At the Penn Relays, Pennsylvania had come to play in the 4,000 meter relay. A long time ago, back when was I was a freshman, the boys from Coatesville rolled to a first place wheel. A year later, GFS won. Then Upper Dublin. In 2011, CB South almost won. LaSalle won in 2013. Henderson won in 2014. Basically, if you ignore all the years that we didn't win, PA has won the DMR every year since 2007! How about that for a stat!
But in all seriousness, the fact that we haven't won in two years seems kind of odd to me. And perhaps it seemed odd to the coaches out there as well because we ended up with 5 different teams in the COA this year. Yes that's 5 as in 5 times as many as we had last year.
Leading the way is PA's greatest DMR ever, the boys from Carlisle. Well, sort of. You may have heard this from a number of sources (my personal favorite is always your mom who reads the blog to make sure no one is saying anything mean about her son and then kind decides she likes it and now she is like way too knowledgeable about the state landscape for your liking), Noah Affolder is injured and, barring one of the greatest diversions in diversion history, will not be competing at the Penn Relays. How about that for a run on sentence. If you're new here, that's kind of what I do. That and type-os.
So the Herd will be scrambling up their pieces and trying to make a run at the title even without their 4:04 anchor leg. And guess what? They can still do it. Now I'd be lying if I said I thought it would be easy. You likely have to have a couple guys transition to new positions in the line up, including Isaac Kole likely becoming a critical 1200 meter leg. That's kind of the key spot as the 1200 isn't exactly a race you do 3x a week like a 4x4 or a chocolate milk mile. But Kole certainly has the tools, having run 1:57, 4:18 and placed in the top 15 at states during XC (and top 35 in the northeast region if memory serves).
Of course Jack Wisner, the super soph who missed out on the opportunity to run on the record setting relay indoors, is an x-factor here as well. He ran the 1200 leg for Carlisle as a freshman while Isaac ran the 800 and his now graduated brother Matt took up anchor duties. Jack split in the 1:57 ball park at indoor states for the near record setting 4x800 and has great speed. I see him as their 800 guy but he's got the skills to fit into different spots.
But really will make this team go is Sam Affolder. Sam will be a one and done in the PA farm system like Lonzo Ball of UCLA. But like Ball, you could make a good argument he's the best dude in this field. He's already run sub 4:10 for a full mile and has routinely finished at the top of PA fields. I think this could be a coming out party for Sam and his chance to finally be the hero after running in the large shadow of Noah.
All that being said, I'm nervous for the Herd. I actually think PA's best squad at the Penn Relays will be the boys from GFS. Now, I've been high on these guys more than once before, but this year's team just seems owed a break. They've run terrific for 3 straight years but have been unable to get that elusive state gold. After being one of the first teams to miss out on the COA for the 4x8 last year, they are little extra experienced and a little extra hungry. They've got national level experience both indoors and out. And, perhaps most importantly, they have a dude named Nick Dahl. Dahl's last 3 major anchor appearances on fresh DMRs were 4:10, 4:08 and 4:08.
But Dahl's mates are doing well in their own righty. Jonnie Plass has ascended to a 1:54.20 800, finishing right behind Dahl at the Warrior Invite. Plass can be a little excitable at times, but he's matured enough as a runner to warrant anchor position in the team's marquee 4x8 appearances in 2017. In a chasing role at leg 3, he could drop a sick mark.
The key will be the 1200 leg. Colin Riley is fresh off a 1:57 open PR and an indoor states split in the 1:56 range. He's got a lot of 1200 experience from 2017 and he's pretty solid at the event. However, just like I remarked for the 4x8, the lead off legs at Penn prove to be critical in crowded fields. Riley can't get too buried here or his two game changing back legs will be weaving through bodies all day.
As mentioned earlier, we've got a total of 5 teams in this final so we will not only see two of the top 3 teams from this past indoor nationals, but also 3 of the greatest distance programs in our state's recent history: CR North, LaSalle and O'Hara.
