne. However, since that time West has gotten them back at both leagues and districts. Still, I think Pennridge is going to rock the state championships. If they can keep Matt Eissler close for the finish, he’s got a great chance to match any of the other anchors in this field. Anderson Dimon, the 48 second 400 star, could be an x-factor if featured, but they will need Luke Eissler and Brashear to give them 1:56ish legs or better to make sure West doesn’t pull ahead. I feel like the Rams tend to peak almost perfectly for states and that 7:40 from a few years back is still ringing around in my head. If they are healthy and all-in on this relay, I still believe they can win it.

Then there’s Ephrata. While I’ve been focusing on the D1 and D7 depth, Ephrata has been quietly dominating the competition in the middle of those two districts. They absolutely rolled through the D3 championships, were the top 4x8 at Penn Relays and, oh by the way, they have the fastest individual leg of the bunch. Tyler Shue, who split a 1:52 lead off at Penn Relays, may be just a soph, but he’s an absolute beast in the 800. The kid honestly reminds me of Tom Mallon which (for those of you who are old like me) is high praise. Mallon won 3 straight titles in the 800 from 2008 to 2010. It looks like they’ve transitioned Shue from lead to anchor as well, which is another interesting variable.

But the key to an Ephrata victory won’t be Shue. The more interesting guys to me are Morales and particularly Andrew Foster. Morales has been excelling in the open 8 (clocked a 1:56 at districts) and Foster has been a force in the longer stuff (he won the District title in the 3200). He gave up a realistic medal chance in the open 32 so that he could ride with his relay compatriots and they will without a doubt need a fast split from him if they are going compete for gold.

Those are the big four in my eyes. I’d be surprised about anyone outside that core four leaving with the state gold. I like what I’ve seen from Butler, but there’s too much up in the air with Beveridge and the 32-4x8 double. They could steal grab some medals, but I don’t see them mixing it up with these low 7:40 type squads. I like CB East’s upside. I’m intrigued to see how they handle the moment. David Endres is their best leg, but guys like Motter and Bardwell will likely dictate the team’s success. The District 6 teams have a legacy of big performances, particularly State College. Mifflin County has been the better team to date and they have two bigger stars (Seth Phillips and Chase Macknair), but SC may be a bit more balanced. We will see if that State College magic is still floating around on the Shippensburg track.

My #1 sleeper pick, though, is Mount Lebanon. Brandenstein and Everhart are both 1:56 guys in the open and then they have another two sub 2 guys along side them. Patrick Anderson has been racing like a man possessed lately as he crushed the 1600 at WPIALs. They may be the best shot at matching the depth of CB West through 4 legs, but they will need to prove they have the firepower to stick around on the anchor. We were robbed of seeing this fall’s Lebo squad at states. Now that we’ve got their spring distance relay here, let’s see what they can do with this opportunity.

When the dust settles, here’s what I think the results will show:

8. North Allegheny 7:51.85
7. CB East 7:50.56
6. Mifflin County 7:49.75
5. Mount Lebanon 7:46.04
4. Ephrata 7:45.49
3. Seneca Valley 7:43.22
2. CB West 7:41.98
1. Pennridge 7:41.15

2018 State Previews: AA 800m

AA 800m
The Stage
A year ago, Kamil Jihad of Neumann Goretti and Tyler Leeser came battling down the final straightaway in the quest for gold in the open 800, only to have Rob Reichenbaugh of Freeport turn the tables on everyone with an upset victory. The homestretch probably left a bitter taste in both juniors mouths and now they will each have their chance for vengeance as Jihad and Leeser enter as co-favorites in this event.

This match-up is three years in the making as, in the blazing fast 2016 edition of this race, Jihad and Leeser both medaled in the race with then bests of 1:52 and 1:55. Last year, neither could top that seed as Jihad was forced into more of a front runner role while Leeser was doubling off the 1600. Now both will be fresh (or at least fresher as Leeser may be featured in the 4x8 finals) and will hold nothing back in their last chance at a first state gold.

