In a highly anticipated rematch, WPIAL stand outs Ben Bumgarner and Zach Skolnekovich took center stage in the boy’s first distance final. As many expected, these two broke away from the field early and established things as a two man race. It almost seemed as if Bumgarner and Skolnekovich were trading off the laps so that neither had to do all the work through the first few laps. Eventually, Bumgarner thought it was time to put his foot down and, just as was the case during XC, he powered away from Skolnekovich and ended up storming to a very quick 9:10.58. Skolnekovich, perhaps with an eye on the 1600, came home over 10 seconds later in 9:21. This marks a new PR for Bumgarner and actually eclipses the winning time of Hockenbury a year ago. Ben’s mark is the second fastest AA 3200 victory in the last 11 seasons as he trials only the 9:08 from Hockenbury’s junior year. This also marked the second gold of the season for Bumgarner and, as noted on the broadcast, if he hadn’t fallen indoors, maybe he could have completed the very difficult XC-3k-3200 triple gold.
The talk before the race centered on just two guys, but after the dust settled a lot of runners proved they were ready for a big PR on race day. Four runners finished within a second and half of one another, including 3 juniors. All of them ran big PRs. Brenden Miller of Upper Dauphin led the way in 3rd place with a 9:28. Andrew Stanley was one of the biggest surprises, boldly chasing the fast pace early and putting on a big kick to run 9:29.06 and beat out Zachary Wortman, the lone senior of the bunch, by .01. Miller and Stanley both compete in the A classification for XC and, although neither of them were state medalists a year ago, they each should be in the conversation for a top 10 finish next year. 8 of the top 10 finishers from the fall are graduating this year.
A pair of freshman grabbed top 11 spots as Andrew Healey and Ben Hoffman took 9th and 11th respectively, Healy running a time of 9:50. Healy, running for Holy Cross, is a very interesting name to watch in the year’s ahead. His performance at states is one of the best we’ve seen since the aforementioned Dominic Hockenbury of Lake Lehman. Hock went on to become a 3 time state champ in this event. Hoffman was the top freshman from A during cross country season and comes from a great program (his team was 2nd at states in XC with four returners in their top five).
It was a crowded field as the AAA 3200 competitors took to the track. Rusty Kujdych of Neshaminy helped control the pace early, but the pace was far from suicidal, out in the mid to high 4:30s. That put lots of guys in position to PR with even splits and top guys could get PRs with a slight increase to their tempo on the final laps. That was where Nate Henderson came in as the JP McCaskey senior went to the lead when the moment felt right to track and break free of the pack. Henderson’s kick has come a long way in the past few seasons and the confidence in his speed allowed him to wait early and conserve some energy.
However, the slower early pace looked like a big advantage for Sam Affolder of Carlisle. The 4:08 man had run just 9:20 so far in the spring, but many speculated he could pop a big time in this race. He lurked in the shadow of Henderson before moving up as the pair began to break away. Affolder prepared for the final lap sprint as the clock read about 8 minutes. Once Affolder went to the lead, I thought the race might be over. Sam seemed to be measuring himself on the backstretch, but once Henderson came up to challenge, he surged away and went into a powerful sprint. I honestly thought he might charge home in a crazy fast final lap split and get within spitting distance of Brehm’s record time from two year earlier while Henderson seemed to be fading out of the picture.
But on the home straight, Henderson rallied for one last kick and dug down to find the gear to go by Affolder. In an eerily similar finish to the Tony Russell-Ross Wilson race of 2014, Henderson passed Affolder halfway up the last straight and, although Sam tried to respond, he couldn’t match his opponent’s top end speed. It’s unclear whether Affolder mistimed his move or let his foot off the gas a little too early, perhaps thinking of the 1600 finals he would be running a little later on. Regardless, Sam ran a fantastic race and left with a huge spring PR of 9:02.95. It also ranks as one of the fastest ever sophomore 3200s in the state’s history, seemingly only trailing Nick Dahl of GFS.
Meanwhile, Nate Henderson dropped a new PR of 9:01.77 and become one of the state’s top 25 3200 performers ever. He also clinched a second straight gold in the state’s longest distance event, making him the first person to win the indoor 3k and the outdoor 3200 since Jason Weller in 2007.
The efforts by Henderson, Affolder and Kujdych (a strong PR of his own at 9:04.55), led to some big breakthroughs across the board. Connor McMenamin cut some 7 seconds off his personal best while Zach Lefever cut about the same amount of time. Noah Beveridge and Ryan James jumped from PRs above 9:20 to PRs below 9:10. In total, the top 12 finishers in the race all ran a personal best of some sort and 11 guys broke the 9:20 barrier.
Another interesting fact that I believe Forrest alluded to earlier is the fact that this top group matched almost exactly to the top group at XC states. Although not unprecedented (or unexpected), it was wild to see that, if you remove Noah Affolder from the fall’s results, things mapped like this:
Henderson 1st in XC -> 1st in 3200
Affolder 2nd in XC -> 2nd in 3200
Lefever 3rd in XC ->6th in 3200
Beveridge 4th in XC -> 5th in 3200
McMenamin 5th in XC -> 4th in 3200
Campbell 6th in XC -> 8th in 3200
James 7th in XC -> 7th in 3200
Provenzo 8th in XC -> 9th in 3200
Kujdych 9th in XC -> 3rd in 3200
So the top 9 without Noah all mapped into the top 9 of this 3200.
Next year, Sam Affolder will be moving to Virginia which means our top returners are Rusty Kujdych and Noah Beveridge. Beveridge is our top returner from XC. Both guys are big talents who showed a lot of potential in their junior seasons. For Beveridge, his clutch ability was on full display. In the fall, he went from mid-tier to top 5 runner in the state in seemingly a blink of an eye. Similarly, he overcame a solid but not amazing indoor season, to run big PRs at Baldwin, then districts, then states. The guy turned it on for the two biggest stages and left with a pair of 5th place finishes.
Big shout out to Mark Provenzo. He was the WPIAL champ during XC and a top 3200 runner a year ago, but while dedicating a lot of energy to a talented 4x8, his 3200 times were not quite in line with the expectations he had built for himself with his past success. But at the most important meet of the year, he went for it as the #19 seed, mixed it up at the front of the field and hung on for a clutch 9:16. He ended up just outside the medals but deserves a lot of credit for his big race.
11 guys under 9:20 is also way up there in terms of state all time depth. Matt D’Aquila of Lower Merion was the last guy to break the barrier, PRing for a second straight week at 9:17. It was the fastest 11th place finish since Brad Miles, the reigning XC state champ, ran a 9:15 to take 11th in the blazing 2010 state championship field. In addition to D’Aquila, some other names really shined further down the depth chart. Stephen Paul ran a terrific race in 9:29.1, cutting over 25 seconds off his district time. Mitchell Etter of State College overcame an injury that ended his XC career to break 9:30 for the second time and finish as the 4th best returner for next year’s edition of the race.
Well another state championship is officially in the books and with it came a variety of surprises, close finishes and positive memories. Congrats to all our state medalists and state champions! There were a ton of impressive performances that deserve recognition, too many to honor here, but feel free to comment and compliment your fellow athletes who impressed you most here on the site.