Let's start with O'Hara. An experienced team, O'Hara competed in this event a year ago and posted a terrific mark thanks in large part to great positioning from their 1200 man Rob Morro. Morro is gone (and running very quick at Nova these days), but Gavin Inglis has shown flashes of Morro's prowess this year. Inglis is a fearless guy who wasn't afraid to chase after Sam Affolder at indoor states and likely won't be afraid to do the same at Penn Relays. Ryan James is on anchor duty for the second straight year and, given his performances to date, seems like a candidate for a sub 4:20 anchor carry. O'Hara is a long shot to crack the top 3-5 in this race, but that's also where the boys have done some of their best running in the past. When no one is expecting it. I feel like I phrased that terribly but I think you get my point.
For extra motivation on race day, O'Hara will go head to head with the LaSalle boys. Although LaSalle is a former DMR champ, they've been in the 4x8 the last two seasons where they failed to qualify for the COA. Those runs have helped the team gain some experience from their key legs: Evan Addison and Brendan Price. Addison is officially in the elite crop after his big run at indoor states and could potentially post a memorable 4:14 type carry when he gets the baton. Those kind of anchor legs can move you pretty far up the standings in a race like this.
LaSalle recently ran 7:56 for 4x8, defeating a strong indoor state medal winning CB East team by nearly 10 seconds. They look sharp right now. Let's see how they've grown from their performance a year ago.
Possible wild card here is 400 runner Pete Nelson. He's one of the better 400 guys in this field I bet (although I only know the PA guys to be fair) and could give the team a little extra boost to help Costinis get out of traffic.
Speaking of 400 legs, CRN has a pretty good one. Mike Welde ran 48.77 on the indoor oval at PSU which was good enough for all state honors in the event. So he's really fast. I wouldn't be surprised if, between him and Keller, North gets the baton to their 800 runner ahead of all other PA squads (and perhaps all other squads in general).
I remember back in 2011 (yes, it's that part of the post where Etrain goes into reminiscing and story telling) the squad from CB South stunned a lot of people by breaking 10:20 and finishing a tight second to powerhouse CBA in the DMR. South dropped a ton of time off their seed and set themselves up from the gun with a strong leg from professional 1200 meter runner Joey Waddington and a nice 400 leg. I can't help but think of that team when I look at CRN. Except CRN is more talented.
The reigning XC State Champs have a 1:55 type 800 runner to trot out on lead off in Bryan Keller. He led off the 4x8 for North a year ago and both Penn and States and crushed it against top tier talent to hand off in the front of the pack. He is also a state medalist in XC with great strength. Seems like a natural 1200 runner who, after taking a few stabs at it through indoors and outdoors, may finally have it down.
Sam Early is also an XC state medalist with sub 2 speed. He's got monster range, excelling at the 3k through the 800 already his spring. It's technically possible he's the 1200 leg and he'd probably be pretty darn good as well. Wherever they slot him, he's shown he has the versatility to excel.
Lastly, they've got Ryan Campbell. The 6th place finisher from XC was pretty solid indoors, but has taken it up a notch in the spring. He ran a meet record for 5k at Kiwanis and added a 3200 victory over district champ Rusty Kujdych. That's all great, but this strength runner still needs to prove he has the raw speed for a killer mile time. In order for CRN to crack the top 3-5 teams (a reasonable goal in my mind), Campbell will probably have to get under 4:20. And by a decent amount. But if he pops off a huge time (4:14.9 was his brother's fastest open time as a junior and Ry has been spookily mirroring him as of late) CRN could maybe stun people with a top 2 finish.
All that being said, I think the match up to watch is really GFS vs Carlisle. Isaac Kole's 4:18 recently reminds me that Carlisle will not go quietly, even without their best runner. I can't wait to see what the line up card looks like for Carlisle as it's possible that any of their 3 distance runners could be on the 1200 leg. Wouldn't it be wild to see if Sam Affolder could just crush everyone by enough on the lead off to give them enough of a lead that nobody could catch an on his game Kole? The answer to that question is yes, but I don't think we will see that game played. Even though Kole has experience running by himself with a lead from all those DMRs, I still think you want your best guy on the anchor just in case. Chasing just seems easier.
So really, I wonder who would you take straight up between Dahl and Affolder? I think the line up cards are reasonably comparable and the guys could get the stick about the same time.
I give a slight edge to Dahl, but every second will count for him as he tries to fend off a talented sophomore who very few guys have had answers for in 2017.
Then CRN, LaSalle and O'Hara in the 5-10 range.
Let's hear your thoughts! Relay predictions are all posted up so now it's just time for the racing.