Zac Tingley, Sr Lakeview (10)
Lakeview’s senior Zac Tingley is coming off a terrific junior campaign that included a state medal in XC and a 1:59.17 clocking in the 800 meters. Running in one of the deepest A districts, Tingley has taken 4th and 3rd the past two seasons at D10s. At the 2015 edition of states, Tingley was 6th among sophomores and then, a year later, finished 3rd among juniors. He’s the #4 returner for states in 2017. His Lakeview squad is also the deepest it’s ever been, meaning Tingley will have the extra motivation of a possible state qualifying birth.
Andrew Healey, So Holy Cross (2)
I’ve mentioned Healey a little bit already as my honorary #51 guy for this year’s top 50 list, but I’ll add him in here as well. Healey was just 3rd among freshman at the A state championship, however he was in 13th place overall at 2 miles before slipping back through the field to 33rd. That place alone would be impressive for a freshman rookie on the Hershey course, but I think he has the potential to hang out even better this coming season. We saw Healey shine on the outdoor track with a district championship in the 3200 and a fantastic state 3200 performance under 10 minutes. In many ways, Healey has the upside of Brendan Miller of Upper Dauphin who was in 10th at 2 miles at XC states a year ago before slipping back on the final mile as well.
Ben Barnes, Sr Riverview (7)
Barnes is a consistently strong performer. He was 27th at states as a sophomore and 19th at states as a junior. On the track, Barnes was a state qualifier in the 3200 out of the loaded District 7 AA (they had the top two finishers in the state this year). Like Tingley, Barnes should really benefit from a strong team. Riverview returns 6 varsity runners from their 11th place 2016 squad.
Ethan Knoebel, Jr Southern Columbia (4)
If you are looking for a fearless runner front runner with potential to mix it up at the front of the state field, look no further than Southern Columbia’s Ethan Knoebel. As a sophomore last year, Knoebel was unafraid to race at the front of loaded fields, including districts and states. At Hershey, he was 16th at the mile, but couldn’t hold that aggressive start. But I see a big jump in the standings for this kid as he enters that pivotal junior season. Knoebel was the #2 freshman in the state two years ago and then ran 16:25, 4:25 and 2 flat as a sophomore. There’s a ton of talent here and, considering Southern Columbia has been building up a strong squad to contend for the D4 championship, I think Knoebel should have the right pieces around him to make a leap into the state medals.
Christian Tanner, Jr & Darion Gregory, Jr Smethport (9)
District 9 had 7 top 30 finishers in 2016 and the district likely won’t cool off in 2017. Leading the way atop the sleeper board are Christian Tanner and Darion Gregory of Smethport. The young duo took 22nd and 29th at states this past fall, going from 5:26 at the mile (19 seconds out of the medal picture), to finishing times of 17:04 and 17:23. They passed an estimated 70 runners during that time and proved they had racing wisdom well beyond their years. This season, I think they will be able to get out a bit more aggressively and not have to waste quite as much energy passing people in the later stages of the race. I think they are really finding their rhythm on the Hershey hills and this could be a big year.
Chris Colwell, Sr Penns Valley (6)
Chris Colwell is a clutch dude. The District 6 champ was 21st at states, leading Penns Valley to a 9th place team finish at states. Colwell also finished as the team’s #1 runner his sophomore season, taking 34th at states for the #10 overall team. And as a freshman, he finished just a second back of the team’s #1 runner as Penns Valley took 8th as a team in the state (this was a wild year, Elk Lake got 4th with no top 20 team scorers and Penns Valley took 8th with no top 40 team scorers, you don’t see that every day). In summary, Colwell has always shown up in a big way come championship season. I would bet on him to continue that trend this senior season, especially considering how strong Penns Valley has the potential to be this year.
Jack Miller, Jr Jenkintown (1) & Tim Kennel, Sr Christopher Dock (1)
I really doubted the District One boys entering the state meet last year, but they showed up in a big week. D1 AA had three state medalists including two of the top three returners from states in Jack Miller and Tim Kennel. Right now, I’m set to underestimate this pair again as I didn’t put either of these two runners in my top 50 for the preseason. Considering these two are not just district rivals, but league rivals, they should provide strong competition for one another that, just like we saw last year, could culminate in clutch results at states.
Ben Hoffman, So Elk County Catholic (9)
Speaking of clutch results at states, then freshman Ben Hoffman moving from 43rd to 27th over the final mile at the 2016 state championships was the big reason that Elk County Catholic held on against Seneca in the team standings. Elk CC earned silver medals for their efforts and, with 4 of that impressive top 5 on the way back, are looming in the fight for gold this year. That should hinge on the development of Hoffman, a state qualifier in the 3200 this past track season. Hoffman is in a great program with lots of quality teammates and a history of success. Elk CC has a long list of state medalists and top 10 finishers including last year’s 7th placer Zach Wortman.
Wayne Reilly, Jr Tri Valley (11)This is a deeper sleeper that I took note of toward the end of last fall. As a sophomore, Reilly stunned me with his District 11 championship in A. He then followed that up with a poised run at states where he consistently picked off runners to move from 91st to 62nd to 46th. On the track, Reilly further bolstered his confidence and experience by qualifying for states in the 3200. The kid doesn’t have a ton of flashy times, but he seems like a stronger racer who is growing quickly into a formidable opponent. I’m not saying he’s going to be state champ this fall, but I think Reilly could be one of the bigger surprises of the 2017 season.