Everyone who qualified for the meet should be proud of their accomplishments this season and I hope everyone can appreciate how far they have come. If you are disappointed with how things ended, just remember that, no matter where you go next year, there's always another race. Maybe it's cross country, maybe it's track or maybe it's just the race of life. But there's always a chance to get use disappointment and turn it into a positive. Just ask the Carlisle boys and Sam Affolder. Or maybe Freeport's Rob Reichenbaugh. We don't always know when our next shot at redemption will be, but I'm confident you all will be ready.
But enough of the preaching. For now anyway. I'll be doing plenty of sappy writing in the next few weeks as I begin work on this year's Etrain 11 Series. These posts talk about some of the biggest stories of the track season and are more feature style articles than the recap/prediction stuff you usually get out of me. Usually, I like to try and talk with some runners/coaches to try and get more interesting interview tidbits to make the pieces go. If you are a reader of the blog and see your name or the name of someone you know on the list below and would like to reach out to help tell your/their story, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or hit us up via twitter if you prefer that. We will honor anonymity if you would like to stay out of the spotlight.
Here's some names for which I have story ideas already bouncing around my head. Feel free to suggest others in the comments below or reach out directly via email. If you would prefer to not have a story written, reach out and let us know. We will respect all wishes. Depending on time, I may not write about all of these if I don't have the contacts, but we will see what we can do.
Ben Bumgarner and Zach Skolnekovich
Carlisle Distance Squad
CBW, Pennridge, North Penn, Pennsbury, Penn Wood, Abington 4x8
GFS Distance Squad
Lower Dauphin Distance Squad
Seneca Valley Distance Squad
State College 4x8
Again, comment with your other suggestions.
By the way, I will also be bringing back the Etrain Oscars this year for a second edition. We will have another vote to decide winners over the coming month, but for now we need nominees! I'll be posting the categories again soon, but I'll be rolling forward most of last year's award titles if you want to get a jump on sharing nominations. Would love to hear suggestions for new awards that you think would help honor some of our finest.
My apologies for the delay in the state race recaps. They are coming, but I was doing some marathon coaching/cheering and then today has been a non stop travel sesh back from Vermont. Shout out to my best friend Charlie Kline on his BQ. None of you know him I'm sure, but he earned a shout out nonetheless.
So that's all for now. This has been Etrain via the notes section of his iPhone, typing on an Amtrak train after 9 hours in a car. The kid will be back at it again with a clear mind and a good keyboard soon. Lots of cool stuff left to come. Don't touch that dial.
The 4x8 is always a great event to watch. There’s something about the thrill of running for your teammates that gets people moving fast. And PA especially has a knack for this event. In total, we had 9 squads break 7:50 in the 4x8 and that was with some brutal qualifying prelims to navigate just a day earlier.
Over the coming days, I will be doing my best to get as many splits as I can out of the PCN video, but I don’t know how much that will get me. If you have splits for any of the relays (4x8, 4x4, AA or AAA), please shoot us an email (email@example.com) or tweet at us or comment. We’d really appreciate it if you could get us the splits and names of the relay runners.
Seneca came in as the heavy favorites with easily the best qualifying time from district week. But as we have seen plenty of times before, upsets can and do happen. After one leg, Wyomissing put the pressure on the Seneca boys, storming out to a lead. Sophomore Jake Schneider led off for Seneca and hung tough at the front, doing his best to hold his ground. Wyomissing ultimately handed off about 4 second ahead of Seneca and a couple seconds ahead of the rest of the field as well.
Phoenix Myers shot out like a rocket to try and make up ground. I estimated his first lap at about 53 seconds. That was enough to get him to the lead and, despite tying up down the stretch, he clocked a 1:54-1:55 kind of split on his carry and put his team in a strong position. Adam Hanes took the baton next and opened up the gap Seneca needed with a 1:54 carry of his own and, over the course of the second lap, he essentially sealed the victory for his squad. The only goal left for Donovan Myers on the anchor leg was the 7:44 state record.
With that in mind, Donovan sprinted out, perhaps even faster than his twin, and rolled through 400 meters in somewhere near 52 seconds. That put them about 60 seconds away from the record if Donovan could just hang on. He rigged up down the stretch, missing the record, but giving Seneca a second straight state title and breaking their own season best mark in 7:48.92. No one else was within 10 seconds of the squad.
The fast early pace for both Myers brothers likely left them spent for the individual events, but they left everything on the track chasing that 7:44 record. They didn’t get it, but Seneca proved they were a truly elite 4x8 squad. It would have been fun to see them mixed in with the AAA squads to find out how they would have finished.
Wyomissing held on for second with what appeared to be a fairly controlled effort from anchor Joe Cullen. It marks the third straight year that Wyomissing has placed in the top 2 at states in this relay, all with Cullen on the roster. He returns next year to try and make it 4 for 4. Their district mates from Trinity were able to bring home the bronze medals in 8:02 and then Holy Redeemer, who entered the meet in the 8:20s by seed time, popped off a big time 8:02. District 2 always seems to find that extra gear in the 4x8 at states. Recently, it’s been Lakeland, but Holy Redeemer, a surprise squad during XC, was the team to turn it up a notch this year.
After a pair of 7:56 teams with championship pedigree were bounced in the prelims, it was clear that the 4x8 state final would be, as the kids say these days, “fire”. Right from the gun, all the teams sprinted out the gates for a blazing start. The familiar figure of Dennis Manyeah took up position at the front of the group, but he received challenges from all over as Pennsbury (Jed Scratchard?) and State College (Owen Wing) both made bids for the lead. Manyeah sprinted away over the final straightaway, but it was crowded behind him as he handed off, probably in the 1:53-1:54 ballpark.
Things continued to be quick on the second leg as no one backed off the pace. Pennridge, always a formidable opponent, worked their way up the pack with what I believe was Matt Eissler taking the baton. The sophomore and indoor state medalist at 800 got his team in a great position at the front as basically the whole field continued to fight for space.
The third leg was where CB West really left their mark as Alec Hofer took the baton. Hofer didn’t run on West’s Penn Relays squad, but he was an important member of their indoor state championship run. Hofer took the baton and did work on the second lap as West’s only senior gave them the lead heading into the anchor leg. Meanwhile, State College’s Joey Feffer was surging up the field, driving the Little Lions into position to challenge for a repeat title. Hofer split about a 1:55 while Feffer carried maybe a second faster putting Jake Claricurzio and Nick Feffer in a dual for the state title.
These two meet indoors and finished in a dead heat at the line, Claricurzio barely edging out Feffer. Now came the rematch. Other relays were still in contention, but these two programs, both with state championships in their trophy cases, seemed like the only ones to watch. Claricurzio held his lead and fought off Feffer every chance he could, most notably at the 200 to go mark, forcing Feffer wide. Finally, Jake put his sprint on for the final 100 and kicked to victory. Both guys were about 1:52 on the carry.
CB West stopped the clock in 7:40.14, giving them a second state title this decade. They will return 3 legs from that squad, including anchor Jake Claricurzio. They will likely be the favorites again next year to defend this title and maybe even take a shot at their 7:38 school record from the magical 2011 season.
