The Regionals Are Coming: Footlocker

I’ve recently been using my computer mostly for 1999 Backyard Football so let’s see if these writing muscles still work …

Footlocker Qualifiers Fact Sheet
Some of PA’s best runners in the state will compete this weekend for a spot on the line in California for the prestigious Footlocker Championships. The top 10 runners in this weekend’s regional championship will qualify for the National finals. It’s as simple as that. Historically, PA has had 23 qualifiers over the past 11 seasons (about 2 per year). That doesn’t count PA residents who go to school out of state (i.e. Dalton Hengst, Phil Wood). So, if you are a numbers guy, you’d place your bets on 2 guys to make it out of this regional in NY.

Flipping back through the history, let’s take a look at our profile of Footlocker finalists. I’ve organized the names by the place at Footlocker Northeast Regionals.

1st – Brad Miles (2009), Noah Affolder (2016)
2nd – Mark Dennin (2007), Jake Brophy (2015), Sam Affolder (2016)**
4th – Casey Comber (2014), Brendan Shearn (2012)
5th – Chris Aldrich (2007), Jake Brophy (2014)*, Dustin Wilson (2011), Rad Gunzenhauser (2009)
7th – Vince McNally (2007), Max Norris (2012)
8th – Chris Campbell (2010), Ryan Gil (2009)*, Zach Skolnekovich (2016)
9th – Paul Springer (2006), Zach Hebda (2010), Nathan Henderson (2016), Brent Kennedy (2012)*
10th – Ross Wilson (2013), Austin Pondel (2012), Ben Furcht (2008)

Out of that group of 23, the majority were seniors. We’ve had just three junior qualifiers (denoted with a *) and one sophomore (denoted with a **).

Now let’s look at this by year.

2006 – 1 (10th)
2007 – 3 (2nd, 5th, 7th)
2008 – 1 (10th)
2009 – 3 (1st, 5th, 8th)
2010 – 2 (9th, 10th)
2011 – 1 (5th)
2012 – 4 (4th, 7th, 9th, 10th)
2013 – 1 (10th)
2014 – 2 (4th, 5th)
2015 – 1 (2nd)
2016 – 4 (1st, 2nd, 8th, 9th)

If you are looking for some type of trend, we rarely follow up a big qualifier year with another big qualifier year. That means we could only end up with 1 guy this year. Personally, I’m leaning towards two getting in, but you never know. It’s a tough, ultra-competitive meet.

OK, now that’s look back and figure out how the Foolocker qualifiers finished at their respective state championships. First, let’s take a look at only the AAA qualifiers. AAA qualifiers make up the majority of the qualifiers as only Brendan Shearn, Dustin Wilson and Zach Skolnekovich punched a ticket from outside the large schools.

1st @ States – 5
2nd @ States – 5
3rd @ States – 5
4th @ States – 2
6th @ States – 1
11th @ States – 1
18th @ States – 1

Note that our two AA national qualifiers were both 2nd at states in what most would consider upsets. Dustin Wilson (from the Independent league) was a runaway champ in his league by perhaps the largest margin in meet history (I think he was also a back to back champion if memory serves).

Yes, there have been a few guys that look like long shots (18th and 11th at states), but note that those two guys (McNally and Furcht) were district champs and were my individual state champion picks prior to the state meet. Which brings me to the next point, where did I predict each of these guys to finish at states? Now for some of them, I won’t know exactly (I didn’t always have a blog), but I’ll estimate for the sake of the exercise.

1st @ States – 7 {Miles, Affolder, Brophy (2015), McNally, Campbell, Springer, Furcht}

So basically the guy I picked to win states made Footlocker Nats 7 out of 11 years. The years I didn’t would have been 2011 (no AAA runners made it), 2012 (my predicted champ ran NXN, my runner-up was Brent Kennedy who made nationals), 2013 (I didn’t make official predictions during my gap year but my pick went to NXN, my runner-up probably would have been Ross Wilson who ended up making FL Nats), 2014 (I did a weird prediction thing that year, but my top guys who ended up going to FL were likely Abert, Brophy, Comber and Power).

When you think about, my top predicted runner out of those who competed at Footlocker usually ended up making Footlocker, even when they didn’t win the state championship. Now that isn’t meant to make me sound like a genius or justify all my whiffs at states, but is meant more to indicate that typically, the best guy in the state all year ends up in the National Championships more so than they end up the state champion.

It also means that guys who have redemption on their mind during their training block are more likely to post big results at regionals. That was the story behind Skolnekovich last fall. It was also the story in years past for guys like Ben Furcht and Neal Berman (11th), the North Hills monster (Hebda, Silenieks in 11th, Kush in 13th) and more. Also worth mentioning, notice that these guys had training partners run with them through the end of the season. It’s a long grind to train the extra weeks and having a guy there by your side really helps.

I say that kind of stuff every year so if you’ve been reading me for a while you probably could have predicted yourself what half of these paragraphs would be saying. But now I’m going to take all that rambling and turn it into a prediction.

I’ve got Rusty Kujdych making it to Footlocker. He’s been our #1 guy all season and has tested himself in some big time meets. He doesn’t have experience at this particular meet which scares me a tiny bit, but the guy has undoubtedly been our biggest star in 2017. I’d be surprised if he isn’t in the top 10. To be fair, I don’t know anything about the big names outside of PA, but my hunch is a top 5 finish for Rusty. Maybe 3rd because we haven’t had one of those in a while.

I also think Noah Beveridge is going to get in. Maybe I’m being stubborn since I picked him to win states, but I like the Butler senior’s ability to peak. He has a training partner in Brett Brady who looks like he is extending his season through to regionals. He has experience from racing here a year ago. I feel like he probably has a little redemption on his mind as well. Even though he ran well at states, he may have been hoping for a bit more as he was closer to 3rd than 1st. I could see Noah sneaking in around 10th.