The Prelims
The 800 prelims are perhaps the most lethal heats in the state meet. In order to qualify for Saturday’s final, runners must survive the preliminary round by placing top 4 in one of the two qualifying heats. If they don’t get one of these automatic spots, they must have one of the fastest four times of the remaining runners.

With 14 guys packed together, sprinting for position, things can get crowded. Experience and poise are always important at states, but their value is almost double in an 800 prelim. I’ve got to give priority in my projected qualifiers to the guys who I’ve seen deliver before in this same spot. Ultimately, here’s the dozen advancers as I see them: Tyler Leeser, Tyler Bailey, Griffin Sites, Kamil Jihad, Zach Tingley, Christian Tanner, Jake Schneider, Liam Aro, Ben Reisenweaver, Sam Cunkelman, Sebastian Brudnicki and Josh Yourish.

I really had a hard time piecing together this field. There is a long list of guys with 4x8 duties to pair with their 800 prelims. While I think that double is easier than the 4x8-16, it’s still not a walk in the park against state caliber guys. You’ve also got guys with 16-8 doubles factoring in, another tricky scheduling move.

Ultimately, I sided often with experience and picked some guys from programs that have a strong recent history of showing up for this meet (like Seneca and Boiling Springs) and then just jumped on the D2 bandwagon as I learned a year ago not to underrate these guys.

The Finals
With all due respect to Tyler Bailey (who has had a monstrous season to date), I think this race will be between Jihad and Leeser for the title. Both guys have to really be locked in after last season and, unlike Bailey, this race will be the #1 goal. In recent results, Leeser has been the better of the two. He beat Jihad last year in this event (on the double) and comes in with the best seed time, almost 4 second ahead of Jihad’s. However, I’m not sure those seeds are comparable as Kamil didn’t run in a district meet with the standards of D4. If Kamil has his best day, he’s going to be hard to stop and his PR (1:52 low) is out of this world.

I suspect these two will battle early and things may end up being close all the way to the line (especially if Leeser helps on the pace early and Jihad can relax a bit more), but it feels like it’s going to be Leeser’s year for the gold to me.

I’m very excited to see Bailey mix it up with these two. I’m not sure how much he will have left after the 4x8, but sometimes guys get an extra spring if they have a big carry early in the day to give them confidence. Of course, you also see guys who already have golds not be able to find that extra gear as the fire is a little bit diminished. The knife can cut both ways. To me, Bailey has been good enough that he deserves consideration for a top 3 spot and is worth mentioning as an outside contender for the win, but he will have a very tough time getting by his district rival in Leeser who has been a step ahead thus far in 2018.

I really like the season Griffin Sites has had this year. He’s a pretty fearless guy with excellent top end speed. He dropped a nice PR at districts and has good state experience (he excelled here a year ago and enters as one of the top returners). I don’t want to put too much stock in the District 4 times (they were lightyears ahead of the other districts because of competition/weather/etc.), but you have to note the guys who are running fast when it counts and will have the experience running fast times to be mentally prepared for this sort of challenge.

Christian Tanner is my wild card. Seeing him race at the District 9 championship was impressive and he flashed a lot more raw speed than I thought he would have. This is a junior with XC hardware already in his trophy case. It’s not unreasonable to guess he will add some track bling sometime soon.

All that said, here’s who I’m giving my medal-winning spots to:

8. Liam Aro 1:56.92
7. Josh Yourish 1:56.58
6. Christian Tanner 1:56.17
5. Zac Tingley 1:55.95
4. Tyler Bailey 1:55.50
3. Griffin Sites 1:55.14
2. Kamil Jihad 1:54.09
1. Tyler Leeser 1:53.16

2018 State Previews: AA 1600m

AA 1600m
The Stage
A year ago Winchester Thurston junior Tristan Forsythe took control of this race early and never looked back as he clocked a personal best 4:12 en route to his first individual state gold. Since then, Forsythe has added a gold medal in cross country, a new PR in the 3200 and a trophy room full of WPIAL related hardware. The senior seems confident, healthy (a key for him) and poised for a second straight victory. It’s worth noting that the last two juniors to win the AA title in this event were Domenic Perretta and Ryan Smathers, both of whom retained their golds a year later (in slower times).