For State College, they leave with a well-deserved silver. Amazingly, the State College boys have clocked a 4th straight time at 7:41 or faster, an unprecedented result. Their mark of 7:41.42 makes them the second fastest relay in school history behind only last year’s team. It’s ahead of both the 2015 squad that placed 3rd and the 2014 squad that won it all. They lose their 3 fastest legs this year, so we will see what they’ve got left for next year, but for now you have to appreciate what they’ve been able to accomplish.
Speaking of historic programs, Pennridge, North Penn and Abington are all back on the podium again with sub 7:47 clockings. Pennridge finishes 3rd in the state after being a virtual non factor for the majority of the year. Penn Wood and Pennsbury also joined them in the sub 7:47 club, Penn Wood running a brilliant race that was even faster than the 2014 that shocked a lot of people with a top 5 finish. These teams plus CB West gave District One 6 of the 8 state medalists in the 4x8.
Everybody that made it to the finals deserves a lot of credit. Lower Dauphin stunned people when they popped off a 7:53 and then a 7:50 on back to back days. They had only just broken 8 minutes at districts and were buried in the pack, but the LD boys turned it on when it counted. They had a balanced squad and had produced some quality open times so I thought they could be dangerous, but you need to put it together on the right day and this squad did.
Also really turning heads was Seneca Valley. SV was the only team to break 7:50 twice this season and they did it with a pretty young group. At least two of the guys on this relay were sophomores and they may have been the two fastest. Just like cross, Sam Owori and Seth Ketler came up big at states and helped lift this school to the top of the WPIAL. It’s been a huge year for Seneca Valley and capping things with a 7:46 is no joke. This could be just the beginning considering what they return for both this upcoming fall and next spring.
Lastly, shout out to my boys from Williamsport. The District 4 school is easy to miss in results as they don’t race the major teams often, but they produced a 7:54 in prelims and a 7:55 in the finals, holding their own among the super powers. I was very happy to see this school make the state finals for another season as they continue to represent the lesser known District 4 well.
There are many elements that go into an upset. In the AA 800, many of the top runners put their priorities in other places. For Donovan Myers and the Seneca boys, it was the 4x8. For Joe Cullen and Tyler Leeser, it was the 1600. For Ryan Thrush, it was the 400. But it’s also important to remember that luck is when preparation meets opportunity. And Robert Reichenbaugh was ready for this state 800.
After a disappointing finish in the 4x8 opened the door for redemption, Reichenbaugh entered the open 800 shooting for a 1:55 and a state medal. Kamil Jihad, the top returner from a year ago, stormed out to the lead accompanied by Tyler Leeser. These two were the top returners from this race a year earlier. On the final lap, Reichenbaugh surged by them both and, after missing out qualifying for the final last year, he moved into 1st place and clinched the title in 1:55.12 with Leeser 2nd and Jihad 3rd. Reichenbaugh’s final time of 1:55.12 would have gotten him just 6th last year, but this year, he had just what was needed to grab the victory. Jihad and Leeser will return next year as the top returners for a second straight season.
Lots of other runners picked this race to step into PRs. Trinity’s Matt Geisler came back from a monster 4x8 performance to clock a big open PR at 1:56. Matt Kinback continued the positive momentum for District 2 AA with a 5th place finish in his own big 1:56 time and Mike Walwro of Central Cambria rounded out the 1:56s. Chase Varner of Southern Fulton, who hadn’t broken 2 in his previous district and state appearances, rolled to a state medal for the little known District 5, clocking a time of 1:57.61. Then Griffin Sites added what may have been his first sub two with a 1:57.80. A lot of these guys in the medals left with big PRs and really put an exclamation mark on their seasons or, in most cases, careers.
The AAA race was a wire to wire victory as Josh Hoey got out to a good start and took control. No challenged Hoey off the start and he took things through in a fairly conservative first lap before. He held his advantage on the back stretch before really opening up his stride on the final straightaway. His long legs ate up a ton of track en route to a 1:50.13 clocking, a top 10 mark in PA history (5th fastest in meet history). The junior is now in the top 10 all time for the mile and the 800 in PA (his best mile coming from indoors) and, as he put it in his post race interview, his season is just getting started. It’s clear Hoey has big goals for nationals and should be a factor to join the sub 1:50 club and perhaps even dip into the 4:05 range for the mile.
I was really impressed with Nick Wagner’s run. The Penn Trafford senior ran 1:53 at his district meet in his first major 800 of the season and I was worried the pressure that comes from that time plus his lack of experience in outdoor championships, could be a cause for concern. But Wagner handled and helped keep things interesting in this field. Meanwhile, Hudson Delisle continued to consistently drop time, clocking a 1:52.01 and just missing an honor roll time. Delisle will be the #2 returner for next year, but you never know what Hoey will decide to run at next year’s championships. This is the second straight season and 4th straight track championship where Quakertown has produced an 800 state medalist.
Derin Klick closes out his career with a 4th place finish at states, just a week after taking 3rd at districts. Klick has been resilient through district week and then found a way to turn it up a notch each of the past two state meets. He seems to really thrive in the trials-finals format which would serve him well at the next level. Nick Feffer of State College rounded out the top 5 with his second straight medal winning performance in the 800.
Christian Craig of William Tennent really came on strong to close out the year. his teammate, Matt Kraus, was the big name during indoor track, but Craig ended up finding momentum at the right time and riding it all the way through to a surprise medal in the state finals. He ran 1:54.21 this season and I don’t believe he was even under 2 minutes during the winter (at least in the open). I have to say, William Tennent has really done a nice job in recent years. Their XC team has been consistently improving and they had two top 50 finishers this year. Now Kraus and Craig both clock SQS times in the 800 and Craig gets a state medal. This isn’t a traditional powerhouse program, but Tennent has acquitted itself well.
Matt Busche will be an interesting name. Busche finished 9th in this championship meet, running 1:54.92 in his fourth race of the weekend. I’d imagine Busche had a couple monster splits for his 4x8, plus he had to throw down a 1:56.1 in the prelim (pretty close to his PR) and he still banged out a 1:54.92 at the end of it. Busche was nearly a top 50 finisher during XC, so he’s got great strength and clearly he’s got speed. He comes back next season.
From the start, Winchester Thurston’s Tristan Forsythe made it clear he wasn’t playing any games out there. Forsythe went to the front early and controlled the pace. Noah Curtin of Mercyhurst Prep, the A XC state champion over Forsythe, was his most game challenger. Ultimately, Forsythe continued to grind away and opened up a gap on the pack behind. On the last lap, the only possible challenger for his state gold emerged as Joe Cullen of Wyomissing broke into a furious sprint down the backstretch. However, the last 100 meters, Forsythe used the last gear he had saved and blasted home, stopping the clock in a flashy PR of 4:12.46. Cullen brought home the silver with a very respectable 4:13, doubling back from a silver medal performance in the 4x8.
In total, the top 6 runners in the field broke 4 minutes and 20 seconds. Noah Curtin continued to roll, dropping from 4:21 to 4:16.16 and even passing his brother Sebastian on the all-time list in the event. Tyler Leeser was one of 3 juniors to place in the top 4 and ran a huge PR of his own in 4:16.53. Skolnekovich survived his double and picked up a 5th place medal while freshman Garrett Baublitz rounded out the top 6 with an awesome 4:19.76. That puts Baublitz in an elite group of sub 4:20 medal winning freshman. The two most recent guys that jump out to me (I may be missing others) are Josh Hoey and Craig Miller. It doesn’t take a lot of research to see how good those two are.