After that, I don’t see anybody cracking the top 10. However, there are some names that should be noted. #1 is Josh Hoey of Bishop Shanahan. It appears that he and his brother Jonah are signed up for this meet. If Josh ends up running, it is undoubtedly with the goal of qualifying for Footlockers. As we saw during XC last year, Josh is not afraid to go all in on track season at the expense of XC so the fact that he is skipping some of his track training blog to chase a nationals spot should indicate he is hungry and motivated. He likely was hoping to be competing for a state title as well last weekend and finished “just” 7th in the field. I’ve got a feeling he will bounce back, potentially really picking off guys the second half of the race. I could see him in that 8-12 range. I don’t have him in, but it would be silly to count him out completely.

Morgan Cupp and Tyler Wirth will likely be competing for scoring spots on the PA team. Cupp has had a very consistent season. I’m not sure he can pop off the otherworldly performance it takes to break into that top 10, but he is the kind of guy that could definitely dip into the top 20 or better. Cupp has two top 50 state finishers in his lockerroom that are helping him train these few weeks as well. That makes him an x-factor. As for Wirth, he’s just a junior in his first XC season so he’s not your typical Footlocker qualifier, but he’s also a massive talent who placed 5th in the state. So really the sky is the limit for this kid from Wallenpaupack. I’m very excited he is racing this meet if for no other reason than he will gain some valuable experience for a national qualifying attempt during his senior year.

Mitchell Etter of State College (state medalist and district champ), Czar Tarr, Christian Groff, Andrew Foster and Owen Isham are all compelling AAA entries.

From the smaller sections, we have the 3rd and 4th place finishers from A (Jack Miller and Andrew Healey) as well as AA bronze medalist Jonah Powell. All of these guys are underclassmen (Healey a sophomore), meaning they have a chance to make noise this year and next year if things break right. Their performances this weekend, while long shots for a big run to the top 10-12, could set the tone for a run at a state championship or national qualifying performance next year. Plus, this is a chance to prove to the large school elites that they belong in the conversation for tops in the state. Don’t sleep on South Fayette’s Sam Snodgrass either. If he shows up for this meet after his state meet where he slipped back a bit in the second half of the race, he has the “redemption” card to play. Much like Zach Skolnekvoich, another AA WPIAL guy, Snodgrass could be just hungry enough to upset some people.

The independent league duo of Elias Lindgren and Peter Borger will also be in the mix. The independent league school, in my opinion, lends itself a bit better to a regionally timed peak as their state championship isn’t hyped in quite the same way as the PIAAs. And for the record, Borger and Lindgren are really good runners. We haven’t seen them much against the elite AAA talent, but we will get a real good look at them this weekend and I think people will be impressed. Remember, everyone is in the same field for indoor states and this race could set a tone for these independent leaguers at PSU next year.

A few more names I haven’t mentioned yet: Evan Kreider of Cocalico, Brett Pope of Bellefonte, Ben Reisenweaver of Schuylkill Valley, Andrew Stanley of Southern Huntington, Mark Brown of Greensburg Salem and Jacob Underwood of Wilson. Some youngsters will hit the cross including the ultra talented Penns Valley freshmen (alongside senior leader Chris Colwell), sophomore sensations like Ben Hoffman and Garrett Baublitz and other notable freshmen like Brayden Harris of Mifflin County and Van May of Bedford.

These entries are based on the Footlocker website that I skimmed earlier this morning. More names may pop up (post them in the comments), but also we may see some names that were entered who decide that it is best not to continue their season past Thanksgiving (feel free to comment about that too).

It’s also worth noting that there will be many top names (including a pair of state champions) that compete at the NXN Regional championship meet to try and qualify for that national championship. I’ll hit that one up with a preview later on this week. So stay tuned for the continued rust-busters from etrain11.

Etrain Scavenger Hunt

Hi readers, while I’m on my vacation, I figured I’d take the time to give you guys a little fun activity to keep you busy. This is a scavenger hunt with some hints below that will guide you through the steps. This is meant to be difficult (I want it to keep you busy after all), but maybe it won’t be as hard as I think. If you get through it, we will try to come up with a prize for you for your efforts (suggestions are welcome).

Follow the steps below, keep careful track of the clues that you receive and best of luck in the hunt! Each set of steps will lead you to a post with a specific key word. You use this post to then find a clue which, combined with the other clues, will lead you to the final post. Comment on that post to achieve victory!

P.S. If anyone finds any errors with my clues, let me know and I will fix! Kind of making this up on the fly …

Step One
Date of Post
Month Clue: The number of XC District titles held by Rusty Kujdych
Year Clue: The same year as this post
Day Clue: The first place that doesn’t medal at XC states

Name in Post
First Name Clue: The first name of the runner who was 7th at XC states in 2007
Last Name Clue: The Top runner on PA’s national qualifying team in 2009

What you’ll need to crack the code:
Go to the runner’s name that the clues lead you to. Note that runner’s mile time within the post. Be sure to note the minutes and seconds.

Step Two
Date of Post
Month Clue: Avery Lederer’s best XC states finish
Year Clue: The year Tony Russell won his second XC state title
Day Clue: Seneca Valley’s #2 runner got this place at states this year

Name in Post
First Name Clue: Three time XC state qualifier who also holds a sub 1:51 indoor 800 PR from 2014
Last Name Clue: The first name of Upper Dublin’s last male individual XC state qualifier before Ben Brugger

What you’ll need to crack the code:
Find the runner’s name above in the predictions. Count the # of 1s in this person’s predicted time. You will add that number to the minutes from step one. This is your month to use for the final post.

Step Three
Date of Post
Month Clue: The number runner that Ethan Koza was for CRN at XC States and Districts
Year Clue: Tristan Forsythe’s first XC medal position (plus 2,000)
Day Clue: The 2013 AAA XC State Champ’s top placing individual in 2014

Name in Post
First Name Clue: Henderson’s top runner (last name) the last time they were second at states (but without the “s”)
Last Name Clue: The top freshman in District One way back in the day when I was a freshman (last name)

What you’ll need to crack the code:
Find the runner’s name in the post and look for that runner’s high school. Note the name of the high school, but ignore the syllable that has something to do with winter weather.