While Smathers (after the Jewett DQ) and Perretta entered the state final as big favorites, there will definitely be some upset buzz around Forsythe. For starters, Joe Cullen of Wyomissing is back in this race again, after finishing second in this race last spring. He ran his personal best of 4:13 last year with a massive last lap kick. If he can keep the gap a bit tighter to Forsythe this season, he could surprise in the final meets. There will also be plenty of buzz around Juniata super soph Garrett Baublitz. As a freshman, Garrett made the state finals and ran under 4:20. This year, he enters with a much better pre-states PR, a state medal from XC and plenty more experience and confidence. Is the sophomore ready to make the leap to state champion?

The Prelims
In case you missed it in the other posts, State Championship Friday will feature the qualifying round for the sprint and (most) distance finals. In the 1600, there will two heats with the top 4 in each heat advancing automatically to Saturday’s final. After those 8 spots are claimed, the next four fastest times are also pushed through, making for a 12 person final.

So here’s my 12 picks for the final: Tristan Forsythe, Garrett Baublitz, Joe Cullen, Ethan Knoebel, Andrew Stanley, Brandon Curely, Gordon Pollock, Will Bucher, Jacob Martinez, Alex Patton, Dan Bici and Jonathan Asay. I’m assuming, in this case, that we don’t see Forsythe or Pollock on their 4x8, nor do we see Bici for Masterman or Stanley for Southern Huntingdon.

This field is pretty interesting to me. There’s some big firepower out front, but the fight to make the finals (and chase a medal) appears pretty wide open. There are only 25 entries with just 9 guys breaking the SQS in qualifying. Typically, it will take mid to low 4:20s to get a state medal so guys will either need to shed some time or we will see a slower than average result. My guess is we see some PRs.

I gave some serious thought to the freshman in this field – Colton Sands of Penns Valley and Ian Zimmerman of Northern Bedford, but ultimately left both guys out of my projected final. Sands has a really fast seed (4:28) and awesome distance strength. Plus, this kid has proven he doesn’t run like a freshman in the big meets. This past fall he was the #1 guy for the state champions in A. But I ultimately got scared off by the fact that he might have a 4x8 to navigate. You’ll notice that’s a theme for me. I’m naturally afraid of guys who attempt the 4x8-16 double. It’s really tight and, although guys do it successfully every year (see Cullen or Owen Wing last year), it doesn’t make it any less difficult (there’s plenty of non-success stories as well).

The Finals
I’m interested to see what type of race Forsythe tries to run. A year ago, he took the reigns early and never looked back. He blitzed a 4:12 that nobody else in the race could handle. That threw off my predictions as I thought it would be more of a kicker’s race (I had Tyler Leeser winning this race last year for the record). Will Tristan try the same strategy this year? He’s clearly the strongest in the field based on XC and the 3200 and, although he has capable 800 meter speed, his own teammate Gordon Pollock has the fastest invite time of the Winchester Thurston boys. So I’m expecting Forsythe to make a well timed surge and not leave this thing to chance in a kick.

If anyone is going to beat Forsythe, I think it has to be Cullen. There’s a small part of me that thinks he may get a shot at this race fresh (Wyomissing may be deep enough to medal in the 4x8 without him). That would make this race very interesting. However, if the 4x8 is a tooth and nail fight to the finish between three teams (spoiler alert: that’s what I predicted it would be), then that could leave Joe more tired than he was this time last year. If Cullen wins, it will remind me a lot of the Alex Milligan victory from a few years back and may take a similarly large PR (Milligan went from 4:16 to 4:10 after running a 1:52 anchor leg on the gold medal 4x8 to defeat all-timers Josh Hoey and Mike Kolor).

Baublitz is awesome and really wow-ed me with his performance last state meet as a freshman, but I don’t quite think he’s ready to beat someone who is as experienced and accomplished as Forsythe. That being said, Baublitz can hang on when the inevitable surge comes and respond when the kicking happens, he’s got a real chance. Keep in mind, Garrett dropped a big 32 best this year (low 9:30s) and was a monster during XC. He’s got that extra strength as a sophomore.