Forsythe’s winning time of 4:12 was really quick, busting well free of his previous outdoor best from districts. It’s the fastest AA mark since Ryan Smathers’s junior season victory in 2012 and the third fastest performance at states dating back to 1988. All this comes after Forsythe was last at Penn Relays and working to overcome serious missed practice time. But in the end, Forsythe proved he belongs among the elite in the state at any classification, running the fastest 1600 of anybody in either classification on race day.
For Cullen this was a pretty impressive mark as well. It was roughly a 4 second PR and his first state medal at this distance. Cullen contested the 800 at indoor states last year and was primarily a speedster type. He ran on Wyomissing’s state champion 4x4 as well. However, Cullen proved he had great strength during XC and, on the double from the 4x8, he was able to come back and run a massive PR and even give Forsythe a little bit of a scare on the final straightaway. On fresh legs, Cullen v. Forsythe in a rematch next spring could end up being pretty legendary, but I’m interested to see Cullen all out in an open 800. I think he could have run a pretty fast time at states weekend and probably still has a 1:52-1:53 kinda mark in his legs if he gets in the right race (Henderson Distance Festival?).
Lastly, have to give credit to Jacob Schulte of Bishop McCort. He was one of the top seeds in the 3200 but fell out of the medals. Then, attempting a very difficult double, he managed to fight through a strong 1600 field and clock a new PR of 4:22 en route to what I believe is his first ever state medal. Congrats to Jacob. Zach Mead’s 9th place time of 4:23.80 would have been 5th in 2016.
On paper, Sam Affolder’s 4:08 PR looked pretty darn good against this field. But the paper didn’t take into account the fact that he was doubling off a 18 second season best in the 3200. That made the super soph very vulnerable on race day. With no Josh Hoey on the card, this race seemed pretty up for grabs.
It took a sub 4:20 clocking to just make it to the final and many guys were at or near their PRs in the prelims. Would that take the sting out of the finish from these runners on race day? Amazingly, no it did not.
Things were crowded early as Cedar Crest’s Jesse Cruise kept himself out of traffic at the front of the field. However, everybody hung with him out front and the field stayed just as crowded and up for grabs as it had been in the build up. Sam Affolder hung back, fighting as best he could through tired legs and seemed like he might be out of it with a lap to go. Meanwhile, CB South’s Matt Scarpill was implementing his strategy that had led him to a big win at District One’s championships. He took off at a full sprint and forced the field to follow.
Then on the last straightaway, Carlisle’s other runner in the field, Isaac Kole took charge of the race. With his form breaking down and his head wobbling, Kole sprinted clear of the field just before Sam Affolder broke into picture with a fast closing sprint. Sam celebrated as Isaac crossed the line in first, both runners clocking 4:12s and taking the first two spots in the field and the 18 team points that came with it.
As we know now, this sealed a team victory for Carlisle, who was able to win the team title with just 26 points coming from two runners. Over the course of the past few months, they lost a ton of potential scoring in the hurdles, sprints and jumps, not to mention their 38 point scorer from indoors Noah Affolder. But this, ultimately, was the championship they won.
For Kole, this was obviously a big upset and a massive PR (his best coming in was just 4:18). It also established him as another big name in the Carlisle program and gave him a state championship medal to wear. It was one heck of a day.
Meanwhile, Sam Affolder, as one of commenter pointed out, ended his PA high school career pointing at his teammate and celebrating his accomplishment. In just a year at Carlisle, Sam contributed a lot to the school. He helped elevate the teammates around him and he helped to get Carlisle their long coveted team title (plus a national record). He was 2nd in the 3200 and the 1600 and, if things had gone a tiny bit differently in both races, he could have won an unprecedented double gold. As things stand, this sophomore turned out perhaps the closest thing we have ever seen to a 3200-1600 double gold on the AAA level. He was really disappointed after that 3200 ended, knowing he let one slip away, but he didn’t make excuses in his post race interview and he jumped at the chance for redemption. Seems like a great, fitting way for his time at Carlisle to end.
But he’s gone next year. So is Noah and so is Kole. Which leaves Liam Conway of Owen J Roberts. Conway will now be the #1 returner both indoors and outdoors as he finished 3rd in this race with a new PR of 4:13.00. Conway snuck through with a big kick at the very end for a second straight championship as he appeared out of nowhere in a very similar performance to his indoor silver. He nearly even nipped a celebrating Affolder at the line as he leaned ahead.
Other than Conway, the next best returners are Tyler Wirth of Wallenpaupack, Evan Addison of LaSalle and Spencer Smucker of Henderson, none of which were able to finish with state medals, but all of which ran sub 4:20 this year. Tyler Wirth is a really talented runner who you have to keep an eye on. I’m not sure if we will see him in XC, but the sophomore ran a 1:53 split at districts, ran 4:17 here at states and finished 9th in his biggest major championship race. As he continues to learn, this kid could really become something special. Also watch for him and his Abington Heights rivals to make noise this coming fall. Kyle Burke ran a great 4:20 in the prelims and came pretty close to putting two from D2 in the finals.
Jesse Cruise of Cedar Crest finishes his season a lot like he started it. The senior has been clocking excellent times across a variety of disciplines, but has struggled to find breathing room alongside absolute studs like Affolder, Henderson and now Kole. He ran a very fast 4:13.18 at this race, despite doing a lot of pacing. Even when it looked he was buried with 100 to go, he found another gear and fought his way back up to 4th.
Also dropping huge PRs were Bryan Keller, Matt Scarpill and Owen Wing. This was the “wow” group for sure. Keller takes home 5th in a 4.5 second PR of 4:13. This kid has always been a great talent, you could tell by his 800s last year. I thought he would be an excellent miler this year, but he had an up and down start, struggling to break 4:20 and battling tooth and nail with his teammates Early and Haas. But, ultimately, Keller found his rhythm at the perfect time. He broke 4:20 at districts and now is a 4:13 runner to end his career. For Scarpill, he may be disappointed with a 6th place finish, but the CB South Senior made sure everyone knew his name in 2017. In his first appearance at outdoor states, he made a gutsy move for the win, dropping a 3 second PR and nearly stole a gold medal in an unprecedented way. He’s got an Oscar nomination and possible Oscar win coming to him this June. That’s my bet.
And finally, Owen Wing of State College. There’s something in the water over there and its not just the 4x8. Two years ago, Alex Milligan entered the state championship as a low 4:20s miler with 1:56 speed. But seeing as he was doubling the 1600 and the 4x8 together, it seemed pretty unlikely that he would contend for a medal. Of course, Milligan did make the finals and then, after a 1:53 PR split, he ran 4:17 and scored in the 1600. A year later, Milligan was back at it again, this time dropped his personal best 6 seconds and landing on 4:10.17 with a state championship gold around his neck.