Step Four
Date of Post
Month Clue: Number of times Spring Ford has qualified for states in the last 12 years
Year Clue: The year the last time CRN won the state championship
Day Clue: Number of times Owen J Roberts has qualified for states in the last 12 years

Name in Post
First Name Clue: 4:15 miler from Elizabethtown (first name)
Last Name Clue: Most recent 10th place finisher from Footlocker Regionals (last name)

What you’ll need to crack the code:
Find this runner’s name in the post and note their finish at the Manhattan Invitational. If you add that from the seconds from Step One, you will get either the day or the year of the post you are looking for. I’ll let you figure out which one.

Step Five
Date of Post
Month Clue: Best finish at AAA states by a freshman since 2006 (divided by the times this runner won an XC state medal)
Year Clue: “Worst” AAA finish by a #1 runner on a state championship XC team last 12 seasons (plus 2,000)
Day Clue: 2nd best finish at AAA states by a freshman since 2006

Name in Post
First Name Clue: Didn’t win WPIALs but won AAA states within the last decade (first name)
Last Name Clue: Two brothers who placed in the same spot at XC states their junior year (shared last name)

What you’ll need to crack the code:
Find the runner’s name in the post. Note the last word of the paragraph that includes this runner’s name. Remember what you got in Step Two.

Step Six

Use the clues from Steps 1 through 5 to figure out the post you need to comment on. Then win!

The First #DerailTheTrain Team

Well folks, the state recaps are officially up and I’ll be taking a break from the PA specific coverage for the next couple weeks to refresh before track season. You may see some posts circling around the site from time to time (sometimes I just like to write for the sake of writing), but if you are a hard core PA distance fan, you’re going to have to bide your time a bit.

Incidentally, if you have any interest at all in being a writer for the next edition of this blog, now is the perfect time to jump on board. You can get in some practice on the site without me to overshadow your work. You can try some posts out, see how you like it, get feedback from myself and other readers and just have fun talking about the sport. If you don’t have my email its so now you do. That means there’s no excuse! It goes for boys coverage or girls coverage if there are some of you out there who want to get involved in that. There’s a big untapped market for that stuff so the door is open for someone to become the female etrain. The shetrain if you will (not my idea, a brilliant idea from many years ago).

If we get enough writers on board, the site continues and it gives me a place to come check in at if I ever feel the itch to drop an occasion post.

But anyway, with my last recap-style post of the season, I wanted to touch on some of biggest step up performers from this year’s state meet. I decided to boldly try and predict the entire AAA state meet from 1 to 240 this past week. There was plenty to be wrong about (on average my picks were off by +/- 25 spots) which meant some kids really exceeded expectations. I’ll give you those names in this post as a shout to those kids. Here’s the top 12 over-performers ranked by net difference (actual – projected).

Noah Demis
North Penn
Jake Robinson
Paul Ghantous
Marino Bubba
Marco Cardone
Jack Ettien
Bishop Shanahan
Shane Ainscoe
Spring Ford
Pepe Renteria
Kevin Wagner
DT West
Zach Smith
Spring Ford
Jonathan McGrory
Bishop Shanahan
Antonio Burkhart
Bethel Park

Now, obviously some of the guys near the back of my predictions have a better chance of making up ground. If I predict you 10th and you win the state championship, that’s still only 9 points despite what was likely a solid upset victory. So I decided to rank the increases on a % basis to see what happened as well. Here’s the top 12 performers ranked by percent difference (actual – projected / projected).

Noah Demis
North Penn
Jake Robinson
Christian McComb
Andrew Malmstrom
Owen J Roberts
Dan McGoey
North Allegheny
Seth Ketler
Seneca Valley
Czar Tarr
Chartiers Valley
Chayce Macknair
Mifflin County
Paul Ghantous
Matt Bodon
Shane Ainscoe
Spring Ford
Sean Guydish

You can see that the second list allows some of our medal winners to get a little extra credit for their results, even if I had them in the mix to be top 50 guys. In the team category, my excel sheet said that, based on my rankings LaSalle and CRN would be the top 2 teams with 139 and 145 points respectively. Not terrible, right? Well, at least those weren’t.

The model had Spring Ford slotted for 11th and Bishop Shanahan slotted for 15th! So those two schools really stepped it up. It’s probably not surprising considering they each had two runners in my top 12 list. Mechanicsburg also deserves a shout out as they were projected at #14 in the scoring and ended up in the top 10.

So congrats to all these performers! Hopefully, this list highlights a few guys who aren’t typically in my recaps or featured prominently on the blog and gives them a chance to appreciate their performance at the state championship. My opinion is obviously just one (not that smart) guys opinion, but, hey, proving the doubters wrong is proving the doubters wrong. I’m always happy to smugly rub the doubters nose in it.

Great work #derailingthetrain for those who posted awesome results this season. For those who I ended up being reasonably correct about, don’t worry. There’s always track season.

I’ll be back a little closer to regional season to give my PA based national predictions. Until then, stay classy and feel free to use this blog for discussion purposes. I’ll still moderate the comments and try and keep things as active as possible.

State Championship Recaps: AAA Boys

At the start of the week, I mentioned in my AA team preview that I was looking for some poetry. It turns out, I was looking in the wrong place. The story of the AAA state championship didn’t start in November. It didn’t start in September. Heck, it didn’t even start in 2017. Way back in 2011, before any of this current crop of state champs was even in high school, the boys from Cardinal O’Hara were looking to become the first boys PCL state champions. There had been close calls prior to that. LaSalle was 2nd in 2008, the first year the PCL was in the PIAA. Then the Explorers were 3rd in 2009, before O’Hara took on the bronze medal position in 2010.

Although O’Hara wasn’t overwhelming favorites heading in to the 2011 XC season, they really started to click as the year progressed. By the time states rolled around, they were clear favorites for gold. Meanwhile, the boys from North Penn had struggled during the regular season. Although there were big preseason expectations, there first few results were relatively unimpressive and, unsurprisingly, they finished 3rd at the District One Championships. But North Penn had championship pedigree. They had won back to back state titles in 2007 and 2008 and, at the time, they and Henderson were the clear #1 programs in the district for that half decade strength.