Gordon Pollock has a chance to really surprise in this race. I’ve been super impressed with his results to date. I originally thought that he should go for the 800 instead of the 16 considering how much success he’s had in that event this year, but after reviewing the two fields, this was a smart choice. He can run low 4:20s on the right day and has some of the best sprint speed in the group. There is a world where Winchester Thurston goes 1-2 in this event and it wouldn’t be a surprise if we are living in the world come Saturday afternoon.

Personally, I think Jacob Martinez of Palmerton has had a monster season. He and Dan Bici are guys that you didn’t see their full 1600 potential at districts because they didn’t need to use it all in order to advance. My guess is they cut a good amount of time off their seeds and mix it up for the medals.

The big sleeper for a top 3 finish is Ethan Knoebel. This junior has had a monster season and has sneaky good 800 wheels to pair with his awesome 1600 ability. He’s picked up a lot of experience racing the loaded District 4 and should be confident in his ability to advance through the prelims to the finals (seeing as he did it last year). This year, I think he takes the next step to the podium.

With all that in mind, here’s what I’ll give you for predictions:

8. Martinez 4:26.94
7. Bucher 4:26.11
6. Curley 4:24.84
5. Knoebel 4:22.37
4. Pollock 4:21.95
3. Baublitz 4:17.03
2. Cullen 4:16.80
1. Forsythe 4:14.65

2018 State Previews: AA 4x800m

AA 4x800m
The Stage
After two years of state championships for District 10’s Seneca, the AA division will see a new champion in the state’s longest relay. The 2018 season has seen a few teams already dip under the 8 minute mark (a barrier only Seneca descended at last year’s meet) including the top two qualifiers from District 3 – Wyomissing and Schuylkill Valley. Wyomissing, this past fall’s XC state champs, have been runner-up in this event each of the past two years and project to be in contention for at least this silver this time around. However, Wyomissing has individual qualifiers in the 3200 and 1600 and a deep rotation of relay pieces to pull from which complicates the picture. They will need to be on top of their game as Schuylkill Valley has already defeated them head to head this year for the state’s fastest time.

Although District 3 has two of the fastest teams, District 4 proved to be the deepest this past week. On Thursday night a whopping 8 relays cracked the SQS and punched their ticket for states. Fastest on that night was Mifflinburg, a team that been dominant in 2018. They ran 7:58 at districts and enter with the top seed as a result. It looks as though they return their entire core from last year’s medal winning relay. Behind Mifflinburg, District 4 holds the next 4 best seed times and 8 of the top 11 overall. Despite this, it seems unlikely that the district will qualify 8 teams for the state finals (it’s pretty unprecedented) so all of these schools will need to bring that same intensity to Shippensburg.

The Prelims
In the distance races, the top 12 marks will advance to the finals. Out of two prelims, that equates to the fastest 4 in each heat (regardless of time) and then the next best four times. As of the writing of this post, I haven’t seen the heat sheets yet, but they typically just snake the entries so I can guess what they will look like (in theory).

My picks for the final would be Mifflinburg, Danville, Mt Carmel, Warrior Run, Wyomissing, Schuylkill Valley, Riverside, Elk County Catholic, Holy Redeemer, Reynolds, Purchase Line, and Notre Dame GP. Notre Dame and Purchase Line are my two biggest bubble teams as they will need to crank it up from their seed times, but I like Purchase Line’s recent state experience and am a loyal supporter of Notre Dame, who I think can get some revenge on Tamaqua this weekend.

The toughest omissions from the final include the aforementioned Tamaqua (two guys with sub 2 potential, D11 champs), Central Columbia (monster race at District 4, excellent 400 speed on this roster), Milton (Tyler Leeser and Guinn-Bailey are a combined 6 seconds under 2 on the right day, but will they have the depth?) and Smethport (Christian Tanner is quietly emerging as a star in the middle distances). I also feel odd about having just one WPIAL squad in my finals so we will see if someone like Deer Lakes can have a big day and sneak into the top 12.