Now Owen Wing steps in. He’d never grabbed an individual medal before and, quite frankly, he’d never really been in the conversation. I was surprised to see him giving the open 1600 a shot considering the focus the 4x8 typically is for this program. He advanced through to the finals, dropping his best from 4:21 to 4:18 and then doubled down big time with a 4:14 in the final to cut a total of roughly 7 seconds off his personal best in the event after already PRing in the 4x8 lead off position. Wing was flying on Saturday. I’m sorry. I had to.
Chapter 19: The Birth of Etrain
Fresh off a breakthrough cross country season, Upper Dublin’s Junior Mike Palmisano hit the track with a whole new level of confidence. He had been a solid a year earlier, running 1:57 for 800 meters in the spring, but he wasn’t a state caliber guy. His first meet back, Upper Dublin won the DMR in 11 flat. His second meet back he clocked a strong split on the team’s 8:19 4x8. But in Meet #3 he wowed everyone with a 4:25 runaway victory in the open mile. That time was good enough to break the school record, the first record setting performance I got to witness firsthand.
That was Mike’s last race before the prestigious Burdette Invitational. Burdette was always the first real invitational of the season and a lot of teams started to, if not quite play their hand, at least look at their cards when we started getting to the end of December. Fresh off his school record in the mile, we were all excited to watch him race again in his best event, the 800. And we were particularly excited to see who his main competition was.
Remember North Penn’s Zack Montijo from a couple chapters back? Well Montijo had anchored the North Penn 4x8 to a state title the previous spring and then finished 6th in the state to lead the Knights to the XC state title in the fall. He was, quite frankly, a beast. However, we had just lost to the powerhouse that was North Penn at districts and states and we were hungry for any sort of shot at revenge. And Montijo? He was the guy who got our squad most fired up.
When the gun sounded, Montijo went to the front and Mike found his way into second. From there, Palm just sat in and held position, waiting for the right moment to pounce. On the last lap, Mike turned on the jets and sprinted by with his lightening kick to grab the upset victory. The official time was 1:58.20 which, although not incredibly fast, was a meet record at the time.
After that, it would be hard for Mike to win any sort of race and it be considered an upset.
My sophomore indoor track season was a ton of fun. With Mitch and Pete joining the team, I had two new training partners and friends. I was also getting increasingly friendly with the older guys on the team who I’d previously been scared and intimidated by. And through that friendship, I learned about the penntrack forums. A lot of the guys had penntrack accounts that they used to post in the site’s discussion forum. As a prospective track super fan, I was immediately drawn to the sharing of knowledge. And so, I decided to get an account for myself.
I logged on one day, punched in our email and tried to make an account. But I was blocked as apparently an account under our home email address had already been created. It turned out that my dad, once he started to realize that this sport was something I was really invested in, had made an account so that he could try and learn more about track and field. His account name consisted of a couple pieces: his personal nickname (“Earl” which was often shortened to “E”), the fact that he weight trained and the month of his birth (“11”). I lobbied to share the account and thus officially tied myself to the name “etrain11”.
Everything just sort of grew from there. I started to post more and more frequently. I studied more and more results. I learned more and more faces. Every meet I attended I’d pick up something new and tuck it away in my memory. At one meet, I can remember a bunch of different guys on the team asking me to recite their PRs, including our stand-out 400-meter runner Brian Rosenthal. I knew his 400 PR down to the hundredths (it was 49.99 so it was easy to remember) which I think made him a combination of flattered and frightened.
A few meets later we were at the TFCAofGP Last Chance meet just before states. Our best runner, Mike Palmisano, was running the 800 meters and I was hanging out with him before the race near the check in area. At the association meets, it was traditional to look around at the other guys checking in to size up your competition. I remember seeing a taller kid in a black sweatshirt in the corner and I told Mike to watch out for him. Not long after, that same kid ended up winning the race. I don’t think I would have actually picked him to win the race, but it still made me look good.
And with moments like those, etrain became more than just a name on the penntrack forums, it became something of an identity for me.
On the track, I was finding my identity a bit more as well. Coach Ames began throwing me in workouts with some of our top guys on the shorter/faster days and my goal was basically to hang on as long as I could. Looking back, it seems like a pretty crazy training plan, but it paid off big time. I was consistently improving each week.
After some solid races in the 8 and 4, the coaches decided to try and get me a TFCAofGP medal. At the time, these were a huge deal. The top five individuals/teams in each event would get a medal for their efforts. Pretty sizable medals too that a lot of kids would wear around their neck. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want one. But running on a loaded 4x8 was really scary. I went from running with my classmates who I was comparable to if not a little faster, to running with a group of juniors and seniors who were consistent medal winners (and, thus, way faster).
At Haverford College, the same site as my first ever indoor race, I ran the 4x800 relay’s second leg for our team. I ran a personal best of 2:12.2, but was our slowest leg on the 8:35.8 relay. When our anchor crossed the line, we were in 5th place overall and it seemed like my first medal was clinched. However, when they announced the results, it was revealed that CB East had edged us out with a faster time from the previous heat and knocked us down one spot to 6th. Ironically, two weeks later at a small meet at Glenn Mills, my relay squad finished 6th again as my 4x4 ran 3:50.2.
Although I was beginning to climb the ranks, I still hadn’t grabbed a medal which meant I was eligible for the Novice Meet at Lehigh. This meet was designed for runners on teams who weren’t consistently competing for medals to have a chance to race at the front of the field rather than buried in the back. I had good memories of this meet from the previous year where our 4x8 had competed and held our own for the first time in a race. After our cool down, I made it a goal of mine to come back to this meet and win the next season. The desire for victory only intensified after the early season loss at the hands of Abington in the frosh/soph relay.
But the coaching staff decided it made more sense to put me on the 4x4 relay rather than the 4x8. I had run solid times in the shorter event and we really needed one extra piece to help get our relay over the top. It wasn’t the event I expected to contest, but it didn’t change my goal of gold. Again, I ran second on the relay and got the baton in about 2nd place. As I was working my way up toward the lead, a runner fell, tripping on the rail, and opened up a clear path of track. From there, it was smooth sailing and our team ran away with the victory as Eric Lau opened up the gap on the third leg and our fellow sophomore Joey Logano brought home the gold. It was a great way to finish off the indoor season.
Or so I thought.
On Friday night, I rode the bus home from the Novice Meet, thinking that my season was finished. My coach came by to talk to me and asked me to run at the PTFCA Carnvial Meet that was being contested the next day. I knew this meet was reserved for our best guys (because you could wear spikes) so I was surprised but excited. Unfortunately, I had a pretty poor performance running on little sleep and tired legs. So now, surely, my season was done.
However, I kept coming to practice. I loved being there and being around the team and my coach encouraged me to stay and keep training. Things were really winding down now. The next meet was the TFCAofGP Meet of Champions. I hadn’t qualified for this one and I definitely wouldn’t be racing, plus you needed tickets just to get inside the building. But, just as they had before, my coaches had my back. Coach Ames and Dink got me on the bus with a ticket to the meet and I had front row seats to watch the best runners in the area compete. As a budding super fan, this was an unforgettable experience.