So a great District One program with potential coming off a disappointing district loss against a PCL power looking to get the historic conference their first official PIAA title. Sounds familiar right? Well, what if I told you that those two schools went on to tie for the state title with a score around 130 points? Now, it’s just getting creepy.

Yes, the 2011 state title ended in a 6th man tiebreaker, but the PCL team (O’Hara in this case) came out on the wrong side of history. OH ended up in the silver medal position and, after they lost on a tiebreaker again in 2012, it seemed like the PCL may be cursed within the PIAA.

Enter the LaSalle squad of 2017. They picked up big wins throughout the season and established their depth as tops in the state. On state championship Saturday, I think most would agree that they were the favorites, even if not overwhelmingly so. And through the first two miles, it looked like they would run away with the state title. But their 25 point lead started to slip in the race’s final meters. The lurking talents from CR North were coming quickly and LaSalle was trying desperately to hold them off. The curse would not give up easily.

In the end, LaSalle would have to sweat it out until all points were tallied and all were reviewed. For the third time in 7 years, the AAA state title would be decided by the #6 runner. But unlike the first two, the PCL team came out on top. It’s fitting that the team affectionately called “The Army” wins a state title via their 6th man.

But let’s be honest, they won this on their 6th and 7th man. Both Vincent Twomey and Jack Seiberlich displaced North’s #5 man, adding two pivotal points to their rivals’ score. That means if either Seiberlich or Twomey had decided to drop out or completely fold up on the last mile, their team would have ended up second. It’s a testament to the mental strides this team has taken in the last year that they held on and got that gold.

Also a hero on race day was Paul Ghantous. The junior wasn’t projected to be a scorer on race day. He was actually the team’s #7 at districts. But when a member of the top five had a small hiccup, Ghantous stepped up big time. In his best performance of the season, Paul raced to 54th overall and was the team’s #4 runner.

And I would be silly to not point out that Evan Addison, who was forced to drop out of last year’s state championship, provided the low stick this pack didn’t have in 2015 or 2016 when they were good, but not great in the state landscape. He pulled out some big time redemption with an 11th place finish at states, the first individual medal for LaSalle at states since 2012 if memory serves.

Now in every dramatic tiebreaker, there are two sides. For Council Rock North, reading about all the little things that went into this championship performance probably doesn’t feel great. But the boys from North have nothing to hang their head about. They defended their state title of a year earlier admirably and, I think many would agree, came closer to pulling off the upset than I expected. They posted 3 medalists and 4 top 50 finishers. After not breaking 17 minutes at a fast course like Lehigh, 5th man Matt Mullen bounced back to run 17:30 on the Hershey hills and keep his team in the hunt. Mullen will be the top returner for this proud program in 2018 as they go for yet another state qualifying performance in the always crowded District 1.

That loaded District 1 also produced the 3rd, 4th, 5th and 7th place finishers in the team title race. After I speculated the streak of top 10 D1 teams would finally end, I got slapped in the face by the states deepest district. Bishop Shanahan, who I doubted coming in, posted perhaps the surprise of the day in 5th place, but Spring Ford and OJR also bettered my predictions for them (and DT West matched). Everybody really came to play.

For Shanahan, the Hoey boys stepped up with strong performances, particularly Jonah who nearly joined his brother on the medal stand. But what really sealed their top 5 finish were the results from the pack. Jack Ettien put down one of his best races of the season at the #4 spot to help bring things home. For Spring Ford, all that waiting for an appearance at states ended up being worth it. The boys proved they belonged with a 4th place finish behind a medal performance from McKenna. They had the best freshman in the state in Zawislak (50th) but also got a huge boost from Shane Ainscoe who just barely missed a top 50 spot. He was the difference maker in their fight for the top 5. Zach Smith also brought his “A” game and Milan Sharma continued to be a reliable, consistent performer (helped by JT Clark who was pushing hard as the #6). Ultimately Spring Ford was just 7 points behind DT West, last week’s district champs.

OJR couldn’t quite get past Spring Ford this time around, but the a group of state rookies still stormed into the top 7. Liam Conway led the way as usual, getting his first XC state medal (long overdue), but Andrew Malmstrom has been the star of the past two weeks for this squad. He posted a top 10 finish at districts in perhaps the meets biggest breakthrough performance and then doubled down with a 17th place finish at states. This kid was a solid 3200 guy last spring and could be sleeper come track season. Conway won’t be a sleeper by any stretch considering he’s the #1 returner indoors and out at the mile. Should be fun to see how he handles track after his best ever XC season. He should have arguably his best ever training contingent as well (you guys got a DMR lurking over there OJR?).

EDIT: Thought I wrote this in the original post, but turns out I never did. The boys from DT West returned just one guy from their 3rd place team in the state a year ago and turned around to be better than they were in 2016. District champs. Third in the state. In the mix for the title. That's also four straight years in the top 4. That's an elite tier right there.

Jumping outside of the D1 bubble, District 3 came through with 3 teams in the top 10. That was a big day, especially when you factor in the district had just one individual medalist. I was really impressed with these schools as I thought this would be a down year for the middle of the state. Hempfield had their best state meet of the last few years, putting it together at Hershey at the perfect time. They’ve had some great peaks in the past, but this one was their best I can remember. Carlisle backed up a year in which they lost three huge pieces with a top 10 finish and Mechanicsburg? Is this an XC powerhouse now? A little known school who lost two huge cogs in Alex Tomasko and Andrew Sulon turned around and got better? Shout out Michael Vigliano on a big season. Plus, major props to Pepe Renteria. He was a critical piece of their state qualifying effort at Big Spring and then ran even better at states. This sophomore may be the hero of the week for the Mechanics. I’m not sure that one will stick.