The Finals
From these 12 finalists, only 8 will make it to the medal stand and only one set of four will get to wear gold. In my opinion, this is a three horse race between Mifflinburg, Wyomissing and Schuylkill Valley. SV has the fastest time coming in and has a pretty balanced attack with good quarter speed. They have experience matching up with Wyomissing and the confidence to push them to the line. Ben Reisenweaver is their likely anchor (individual 800 state qualifier) and will have the pressure to bring home the race against two potentially game changing anchors. Tyler Bailey and Joe Cullen have both run 1:54 already this spring. If either gets it within striking distance of the leader, they can hawk down the gold.

That’s why I think this race is ultimately going to come down to these two teams. If the talent is comparable, I naturally drift to which anchor I think is most likely to bring it home. Looking back on his career, Cullen would be the logical pick to come out on top. He’s anchor a pair of silver medal squads and, as a freshman, was a part of a gold medal winning team. That being said, I’m going to play an instinct and pick Mifflinburg for the victory.

Although I don’t have any other squads quite on this team’s level, I do think there are a lot of high upside squads in this field. Elk County Catholic has the chance to do real damage. They are sub 8:10 team with room for more. The problem is Ben Hoffman is slated to run the 3200 final prior to the 4x8. That double is brutal and could cost them a few seconds. Holy Redeemer is another team that catches my eye. They had a fantastic series of runs in Shippensburg last year and come out of the often underrated District 2. By weekend’s end, I think they could be knocking on the door of sub 8. I’m also keeping an eye out for a bounce back race from Warrior Run. On the right day, they can be the second best team in the District (which, based on seed times, would make them #2 in the state as well) and a quick scan of the performance list makes it look like these guys will be fresher than many of their opponents.

The real wildcard to me is Riverside out of District 7. They absolutely dominated that meet and have been the clear #1 out West all year. What happens when they finally get the competition that fits with their talents? 8:05 seems almost like a conservative estimate given their excellence to date, but I also can’t tell you much about any of the guys who make up the relay (I think they have a very quick 400 guy moving up). The District 4 teams will be legit. Danville and Mount Carmel are two powers who showed up under the bright lights at districts. Both have experience on this stage and Mount Carmel is coming off a monster XC season. The thing to watch with them will be how Krystof Lapotsky figures into their finals relay (he’s slated for the 3200 prior to gun time in the 4x8).

Ultimately, here’s my final picks:

8. Mount Caramel 8:05.81
7. Riverside 8:04.33
6. Warrior Run 8:02.79
5. Holy Redeemer 8:01.20
4. Danville 8:00.96
3. Schuylkill Valley 7:56.25
2. Wyomissing 7:55.89
1. Mifflinburg 7:55.02

2018 District Picks - Projecting My Last State Meet

In XC the past few years, I’ve provided a full breakdown of every district with my picks for who is going to qualify for states. During the indoor season, I keep a running list of the top times in the state with a tracker of how the cutoffs are projecting. So I think it only makes sense that this year I try and break down every single district for track and field with some state qualifying picks and previews (for the distance events only, sorry to my non-distance fans). Because of my plan, I won’t be explicitly recapping all the league meet action, but those results will be rolled into some of the preview content. Feel free to play along at home with your own picks!

 This section will provide links to all the posts as they become available:

State Qualifying Info (auto-bids + qual times)


District 1 Championship Preview

District 1 AAA

District One is always tricky because a) they allow scratches so team’s enter basically everyone who has qualified and b) there are trails and finals to be concerned with. So these predictions will likely be terrible, but hey I’ll give it my best shot anyway. I’m a professional, dang it.

With the exception of the 3200 (which has no trials), I’ll give you my pick for which teams/individuals will qualify for the finals and then I’ll narrow it down to a top 8. I’m assuming that D1 will send 8 per event because that’s how they typically operate, but that could end up being optimistic (especially in the 32).  

Rusty Kujdych is the defending champion in this race and will enter as a heavy favorite. He’s clocked the best time in the district so far and is the reigning and XC and indoor state champion. Rusty also scratched out of the 1600 so you can bet all his focus will be on his marquee event. I would say this is a race for second, but last year we saw Will Griffen step up and nearly take an upset victory. Anything can happen when you are talking about the best guys in the state.