LaSalle won the DMR over Archbishop Ryan with a time of 10:31. Penncrest was third and my Upper Dublin teammates were 4th, just ahead of CB East and anchor Josh Izewski. In the 800, Zack Montijo got his revenge. He ran 1:56.38 to win the gold over Elliot Rhodes and Nick Crits. Our Mike Palmisano finished 5th in the meet with a time slightly slower than the one he ran back in December. Montijo also ran on the gold medal winning 4x8 which defeated Wissahickon and Cardinal O’Hara.
In perhaps the race of the day, Engineering and Science’s Terrence Lee sat on the back of reigning XC state champ Mark Dennin in the 3k for almost the entire race before he unleashed a blazing fast kick in the closing stages of the race to win in a meet record time of 8:47.93 compared to Dennin’s 8:50.01. It suddenly made Lee a favorite for the title in two weeks at states.
With Meet of Champs in the books, our line-up was basically set for states. All that was left was the Last Chance Meet. Once again, I prepared myself for the end of my season. However, the coaching staff wanted to give me one more race since I had been training so hard for the extra weeks. We gave our top individuals one last chance to improve their seed before states in Pat McLaughlin (mile) and Mike Palmisano (800) and then, in one of the meet’s last events, I got my final race in the 4x800 meters.
It was an odd race. Everyone else had already competed in their individual events and seemed fairly spent. Literally the only reason we were running this relay was so that I could get a chance to compete. No pressure. Naturally, my varsity teammates defaulted me into the anchor role that none of them wanted to have. I taped a couple numbers on my hips and stood at the ready, awkwardly fidgeting among other elite team’s best runners who were way out of my league.
I can still picture the start. Mike led off for us and was chilling near the back of the pack. When he came by at the end of his first lap, he kept turning to me with a goofy smile and almost dancing with his running motion. Then, on the second lap, he did it again. It was ridiculous, but it did make me smile and distracted me from my massive amount of nervous jitters. Then, Mike started racing and he passed basically everyone to hand off alongside first place.
From there, we went steadily backwards. The other guys didn’t have a ton of fight in them. But that was OK, as it put me in a much more comfortable position. I have no clue what place I was in when I got the baton, but I ran as hard as I could, fixating on the North Penn jersey in front of me from super soph Brad Miles and trying as best I could to chase him down. Ultimately, his presence bundled with my teammates’ and coaches’ cheering spurred me to a 2:10 800 split, a new PR and over 15 seconds faster than my best from the previous winter. Couldn’t ask for a much better way to end my season.
But, technically speaking, I still wasn’t done. We drove on the bus home, everyone’s spirits high.. I was excited about my PR, while my teammates were pumped about the state championships that were now just a week away. As I rode happily back to the high school, Coach Dinkins got up at the front of the bus and announced that everyone on the bus would be going to states the next weekend. I looked around in confusion and then I tried to catch my coach’s eye to make sure he knew that I was on the bus.
“Yes, you too, Felix.”
 Fairly unrelated side note, this meet is also my first real memory of Ben Furcht. He was going up against Brad Miles, at this point a legendary titan of a sophomore considering his XC season, and Miles got out to a huge early lead in the 3k. All of a sudden, Furcht comes storming back from out of nowhere on the last lap and beats out Miles by 0.2 seconds. I originally thought it was just someone that Miles had lapped. Turns out Furcht just paced things out perfectly.
 We had soooo many guys with penntrack accounts. We might have been the most active team of posters out there. Some of the user names included: lolbbq, gorgeous, binged, NotQuiteMr49, BloodbathMcGrath and _Lorenzi. There’s probably more I’m forgetting, but those jump out.
 I’ve technically never confirmed this one. I assumed it was his birth month but it also could have just been the easiest number to press on the keyboard.
 His name was Chris Pregler from Central Bucks West. He was a very good 800 runner with a strong kick. Mike ended up finishing 3rd. And that freshman Kyle Moran? He took 7th in a 2:02.05.
 Again, kind of unrelated, but the Novice 3k that year was won by none other than Ben Furcht.
 Miles was doubling as well and seemed just as unenthused as the teammates I was racing with. He really eased up on the last lap and I felt like I was catching up to him. That was motivation for me and probably what dragged me to that PR.
 I’m not sure how many guys have ever raced at the Novice Meet and then been an alternate for states in the same season, but it was quite a ride. So you’re probably wondering how this was possible? Well, a number of factors contributed, but the big one was sickness. One of our top guys got mono and another got a bad cold and had to stop training which opened the door for the last kid who kept hanging around at practice to get a de facto alternate spot.
A year ago, we witnessed the fastest AA 800 in state meet history as Domenic Perretta stormed through the second lap en route to a 1:50.10 clocking. But just one spot behind him was super soph Kamil Jihad of Neumann Goretti who ran 1:52.23. In the spring of 2017, Brookville’s Ryan Thrush turned the AA 800 up yet another notch as he clocked a 1:50.89 at the Butler Invitational. The time seemed to set the stage for a new meet record this May when Thrush and Jihad met up with one another. However, Thrush scratched out of the 800 in order to properly defend his 400 state title from a year ago. That leaves just Jihad to carry on the record pursuit.
Or does it? Jihad may be the top returner from 2016 and he also holds a 1:53 season best (the fastest of those competing at states in AA), but he ran just 2:00.43 at his district meet, slotting him at #13 on the performance list. I’d personally just chalk that up to the difficult 400-800 double he attempted at districts, but still others may see it as a small crack in the amour.
The top performers from districts were Donovan Myers of Seneca, who led all runners with a 1:57.15 and Tyler Lesser of Miton Area, who clocked a 1:58.05. Assuming everything holds to form, both of these runners would be on their second race of the day when they face Jihad in the final, but both guys have the speed to challenge him anyway. Donovan has run 1:54 on the double already this year and Lesser ran 1:55.11 at this meet last year (#2 returner behind Jihad).
If neither of those athletes can defeat Jihad, it will have to be a relative unknown. The rest of the field is hovering around 1:58-1:59 or even 2 flat and would need a breakthrough just to cross into the medals. Last year it took a, admittedly unprecedented, 1:55, to get on the medal stand.
Let’s flip quickly through the heats.
Tyler Lesser, Mike Walwro, Brandon Anglemyer, Zac Tingley
Kamil Jihad, Donovan Myers, Robert Reichenbaugh, Matt Geisler
At Large qs
Sam Cunkleman, Matt Kinback, Josue Marcelin, Michael Peters
There’s a few guys in this group doubling off the 4x8 that will hopefully have enough left ot make the finals, most notably the #3 overall seed Mike Walwro of Central Cambria. Walwro, Giesler, Reichenbaugh and Cunkleman all competed in last year’s preliminaries and none made finals. Those will be the most notable redemption opportunities on race day. Chase Varner of Southern Fulton in little known District 5 is another interesting finalist candidate. He was 14th a year ago in the prelims.
Overall, I think this should be a fun final. It’s going to be interesting to see if Lesser or Myers can find an extra gear after their first races. I personally think Donovan is more likely to have some reserve in the tank although (spoiler alert) I’ve got both of these dudes winning a state gold earlier in the day. The 16-8 double is a bit more doable (just ask Domenic Perretta who did it each of the past 3 years) than the 32-16, but it’s still going to be no cake walk for Lesser.
If either of those two guys are off their game (or both) there’s some prime real estate available atop the state landscape in AA. We are ushering in a new era of stand outs and I’m excited to see who from this crew can step up and fil the big shoes left by the class ahead of them.