OK, let’s jump off the team talk and move to individuals. Obviously, the first thing I’ve got to do is bow down to Rusty Kujdych. I’ve doubted him seemingly every step of the way, but the state’s best XC runner has been nothing short of spectacular. After we saw favorites win the first two races of the day, I thought this AAA field would be the one that brought us the upset, but Kujdych was not to be denied. He and Beveridge really fought hard throughout the second half of the race with Hoey hanging around as well. But ultimately, Kujdych dropped the hammer at the end and pulled away for gold. His three year stretch of 19-10-1 is one of the best we’ve seen. Plus, he’s a two time district champ with piles of fast times (including what is now #2 on this new Hershey lay out off a slower pace than last year). I think Kujdych has a chance to do big things at regionals and make a big run at Footlocker. The kid is battle tested and really strong. Hopefully, I don’t jinx him.

Behind Rusty, Noah Beveridge of Butler was the man to emerge from a wild chase to the finish line. Beveridge posts a second straight top 5 finish in the state, joining a fairly elite club in his own right. He’s got some Footlocker experience from last fall which could help him out as he goes for a qualifier spot of his own. But what could be more interesting is the next steps for the group behind him. Dan McGoey, Morgan Cupp and Tyler Wirth all cracked 16 minutes at this race and are set up to be potential sleepers in the Footlocker Regional should they go out. PA had 4 national qualifiers last year (5 if you count Hengst) and really threw down against the region. Maybe we can keep the momentum going with these other stars.

McGoey, just a sophomore, makes it three years in a row we have a sophomore in the top 3 at states. It used to be almost unprecedented, but now it’s getting seemingly old. But let’s not underestimate the meaning of this result. This is an awesome mark and shows McGoey could be something special on the track. The two other sophomores to place top 3? Josh Hoey and Sam Affolder. Those guys ended up anchoring marquee DMRs, running sub 4:12 miles and competing for state golds in the 1600. Also, worth noting, all three of these guys are little brothers of some all-time great PA super stars.

Wirth is an XC rookie and becomes the top junior returner for 2018. Cupp caps off a year in which he was unbelievably consistent at the top of every field he raced. I’d love to see Cupp go for a national qualifying spot. He would be a long shot, but he wouldn’t be afraid to stick his nose in there and see what happens. He’s a natural at XC. Wirth is going to be a lot of fun when we get to track season. He may pass on the regional meets this time out, but would be another intriguing watch.

As some have already pointed out, we’ve got a lot of sophomores in that top 50-60. Not only did we have 3 sophomore medalists, but we also had huge days from Christian McComb (28th? I did not see that one coming), Christian Fitch and Noah Demis (100th at the mile, 33rd at the finish. Kid is legit). Even scanning down the list, I thought state course rookies like Patrick Theveny (62nd after being 132nd at the mile) and Antonio Burkhardt of Bethel Park had big days. That class is loaded.

Throwing out a few more shout outs here in the individual section, let’s give credit to some bounce back performances first. Avery Lederer of Penncrest, who struggled over the last stretch at districts, proved he was ready for vengeance in Hershey. The senior finished in 12th place overall with arguably the biggest week to week turnaround in PA. Lederer faded over the last stretch a year ago, slipping out of medal position. This time he actually gained ground on the leaders every step of the race.

Jared Giannascoli of Lower Dauphin deserves a mention. He was in the dreaded 26th spot, but the Lower Dauphin senior had his best race of the season to get to that point. Although his regular season brought ups and downs, he came to play at states in the clutch. When he was selected in our fantasy draft, some people didn’t even realize he qualified for states. Well, he not only qualified, he ended up being a strong pick at #26.

Other guys jumped into the top 50 and wrecked my predictions. Sam Gatti was a name that our own Ryan1220 talked up and the senior backed it up with a career best 27th place finish. Jake Robinson of Conestoga broke into the top 40 with a monster run that really impressed me. Sean Guydish of Easton and Matt Bodon of Stroudsburg ended up being the surprise 1-2 punch for District 11. Guydish especially impressed me as he went from outside his team’s top 2-3 guys, to 2nd at districts and now 39th at states. Shout out to the Easton senior.

State Championship Recaps: AA Boys

I think one of the trickiest things about being a cross country fan is the fact that you can’t immediately tell who won the team race while you are watching. I mean you can certainly guess and sometimes it’s fairly obvious, but while watching the state championships at Hershey this past weekend, I had no idea who was our AA team champion until my fourth refresh of the runhigh results page.

At the mile, the Dallas boys got out hard and put themselves in a strong position. But what was striking was the front running of Harbor Creek. The HC boys had three runners in the top 10 overall. That was pretty wild front running and really gave this team an edge against the pack driven squads they were competing against. Seeing those two teams out so well made me focus on them for the next few miles, but I knew Wyomissing and York Suburban would be lurking.

Trying to keep rough track of all 4 teams was brutal and I couldn’t quite wrap my head around how many of each jersey passed me by. At the finish, I was surrounded by supporters from different squads. Dallas and York Suburban fans were keeping track of runners from each of those teams and comparing them to Harbor Creek and Wyomissing. Meanwhile, I was trying to subtly eavesdrop on both conversations while still counting runners for myself to try and have something to write in this recap.

Ultimately, when I finished watching I felt like Wyomissing might have taken it. They seemed to have the most guys flying by me on the corner of the straightaway. That being said, I had completely lost track of York Suburban and didn’t even notice that Raudensky had joined Ohl in the top 10.

The final standings ended up being even closer than I had previously suspected: 105-107-111. A few seconds here or there and the title swings. For Wyomissing, they proved they had the best pack in the state. I was worried about their potential inexperience in the clutch, but the squad came to play. They had to be feeling pretty confident after their district championship and perhaps they were fueled by a lack of respect from certain people on this site. Regardless, the team posted a 29 second spread with 5 in the top 50 overall. Harbor Creek had 3 guys in front of their #1 which, in dual meet scoring, would mean the race was already over. But in a big time XC invitational, every scoring spot is meaningful. Josh Diehl had a great race in 39th and Thomas Foster, one of the potential scorers I was most skeptical of in my predictions, came through with a clutch 46th place finish to really bring this thing home.