One of those best guys in the state is Henderson’s Spencer Smucker. He’s been mainly a miler in recent years but, after a 9:18 3200 at his home invite, it seems like Spencer is ready to try the longer event. He will bring a good combination of speed and strength to the event (has 4 XC state medals) and appears to be a safe bet for a state qualifying spot. He’s also entered in the 16 (which he might double up with), but I don’t think the trials in that race will take much sting out of his legs.

With Liam Conway expected to be a scratch, Tyler Rollins of DT West is the next highest seed. Rollins has past state qualifying experience, finished third at the indoor state meet for 3,000 meters and seems poised to deliver a big time at Coatesville. I think he rounds out a clear cut top 3.

Outside of that trio, it’s hard to pin down the state qualifying field. There are 16 guys between 9:34 and 9:42 (which is outside the SQS). Some of them are not a lock for this event (Brendan O’Toole, for example, is qualified in all 3 distance events) either. On paper, this doesn’t seem like a stacked group, but I felt like year’s past (particularly 2015) were similarly seeded and then those guys went out and blazed around the track for eight laps anyway. A few guys are going to have breakout races and my hope is that 8 guys go through to states out of this district.

So who is it going to be? Well, I’m crossing out Lewin and Forney (I think they go 16) and I tentatively am crossing out McKenna (I think he ends up pulling 4x8 duties, but I feel less strongly about this one). That makes my job a lot easier, but I still have to pick five guys.

No clue what O’Toole’s plan is as his range is crazy (has a great shot at advancing in the 32 or the 8). If he’s all in on this race, I like his chances of producing a big result. I’ll go with my gut and say he tries this event and gets one of the qualifying spots. I like Payton Sewall’s chances from DT West. I think he’s going to stick close enough to Rollins to get onto the podium. I’m also going to ride with Ryan Campbell. He’s making big progress with every race back and the kid has massive talent, but it’s never easy to qualify on a short window like this.

Rounding it out I’ll throw in Ben Bunch from CB West and Cole Walker from Unionville to finish the top 8. Walker did enough at this meet last year to make me buy in to his potential. Bunch could probably deliver a strong 4x8 leg if needed, but I see him delivering a strong PR performance in the longer event.

Watch for Ethan Koza as a big sleeper. Linus Blatz will be one of the most interesting wildcards of the weekend between this event and the 16 (and Owen J Roberts in general will be interesting to watch).

My picks (all advancing to states on time):

Kujdych, Rollins, Smucker, O’Toole, Campbell, Sewall, Walker, Bunch

So I’m going to push through a few major names right off the bat to finals – CB West, Pennridge, CB East. I’ll talk more about them later. I would normally push Pennsbury straight through as well, but I do find it a little odd that Javier Linares is not listed on their 4x8 entries. I’m not sure if this means they will scratch the 4x8 the way they did indoors (when they didn’t have Scratchard) or I’m just reading way too much into this and they will be title contenders. I’ll slot them into the finals on pure upside, but it will be interesting to see how they shake out.

Pennsbury is the leader in the clubhouse of the “if they go for it, they’ll be a finalist” category which also includes Spring Ford (popped a very quick 7:56 and has a strong recent history of showing up in the clutch), Boyertown (their 7:57 was a long time coming and may just be the tip of the iceberg for this squad) and Owen J. Roberts (if you have Conway and Malmstrom on the squad, you don’t need much else to break 8 minutes). My gut says Spring Ford and Boyertown push their chips in for the 4x8 while Owen J holds out their two stars.

We also have some interesting teams from further down the performance list. Radnor at #19 and Penn Wood at #18 both have high upside. It seems like Penn Wood is an annual “breaks out at districts” type squad. Radnor may have individual goals that trump the relay.

CR South was awesome during the indoor season, but enters this meet with just an 8:05 seed. Which CR South will we get on race day? They have a game changer in Collin Ochs, but he may be better off focusing on the individual event (where he is quickly gaining steam). DT West has a team line up and even without some of their flashy names, has the pieces to put together a time under the SQS. I’m a huge fan of Haverford’s squad. If they load up the relay, they seem like a really dangerous sleeper squad.