8. Zac Tingley 1:57.50
7. Matt Geisler, Trinity 1:57.44
6. Brandon Anglemyer, South Side 1:57.39
5. Robert Reichenbaugh, Freeport 1:57.37
4. Matt Kinback, Lackawanna Trail 1:56.84
3. Tyler Lesser, Milton 1:55.79
2. Donovan Myers, Seneca 1:53.99
1. Kamil Jihad, Neumann Goretti 1:53.32
Not really much clue what to do with this one once we get passed Lesser. Big potential for a sleeper to emerge, drop a 1:55 and become a household name.
The 800 was my personal favorite event as an athlete so I will always have a soft spot for it. But man the state 800 process has to be terrifying for a coach. Even if you are the best guy in the field, there’s no sure path to the final with two crowded heats of runners sprinting around the track. The conditions have been brutal enough to bounce favorites on a consistent basis. Just last year, our #1 seed heading into the meet didn’t survive the prelims, but that wasn’t the first time. In 2013, Jeff Wiseman was bounced after running 1:52 at his district meet. Long story short, there’s almost no guarantees here so you have to take nothing for granted.
However, Josh Hoey seems to really be clicking right now. His 1:51.60 at Districts is one of the fastest times we’ve ever seen at that meet and is really only behind the great John Lewis in off the top of my head performances. While Hoey probably isn’t running 1:49 this weekend, he also seems a safe bet for at least another 1:51, a realm that nobody else in the field has entered into just yet.
But it has been noted by the readers of this blog that Hoey’s best races have traditionally come when he is not the favorite so maybe the pressure of this moment will be a little overwhelming. If he does falter, he may get his biggest competition from district runner-up Hudson Delisle of Quakertown. Hudson enters as the #2 seed after his 1:52 PR at Coatesville and was the closest healthy runner to Josh during indoor states. Also in the mix is Nick Wagner of Penn Trafford. Despite having run 1:53 as a sophomore, I believe this is Wagner’s first appearance in the outdoor state final. He’s got all the tools to compete for the win, but he will have to navigate rounds for the first time. Wagner was an indoor medalist in the 800 this past winter for the second straight season and won the WPIAL championship in 1:53.
The top two returners from last year’s state championship are Nick Feffer of State College and Derin Klick of Lebanon. Feffer ran a 1:54.50 to win his district meet which I believe is his second best open performance ever, trailing only his state run a year ago. Feffer has definitely been a guy who picks it up as the pressure builds, but he also will be on double duty at states with the 4x8 (and maybe the 4x4) zapping some of the precious energy he will need to defeat Hoey. Klick has had a bit of an up and down year and was 3rd at District 3’s championship, but he was just a few inches behind Lopez and Kole at that final straightaway. He has yet to surpass his 1:53 performance from a year ago, but he has been knocking on the door for a couple weeks now.
Remember last year’s #1 seed that I talked about at the beginning of the post? That’s Dave Whitfield of Bonner who is back in this year’s field with a lot less pressure on his shoulders. That could help create an opportunity for redemption for the senior who won his section of the 800 at indoor states this past winter. Stephen McClellan, from the same district, is back at states for the third straight year and looking to get back to his 1:53 form of a year ago.
As usual, the battle to make the finals will be crowded. There are a lot of guys in the 1:55-1:56 range either by season best or seed time. Basically everybody who isn’t Hoey, Delisle, Wagner, Isaiah Bailey of Penn Hills (in the 1:54s for a second straight year) or Derek Jones of Cathedral Prep sits in that range. So how the heck are we supposed to sort out these prelims? Well, here’s how I’m guessing at it.
Nick Wagner, Nick Feffer, Hudson Delisle, Nathan Lopez
Josh Hoey, Derek Jones, Aidan Sauer, Isaiah Bailey
Derin Klick, Dave Whitfield, Matt Busche, Yahya Soliman
Unsurprisingly, I went back and forth on this one a lot. There’s going to be at least one guy who wows me and steps up with a clutch performance. I think it’s more likely to come from heat two which seems to have a bit of an opening for those auto Qs. I think Heat 1 is a lot deeper honestly. Just about anybody in that heat could make it to the finals and I wouldn’t be stunned. If someone takes it out fast, they should get a decent amount of at larges, but usually things tend to even out between the two heats when all is said and done.
Forecasting ahead to the final, I think this will be Hoey’s race to win. I’m not sure what the strategy will be and if he will default to someone else to take up the pace (maybe Wagner?), but I would definitely want to avoid traffic and stay out of trouble. If things end up crowded or his run isn’t smooth (he has a long loping stride) that his rhythm could get disrupted and someone could surprise. I’d have to say Feffer probably has the best chance of beating him. I think Nick is going to put a ton into the 4x8 so that makes a gold medal a bit unlikely, but he is probably the next most talented guy in the group.
I like Derek Jones as a wild card. His 1:54.04 runaway victory at District 10’s was a wow moment. That’s well ahead of what Justin Miller did at the same meet last year and Miller went on to run 1:53 at states and grab some hardware. Maybe Jones is a better solo runner, but regardless, it’s hard to bet against this kid if he makes the final.
I’m also a big fan of Nathan Lopez of Eastern York. He almost grabbed gold in the District 3 800 and with a few more bodies to chase, he could end up pushing himself to a big PR. I think a 1:53 kinda mark is definitely in play for him. That’s probably enough for a top 4 finish. Perhaps even more.
Another potential sleeper is Pennsbury’s Aidan Sauer. I hate to do these kind of comparisons, but I feel I ought to mention it. A few years back, Alek Sauer of Pennsbury ran the same double as Aidan during his junior season. Alek split a 1:52 on the 4x8 and then doubled back with a 1:54 open 8 to grab a state medal. That doesn’t really mean anything for Aidan because he’s a completely different person, but I can’t help but think about the similarities. My guess is either Sauer or Eissler grabs a medal on the double from the 4x8. My bet is on Sauer, but either guy is capable.
8. Aidan Sauer, Pennsbury 1:54.50
7. Derin Klick, Lebanon 1:54.23
6. Nick Wagner, Penn Trafford 1:53.84
5. Derek Jones, Cathedral Prep 1:53.70
4. Nathan Lopez, Eastern York 1:53.45
3. Hudson Delisle, Quakertown 1:53.19
2. Nick Feffer, State College 1:53.08
1. Josh Hoey, Bishop Shanahan 1:51.22
I’m not trying to brag, but I’ve made a lot of predictions over the years. Sometimes, I really have a good feel for the race and I’m confident in what I post up about it (see: 2015 AAA 3200). Other times I have no clue and the race plays out way differently from what I’m expecting (see: 2016 AAA 800). Considering that my 2017 indoor state predictions got crushed and last year’s outdoor predictions weren’t much better, it would be nice to have a string of events this spring that I’m confident in. Unfortunately, this year’s AAA 1600 is looking a lot like that 800 from a year ago that got us talking before, during and after the race’s final steps. And if you’re hoping for a confident sounding set of eight runners in order than you aren’t in the right place. But, hey, I’ll try anyway.