For York Suburban, they don’t have much to hang their head about. For the fourth straight year, they were in the hunt for a state championship on the final mile of states. That’s a pretty difficult task. Tanner Haynes had an excellent race to step up as the team’s #4 runner. He wasn’t a scorer for this team at times this year, but he stepped up when the pressure was on. Raudensky pulled out his first state medal and Bryce Ohl was 2nd overall and #1 in team scoring. You can’t ask for much more than that. Ohl’s individual result was very impressive. He was top 10 last year, but that came mostly in the second half of the race, picking people off. This time around, he went to the front pack early and looked very strong over the final mile, running 5:51 for the 1.1 (the fastest split of any runner in the race it appears).

Harbor Creek left with three runners in the medals and 4 guys in the top 50 for a second straight season. Nate Dougan came on super strong in the last meets of the season and is a big reason why this team was able to finish as high as they did at districts and states. District 10 on the whole posted 6 of the top 17 overall finishers, three of which came from Harbor Creek and two of which came from General McLane. And, oh by the way, six of them will be back next year including the #1, #2, #3 and #4 overall returners in the AA classification!

Grove City returns to the top 5 after a year away, led by a huge bounce back day from Jonah Powell. Powell was third overall with a time of 16:18. Dallas posted 2 medalists and 4 top 50 guys to cap off a crazy strong stretch of running for this program. They didn’t leave Hershey with state gold, but they went for it and really stuck their nose in it in the early going. You have to respect the heart and determination that went into their run. Congrats to the class of 2018 at Dallas on a truly memorable three year stretch.

Other props in the team department go to Loyalsock and Greensburg Salem. Loyalsock had a phenomenal showing from their top 3. We knew about Quinn Serfass (4th overall), but his teammates Ryan Sullivan and Alejandro Quintana were the keys to this team’s surprising 6th place finish. Sullivan broke into the last medal spot and Quintana raced to 30th overall, just outside medal position and #3 among sophomores in the race. District 4 in general overachieved relative to my expectations. Milton also cracked the top 10 with one of the tightest packs in the field. Tyler Leeser stepped up to be the #1 runner and a top 50 finisher after being the #5 at districts. Some serious hard out of Leeser down the stretch of 2017.

Meanwhile, Greensburg Salem had their own big three that included two medalists in Mark Brown and Cameron Binda as well as 34th place finisher Dylan Binda. GS finished as the #1 WPIAL team a little over a week after they took the 3rd spot at districts. That’s two years in a row the #3 WPIAL team has been #1 at states. Greensburg Salem brings everybody back next year. Of course, Indiana Area and New Castle will both bring back a strong contingent as well. Indiana’s Kendall Branan was perhaps the biggest breakthrough star in the WPIAL the past two weeks. The sophomore finished 11th at the state championships, moving from 18th at the two mile to catch back up for 11th. He was just 4 seconds away from the top sophomore spot, held by Garrett Baublitz of Juniata (he took 9th overall).

Let’s jump to individuals now. Isaac Davis took command of this one from the start and rolled through the course en route to a 15:56. When you incorporate his 20 second margin of victory with that blazing time, Davis might have been the most impressive individual performer of the meet (although I think Rusty earned that spot). Davis was out in 4:41 and already opened up a 8 second lead by the mile. By two miles that was up to 23 seconds. It’s going to be very interesting to see if Davis runs Footlocker. If he goes, I’d have to imagine he’s a contender for a top 10 spot. He’s yet to be pushed this season and he’s rolled to some incredibly fast times. We saw a AA runner make Footlocker a year ago (Skolnekovich) so why not Davis this time around?

Although he likely didn’t have the finish he hoped for, you have to give credit to Sam Snodgrass. The South Fayette senior already had a couple state medals from the XC state meet, but this time out he was hoping for gold. Snodgrass was the only one to stay within striking distance of Davis’s blistering early pace and that left him a prime target for the chasers behind him. Although Snodgrass finished 21st, he really went for it on race day and you have to respect that strategy. If he attends a national meet, he could have a big bounce back performance like his WPIAL ally Skolnekovich did a year ago. Or maybe he’s ready to turn to indoor track, where Snodgrass is one of the top returners in the mile (he medaled last winter).

As mentioned, the D10 boys will have quite the battle next year. These rivals will make up the top 4 returners at the state meet. Throw in two time top 20 finisher Erik Andrzejewski and you have an absolutely stacked district. Powell had the biggest day at states after arguably the worst day at districts. He showed some real grit to bounce back and nearly pulled out the silver. Price, the district champ, had his best ever state meet result after not medaling a season ago. He’s made a big jump and should be feeling confident heading into next year. He knows he’s beaten Powell in the past and could potentially knock him off in the race for gold next year. Meanwhile, Stravaggi and Weber are two teammates have learned a lot from one another over the years. They could push each other to a big result at states as well just as they did this year with two top 10 finishes.

District 3 had a pretty stand out day individually as well. They posted the top two teams so naturally they were going to have some front running, but some lesser known stars came to play as well. Ben Reisenweaver of Schuylkill Valley absolutely crushed the course, running a 16:46 for 18th. He was 8th at districts in a slower time. Gettysburg’s Luke Milhimes also jumped into the medals this weekend, adding yet another piece of hardware to Gettysburg’s high stack of awards.

But the D3 trio that impressed me most was that of Lancaster Mennonite. This school had 3 top 50 finishers, including two in the top 30. Logan Horst led the way for this squad with a state medal. I said this in the early season, but it bears repeating: last year Lancaster Mennonite was last in the District as a team. They had no top 100 finishers at their D3 championships. Abenezear Abebe, who took the 26th spot at states (1 away from medaling) was 170th at districts last fall with a time of 20:04. And that wasn’t a fluke-he was also over 20 minutes at the league championships. Now he was just 2 seconds away from a state medal. That’s quite the jump and definitely something worth celebrating.

District 6 had a nice year this year as well. After being relative non-factors at last year’s state meet, they had a top 10 finisher (Baublitz), and three other top 50 guys in Brett Pope, Zach Kohler and Ohm Vyas. Vyas and Kohler will return next year along with Baublitz who was the top soph in the field. Also have to give a shout out to John Koons and Ethan Bernstein. Both of these district rivals got to share the medal podium this weekend in 14th and 15th place overall. That capped off great seasons both athletes. Lastly, Van May of Bedford ends up the top freshman in AA. He took 27th overall, just outside medal position. May was the #1 freshman by roughly 40 seconds over Matt Chaikowsky of Saucon Valley, Zach Buckner of Fairview and Dylan Throop of General McLane.