One more interesting (but probably unlikely wrinkle) – is there any way that Rusty hops on the 4x8 alongside sub 2 man Matt Taylor and tries to drag his relay to the final? It seems unlikely, but was fun to mention.

In the end, here are my projected 12 finalists: CB West, Pennridge, CB East, Pennsbury, CR South, Spring Ford, Boyertown, Bensalem, Haverford, DT West, Penn Wood, Radnor

Once we get to the finals, I think this ends up a two horse race for the championship. As mentioned, I’m nervous about Pennsbury loading up the relay, but I’m confident we get to see a CB West vs. Pennridge show down. In recent weeks, CB West has emerged as the deeper team. They get a big boost from Jake Claricurzio starting to hit some elite level stuff and they have three guys who can give you a 1:55 or better depending on the day. My guess is they win the district title this weekend, but I haven’t decided about states just yet.

Pennridge is loaded on paper and if they throw out the Dimon-Brashear-Eissler-Eissler line-up, I think they can be close to their school record by season’s end. I’m not sure we see that line up during district week (Dimon has some other things that I think may keep him off this relay), but I still see this squad as a clear top 3 team in the district and potentially a gold medalist this weekend.

I like CB East’s team a lot. Their readjusted order for the conference championships really worked well. I think they are on to something and expect them to advance. I’ve bought in on the clutch factor for Spring Ford. The only potentially complicating factor is McKenna in the 3200 beforehand. I’m buying Haverford stock and think Boyertown is getting the job done as well. Bensalem has a ton of speed on that roster and I like their history excelling in this relay (plus they have one of the fastest seeds).  

If Pennsbury wants it, they’ve got that last spot (and are a top 3 squad). We will see if they load up. If not, watch for Penn Wood to do their thing and sneak into the state championships.

My picks (all the top 8 advance to Shippensburg on time):

CB West, Pennridge, Pennsbury, Haverford, CB East, Spring Ford, Boyertown, Bensalem

Again, we’ve got a tricky group of entries to skim through. Now look, there’s not a ton of downside here for guys to enter this event if their focus is the 3200. The heats aren’t usually super taxing (depending on scratches and doublers) and, if you make to the finals, you double your opportunities for a state qualifier. That being said, if your focus is the 800, I think it’s safe to bet you are scratching. So that should throw out at least Jonah Hoey, Matt Eissler, Jed Scratchard and Ethan Zeh. Plus, some guys will either load up on the 4x8 or use the opportunity to get an extra little bit of rest relative to the competition in the 32.

In addition, the 4x8-16 double is no walk in the park. The top guys can usually handle it (especially if the 4x8s can coast a bit), but every once in a while there’s a few guys who have a hard time and blow up.

OK, with all that in mind, here are my picks for the 12 guys to advance to the finals (this was not easy): Liam Conway, Evan Kaiser, Josh Lewin, Kyle Malmstrom, Zack Forney, Avery Ledererer, Spencer Smucker, Jacob McKenna, Linus Blatz, Zach Smith, Aiden Tomov, Frank Brown

The back half of the finals is going to be pretty wild. It’s really hard for me to speculate about how good guys will feel coming off that 4x8 (and which goes will double up 16-32).

In the finals, I think it would be a shocker to see anyone but Liam Conway holding the gold. He’s the indoor state champ and has the best seed time by far (especially if Jonah Hoey scratches for the 800 like I think he will). He’s tactically sound and seems like a safe bet to get the job done. That being said, he’s no lock (I believe Scarpill pulled the upset last year) and in a kicker’s race anything can happen.

Outside Conway, I think it could end up a struggle to get 8 guys under that SQS. I think a lot of guys will be tired from one race or another. This might be the event where we don’t have 8 guys advance to states. Now that I say that, we will probably have 12 guys under 4:24, but you see my point.

My guess for the autos is:
Conway, Lewin, Malmstrom, Forney, Kaiser

Then it’s tricky. I’m surprised I’m doing this, but I’ll say only those 5 advance to states. The wildcard may end up being Lederer or maybe Blatz (if he doesn’t run the 32). Brown, Tomov, Smith, McKenna or Smucker would all be easy picks if I thought they’d be fresh as well, but realistically I think only maybe Brown can’t be expected to be on their second race by this stage.