There are some favorites in this race. For starters, there is Sam Affolder of Carlisle. With the 4x8 off the agenda, it is just the 32-16 double for Sam. Considering he’s been doubling and tripling all year, he should be ready to handle something like this. And considering he’s run 4:08 for 1600 before, he should be fast enough to win this thing. But Sam is still just a sophomore and, assuming he is going all out in both races, he will be trying to accomplish something that, based on my records, has never been done before in boy’s AAA: the 3200, 1600 double gold.
Talented sophomore with a fast older brother who has the fastest time in the field and needs the points for a team title. Sounds kinda familiar right? We saw this with Josh Hoey a year ago and, although Affolder is faster than Josh was at this time last year, he will also have an extra race under his legs to deal with. A potentially very fast, very tiring extra race.
There’s a long line of guys that want this thing if the opportunity arises. Leading the way is the #1 seed entering the meet in Matt Scarpill. Scarpill was an indoor medalist in the 3k and, although he’s had very strong campaigns in the fall and winter, has never before appeared at Shippensburg’s track. Now Scarpill is in a surprising position as co-favorite for the state title in the event. He’s developed a really impressive kick and, in what very well could be a tactical affair, Scarpill feels like the man to beat. That’s a meteoric rise for this senior, but potentially too fast of a rise for him to handle if the pressure gets too burdensome.
That opens the door for a couple other contenders. Liam Conway of Owen J Roberts was second during indoor track and has since run 1:53 and 4:13 (in the same meet no less). He dropped the 800 to put all his eggs in this one basket. It almost resulted in a district title, as Conway a close second to Scarpill at D1 this past weekend, but Liam is hoping it can end with his first state title.
Evan Addison of LaSalle finished right alongside Conway during indoors states and was able to roll through his qualifier in a 4:17 ahead of a strong runner in Sean Brown. Addison may have the 4x8 to deal with which could tire him out for this race, but it’s also very possible (I think likely even) that Addison follows the others lead and focuses purely on this event. Realistically, he should be in the conversation to win it, giving LaSalle their first individual state champ since Tom Coyle won the title as a junior back in 2012. I’ve mentioned the Coyle-Addison comparison too much this year, but it should at least indicate that he’s got a chance to do something special if it clicks on race day.
The guy who hasn’t been getting much talk is Jesse Cruise. All the Cedar Crest senior has done this season is post respectable times. He has run 4:17, 4:16 and 4:16 type performances, holding his own with great runners like Nate Henderson and Sam Affolder. He’s also clocked a 50 point open 400 and has made the state final before in this very event. No one seems to picking him for the title, but why doesn’t he have just as good a chance as anyone else in this group?
The WPIAL is usually good for a medal contender or two, but this year only one of their qualifiers enters the meet with a SQS. It was a wild district championship that featured New Castle junior Le’Shawn Huff pulling off a terrific upset in a massive PR of 4:24.18. Someone would have to confirm, but Huff may have even been doubling as I believe New Castle was in the top 8 or so 4x8 teams on race day. That was a huge win for Huff and the momentum is definitely in his corner, but can he drop another 4-7 seconds to be a legit medal contender? Maybe. This is a wide open race and, I’ve we’ve seen from Huff before, sometimes that means an unknown will walk away with the gold. Regardless, it’s a great story and hopefully a sign of things to come for Huff both this year and next.
In total, this field will feature 8 sophomores, a pretty decent amount. Sam Affolder will grab the most headlines, but I wouldn’t sleep on Wallenpaupack’s Tyler Wirth. It was a big week for District 2 AAA as they had perhaps the most exciting district meet ever and Wirth was right in the middle of it. He split a 1:53 800 on the 4x8 and doubled back to nearly pull out the victory in the 16, running 4:22.69. Wirth has run 4:19 this year on this very track and seems poised to contend for a medal if he can survive the rounds. Jonah Powell of Grove City won his district going away in a time of 4:23 and comes from a long line of Grove City stars. He too could be a factor for one of the final qualifying spots.
While we are on the subject, might as well share with you who I think is advancing to the final:
Sam Affolder, Jesse Cruise, Bryan Keller, Sean Brown
Liam Conway, Evan Addison, Matt Scarpill, Isaac Kole
At Large qs
Tyler Wirth, Sam Snodgrass, Liam Galligan, Sam Early
Definitely some tough exclusions here. The last spots are very up for grabs in my opinion as a lot of guys are sitting in the 4:20-4:24 range with kicks and big dreams. I picked a few runners with some proven finishes and fresh legs and then also jumped on the bandwagon of some younger up and comers who I think have nice upside. Would be curious to see who everybody else sees advancing.
As we move to the final, I tend to have more questions than answers. How does Affolder handle the double? How tactical is the race? How healthy is Liam Galligan? These are big questions in my eyes. Remember, Galligan was one of the biggest pleasant surprises in 2016, running 4:15 and leading half the race against a slew of all-time greats. He didn’t wow me at districts, but that was a much more tactical affair from the sounds of it. Maybe he goes for it at states and is rewarded.
For whatever reason, I continue to discount Cruise and think this race will likely come down to Affolder, Addison, Conway and Scarpill. If it’s tactical, it’s hard to argue with the closing speed that Scarpill has showcased to this point. It’s also hard to expect anyone to be able to break the kid’s spirit considering the 3200s he has thrown down and his indoor 3k medal. I can’t bring myself to jump on the Affolder bandwagon as I think he is going to be just a touch too tired. So, therefore, here’s how I have the medals shaping up:
8. Sam Early 4:19.69
7. Bryan Keller 4:17.81
6. Jesse Cruise 4:16.95
5. Sam Affolder 4:16.24
4. Evan Addison 4:15.08
3. Liam Conway 4:14.37
2. Matt Scarpill 4:14.20
1. Isaac Kole 4:13.96
Ah yes, the classic etrian switch-ero. Is that how you spell that? No idea. But anyway, I should probably start talking about Isaac Kole seeing as I just picked him to win the 1600 at states despite not mentioning him at all in any of my above analysis. So what gives?
I don’t know how to explain it, but I’m playing a hunch here. Kole has pulled out some down to the wire wins recently, pulling out a crazy 1600 victory over Nick Feffer at Shippensburg’s Invite and also throwing down a killer kick to win the 800 at Districts by a nose. All this time, Kole has been doubling and tripling and still knocking down nice times. This time, he’s going to be fresh without the 4x8 or even the 800 prelims and I think it might pay off. He’s going to have to drop a big PR, but I think this is the kind of race where you can sneak by and pull that off.
I was pretty surprised to see Kole scratch the 800 as I thought he had a good chance to get a medal there (even if he did the 1600-800 double). But then I realized that, because Jack Wisner was agonizingly close to the qualifying standard of 1:57.32 (he ran 1:57.33), the only way Jack would get to race the open 8 was if Isaac scratched out. So I don’t know for sure the thinking, but it appears, Isaac opted to focus on the 16, which may end up his weaker event, to give his teammate a chance to race individually at states. Again, might just be a coincidence, but it seems like good karma is flowing his way regardless of intention.
Look, it’s a bold pick and maybe it backfires, but sometimes you just have to roll the dice, make a surprise prediction and hope that it gets the people talking. Seems like the best way to write a track blog to me.