State Championship Recaps: A Boys

The first boys championship of the day featured two clear favorites, both of which had pre-race concerns. For individual favorite Tristan Forsythe, it was the ghosts of state meet past. He led the race through two miles a year ago, but couldn’t hold on to the finish. For Penns Valley, the concern lay with the two freshmen who would likely be pivotal pieces of the top five. By the end of the race, both of these concerns proved to be overhyped.

Forsythe cruised in the early going, settled in to a large pack at about 5 minutes through the mile. He sat comfortably in the pack until it was time to make his move, going up the hill towards two miles. If he had any doubts about his strategy, they weren’t evident as he calmly took control of the race. His closest challenger at the time, Upper Dauphin’s Brenden Miller, was unable to cover the move and ultimately Forsythe was able to break the tape with a 15 second margin of victory.

Meanwhile, the Penns Valley freshmen looked like veterans on the Hershey hills. PV packed it up in the early stages of the race, sitting back just a bit off the lead. Then, over the second half of the race, the boys closed quickly and ran down many other top runners, putting away any doubts about their gold medal status. Colton Sands and Brendan Colwell both finished in the medals as freshmen. Sands was 10th overall in a time of 16:48. Meanwhile, Chris Colwell and Sam Gray also busted into the medals at 15th and 24th. That was more than enough to slam the door on the competition.

You can make a strong argument that this Penns Valley team is the best we’ve ever seen in A. They didn’t end up beating Saegertown’s record low from 2013, but they faced a much tougher team title landscape than Saegertown did. I was certainly impressed by the freshmen stepping up, but one of the most underrated performances from PV was 6th man Charlie Romig. At about the two mile mark, I thought there was a chance Penns Valley could slip up as their #5, Mark Bierly, was slipping a bit off the pace from the front four. But Romig, in his best performance of the season, stepped up and helped push Bierly through to the finish line. He would have been a more than capable #5 in his own right at 51st overall.

In the end, the battle for second ended up being the race of the day. At the 2 mile mark, Elk County Catholic was sitting in 5th place overall. But the 2016 state runner-ups came to play over the final mile and stormed through the course to pass Jenkintown, Montrose and Winchester Thurston en route to the finish. Ben Hoffman led the way with an 8th place finish after hitting the mile in 34th. His teammate Logan Hoffman was just one spot out of the individual medals. Isaac Wortman, Matt Dippold and Jacob Carnovale rounded out a top 5 that all finished in the top 52 overall. The front running for this squad was solid, but ultimately it was their depth that kept in them in the medals for a second straight year.

I have to give credit to Montrose for putting together a strong race. A year ago, I think they felt the pressure of the moment, but this year they handled themselves very well. Their 1-2 punch came to play big time. Brandon Curley and Liam Mead, who both had disappointing finishes at states last year, really came to play this year and finished 5th and 6th overall. I thought Curley would be a factor (he was the district champ and has been around my top 50 rankings all season), but I didn’t see this breakthrough coming from Mead. He threw down an awesome performance and is now a top 3 returner for next year’s state meet. His Montrose team will also return top 40 finisher Colin Spellman and scorers Max Brewer and Eric Bixby.

A few other key team notes to hit on. Seneca had a big day from their #2-3 of Jake Schneider and Robert Stepnowski. They pushed all the way to 6th in the final standings thanks to these two runners coming up big. Schneider and #1 runner Brock Smith will lead the Seneca squad next year. Mount Caramel was the first team in the standings without a top 20 team finisher. They posted 231 points and took 9th in the state. That’s not too shabby for a team that entered this season as underdogs just to qualify for Hershey. Derek Lawler, just a freshman, came up huge with the team’s lone Top 50 finish.

Now let’s talk individuals. For Forsythe, this is obviously a big win. He cruised to victory yet again and has been relatively unchallenged in most of his races. That will make him an interesting darkhorse at whichever regional meet he pursues. That being said, you have to give credit to Brenden Miller. The Upper Dauphin senior really struggled over the last mile at Hershey last year. This year, he pushed hard to give everything he had to beat Forsythe and it looked like he might slip on the last loop again. Yet Miller powered all the way through for a strong second place showing. Overall, Miller has been quite the inspiration (there’s a great story on penntrack that was linked in a comment somewhere on here) and I think he could potentially have big success in college.

Jack Miller of Jenkintown ends up as our #1 returner. He leads a nice contingent of Jenkintown youngsters that will be sophomores next year, including top 50 finisher Luke Miller. Jack ended up just 1 second back of Brenden and made a nice push on the homestretch to try and catch him. Sophomore Andrew Healey of Holy Cross, who has raced side by side with Miller at three major invites in a row, will be the #2 returner. Healey leads a nice crew of sophomores that, along with Ben Hoffman, include a group of Adam Hessler from Freedom, Hunter Armstrong of Marion Center (16th after running a solid portion of the race in the top 10), Noah Bernarding, Luke Mantzell and Carter Kauffman. Those guys were all medalists this year.

Some of the big “bracket busters” from this weekend included Kamil Jihad of Neumann Goretti. I did not see this coming out of Jihad. He was a top 50 finisher at states last year, but the 800 specialist never struck me as a true distance runner. He was the runner up at his district meet after winning it the previous season. But Jihad brought his “A” game to states. He put himself in medal position early and held on through to the finish. He put on an awesome kick off the final hill and really looked strong coming home. Remember, this guy is a 1:52 800 runner who also specializes in the quarter. Great range from this kid.

The Elk Lake duo of Peyton Jones and Cody Oswald both placed in the top 30 overall. Jones got Elk Lake back on the medal stand for the first time in a couple years. That was a long overdue achievement for this historically strong program. I’m not sure if Peyton is related to former two-time state silver medalist Luke Jones (also of Elk Lake), but if so this kid could be a name to watch looking ahead. Jones has made a nice name for himself in his own right and should have plenty of company to push himself next year as Healey and Mead are in his district and two of the top 3 returners in the state.