It took me a while, but I think we’ve found the most stacked event in the district. We have 15 guys under 1:57 and it’s not crazy to imagine all 15 of them lining up for this race. Maybe the CB West guys don’t go for it if they are feeling invested in the 4x8-4x4 (last year they all scratched) and perhaps the OJR pair of Conway and Malmstrom prefer to focus exclusively on the 16 (Conway was a surprise scratch in the 800 last year, but this year I think he tries the double).

And that doesn’t even count the guys over 1:57 that I think have a great shot at advancing. I’m high on Sam Early from CR North, I wouldn’t sleep on Abington’s Josh Coleman and this kid Connor Hurst from Upper Moreland has been heating up too. Best of luck to everyone competing in this event and hopefully they keep the prelims small enough that everyone can stay on their feet.

This is going to be wild trying to sort out the finalists but here are my projections:
Jonah Hoey, Aidan Sauer, Matt Eissler, Collin Ochs, Liam Conway, Hudson Delisle, Ethan Zeh, David Endres, Jarnail Dhillon, Sam Earley, Jed Scratchard, Michael Clark

Geez, that was tough to type. I’m banking on the CB West guys not competing in this event, but if they do that’s bumping out some really talented names.

OK, now I need to bring this 12 down to 8?

Well, thus far this spring, Jonah Hoey has been the story. It wasn’t that long ago that his brother entered the district meet as a sophomore in the 1600 and left victorious. Now Jonah will enter this race as the favorite to keep things in the family. The only guy I can see giving him a challenge is Pennridge’s Matt Eissler, who is likely going to be on the double from a big carry in the 4x8. I’m a big Eissler fan and think he could pull this out, but I also have a habit of going with the fresh legs. I’ll take Hoey by a nose in what would be a huge victory for the sophomore. It sets up an outdoor states race where the two favorites for gold would both be sophomores (Hoey and Tyler Shue) which seems absurd to have event typed out.

My picks for the top 8:
Hoey, Eissler, Sauer, Ochs, Conway, Delisle, Clark, Earley

District 1 AA

Jack Miller and Josh Jackson will start their first of what could be three individual races with the 3200 meters. The pair of Jenkintown runners will be heavy favorites as they are the only two guys under 10:30 (and they are sub 10). Both have also already pocketed XC state medals during this year. The tricky thing is that only one of these two guys is guaranteed a spot in the state meet, the other has to hit the time. So will they time trial together to both advance to Shippensburg or trade off events (they are also the two top seeds in the 1600). My money is on Miller to advance here (and I think he could make serious noise at states in the 3200) and I don’t think these guys will tire themselves out in this event – in fact Jackson may not even run it.

Dock Mennonite has historically been the power of this event in recent seasons. They have the best 4x4 and 4x8 by seed and, with Jenkintown’s top two guys off the relay, it seems like Dock should roll to the victory in this four team field.

As alluded to previously, the Jenkintown boys will enter as heavy favorites in the 1600 just like the 32. Again, only one of them is guaranteed a spot at states. In this event, Jackson is only seeded at 4:39, a good ways away from the 4:31 time he would need to qualify for states if he were to finish 2nd in this race. On paper, Miler has been the better miler this year, but who knows if this pair has a plan for getting both to states. I say Jack wins, but we may see Josh toe the line in a week out west.

Miller and Jackson will contest their third race of the day, but this time they won’t be the favorites. Both Jenkintown guys are seeded at 2:03, but Ian Anderson of Dock and Michah Shaw of Phil-mont have clocked 2:02 this season and are the top two seeds. Shaw is the top returner from last year, having finished in 3rd that spring. Anderson has a faster season best at 2:02 and has 50.99 400 speed, but he’s going to double up with the 4 and the 8 this weekend. That could lead to an upset by Shaw. For the official prediction, I’ll pick Anderson, but I gave Shaw some serious thought.

If Miller or Jackson can pull out the win, it could be the end of an epic triple. There is a short list of all timers who have swept the distance events at a district championship.