A few other shout outs go to the Cambridge Spring boys (nearly two top 50 performances from some borderline state qualifiers), Gordon Pollock (posts an 11th place finish to cap off a really strong season in the shadow of his state champion teammate and a great 4 year career progression) and Zach Gould (another medalist I didn’t see coming). Lots of young guys coming back next year including a nice crop of freshmen and sophomores. This could be an interesting race in 2018.

It’s 6:45. The alarm goes off. It takes a second to realize where I am. I’m not used to waking up in this bed. My dad’s up too. Up for good? Or waiting to steal my bed back when I leave? Either way it’s nice to have someone see me off.

There’s a split second I’m worried the car won’t start. It doesn’t get a lot of use. The windows are opaque and dirty. A few wipes from my sweatshirt helps enough to get things off the ground. Then it’s open road.

I’ve saved a podcast for my drive. Bill Simmons. I’m only about 65% engaged. The other 35% is inside my own head. That’s typically where you find me. It strikes me that my most important Hershey appearances have been as a blogger, not a runner. I was never a state qualifier. I just talk about them.

I pull up to a toll booth. No EZ pass in my grandma’s old whip. I give the guy my slip. He doesn’t say how much I owe, so I just give him a $20. I start to judge him. Seems unfriendly. Hates his job. But he sees my Oregon sweatshirt and strikes up a conversation. Asks about their football jerseys. We have a good talk. Now I’ve got a different opinion. Lonely job. Nicer than a lot of other toll boothers. He reminds me that you have to be careful if you judge without the full story. And now I’m back on my blogging …

9 bucks for parking. I suppose that’s not too bad. I just paid over 100 for Sixers tickets. I get out and walk around. Headphones in. No more podcasts. Now it’s just music. I walk in obscurity. The sweatshirt conceals my etrain swagger and my secret identity. I do my Bane impression inside my head. Nobody cared who I was until I put on the shirt …

It feels awkward being here. I feel old. I walk around the course, checking the conditions. I walk around the tents, looking for a few coaches I would like to finally meet in person. Bear Claws is playing on my iPhone. I like that song.

By the first boys race, I’ve put together a plan for spectating. I take pride in my efforts to see lots of different points of any race I watch. Naturally, I skip the start. It’s overrated. I’ve got the first long bend, the first significant uphill. The first significant downhill. Two miles. Finish.

I try not to run too much. I’ve gotten more self-conscious about my odd running form as I’ve aged. Although I think that’s because I’ve gotten slower. Not because I’ve gotten older. Running or walking, I still get there in time for what I want to see. You can tell Forsythe has it at mile two. Penns Valley looks like they are slipping for a moment. But at the finish it’s clear that was an aberration. Race one holds form.

By now, Garrett is here. I speak for the first time since the toll booth. I’m welcomed into the Great Valley tent. Things are starting to feel right again. My confidence is up a bit. Zat is a good hype man. I notice his new Stride Report shirt. It’s pretty dope. He’s modest about his growing site, but he’s excited. I remember those days. I’m happy for him. He’s worked hard for this.

The talk runs over into my AA prep time. I’m a little late to my spots, but I quickly get the gist. Dan Beck fills me in. It’s the Isaac Davis show. Team race should be interesting. I go everywhere, but the score is never obvious. I’m watching Dallas and Harbor Creek. I can’t count more than that. It feels like a lot of Wyomissing guys are going by, but it’s hard to say. Some bib numbers are covering the jerseys. I can’t quite see the W. Oh well, I’ve been wrong before.

One race to go. I’ll have company for this one. The first checkpoint is more crowded than any race before. A ton of LaSalle alumni are here. Even some from my generation. They weren’t here last year. They know what’s at stake. Meanwhile, I’ve forgotten Upper Dublin even has a runner in the race.

It looks like LaSalle is out well. All 7 guys. They’ve got an army. CR North is in the mix. I forget to even pick out DT West from the crowd. I’m seeing some faces for the first time. Piecing jerseys together with past performances on a piece of paper. But man is this race about more than a piece of paper.

North looks good at the finish. LaSalle may not have that second front runner. But I’m only about 35% engaged. I’ve actually got someone to cheer for in AAA. That excitement distracts me. It’s not until I’ve restocked my supply of etrain shirts that I even remember there was a state title up for grabs.

Another tie. My mind jumps right to 2011. Almost an identical score. History repeats itself. But this time LaSalle avenges the O’Hara loss. It’s poetry. Although I learned I have to be careful with that word. It can be used against me.

I assume that will be it. The races are over. The Zatlins are gone. I’m alone again. I trek over to the awards. Just a few things left to say before I’m gone. Little did I know what I had waiting for me.

Lots of kind words. Lots of handshaking. Lots of pictures. At one point, there’s three teams worth of a crowd around me like I’m standing on a stage. I wish I had something better to say. Maybe I’m just meant to speak through words on an internet page. I’d like to connect more. Show everybody what their support means. When someone is says how they are excited to read their name on my site, I share their sentiment. I’m excited they read (their name on) my site.

I feel like I always remember the answers on the drive home. Yes, we did/do have a writer who goes to Penn. I forgot. That’s my bad. With my free time, I’ll probably try and really dig in on my book. I don’t think “I thought you’d be taller” is really a question. Yes, I’m real, I’m just glad all of you are real too. I guess not all the views are from people looking for a map of the E subway train.

Of course, that makes it sound like it was all a disaster. But it was an amazing experience. The only reason I’ve lasted this long is because of the readers and it was nice to have a reminder of who exactly those people are. Because, in case you forgot, this sport is about more than performances on a piece of paper.

A lot of people asked me if this was it. Would this really be the last year? I think I answered them all the same way. If I didn’t, I meant to. I’m pretty sure this is it. This will be my last year of cross country coverage.

But like I said-I’ve been wrong before.

Thank you everyone so much for your support and congrats to all on your accomplishments this season. Recaps coming later this week, a brief break for other stuff, regionals coverage and then we have track left together before I hang it up. Looking forward to the rest of the year.