50. Anthony Harper, Sr Bonner (12 AA)
The boys from Bonner have rolled in District 12 AA in recent years, but perhaps none of their champions improved as consistently as Harper did in 2016-2017. Harper finished 12th at the Foundation Invite in September and then, against a deeper field, took home 14th at the PIAA State Championships in crunch time. That was one spot ahead of Wyomissing’s Joe Cullen.
During indoors, Harper opened up with a 9:35 3k but then a few weeks later he was doubling 4:37 and 9:10 at PCLs. By outdoors, Harper ran 9:39 for the full 3200 distance, 4:26 for 1600 and even flashed some speed with a 2:02 800. He even picked up a victory against Souderton’s multi-time state medalist Connor McMenamin at the Haverford Invitational.
Harper has strong upside for the 2017 season, showing a lot of potential after making a big jump in his junior season. But he can’t slow up in his progression, especially after the team graduated a key training partner in Dave Whitfield (their only other sub 21 minute finisher at states this past year). He also will need to prove himself as a top 5 runner in the PCL if he wants to hold this spot on the list. In that league, he’ll get plenty of chances to battle the best.
49. Evan Dorenkamp, Jr Manheim Township (3 AAA)
Manheim Township’s talented sophomore was 25th a year ago at the District 3 Championships, punching a ticket for his first state championships. But District’s wasn’t even his fastest result as Dorenkamp actually covered the same Big Spring layout three seconds faster in early September. That got Dorenkamp on my radar, but he really came alive in the spring.
This past track season, Dorenkamp clocked a 1:58 for 800 meters and a 4:23 full mile to end the year at Henderson. He also was likely the key cog in Manheim Township’s impressive 7:57.44 4x800 clocking. That whole 4x8 is listed as returning for next season by the way.
Dorenkamp should have a nice training pocket as Manheim Township returns their 4x8 relay and a strong 3200 runner in Ian Miller who ran in the 9:40s his freshman season. I like this 1-2 punch, I like the young core and I like the potential for Dorenkamp to have a breakthrough as he makes the sophomore-junior jump. All that being said, he has to prove that his great speed improvements can translate to the tough hills he’ll have to face in the major XC championships.
49. Christian Groff, Sr Hempfield (3 AAA)
Hempfield has produced top 50 finishers at states each of the past three seasons and their team success as put this program on the map when it comes time for the top 50 rankings. Even in a down year last fall, Hempfield still qualified three individuals for the state championship including the district’s 17th place finisher Christian Groff and the state’s 19th place finisher Nick Norton.
Groff was running all season along top 50 types, including his own teammates Norton and Max Lessans. At this year’s Paul Short Invite, Groff clocked a 15:54, just ahead of Sean Rahill and Carlos Shultz. At Carlisle, Groff clocked a 16:11, just ahead of Yahya Soliman and less than ten seconds back of state medalists Jake O’Neill and Spencer Smucker.
On the track, Groff had his best season yet, running 4:26 for 1600. He also likely played a big role in the team’s 7:58 4x800 clocking that qualified them for states. Christian’s brother, Matt Groff, was a 4:16 miler and 2nd place finisher at Districts a few years back.
Groff has a lot of talent and a great training group at Hempfield. He also has a ton of experience on the Hershey course, as he has competed there each of the past three seasons. However, he’s still looking to break into the top 50 on the difficult lay out. He made great strides a year ago, but he will need to really focus up for the Hershey hills if he wants to end this season on this list.
47. Colin Cramer, Sr Southern Lehigh (11 AAA)
Southern Lehigh made a big statement this past season when they finished 2nd at the District 11 Championships, punching a surprise ticket to states ahead of Easton and Stroudsburg. Southern Lehigh did it with pack running, putting their top 5 in the top 17 overall, but scoring no top 5 finishers. Southern Lehigh will return four of those five this coming fall and be hungry to not just make it back to states, but unseat the always dangerous Parkland squad from their perch atop the district.
I actually considered two Southern Lehigh guys for this spot as I was going through the rankings. Shout out to Thomas Matsumura who has qualified for states each of the past three seasons and ran 4:23 at districts this past spring. But ultimately, I opted to give Cramer the nod. Cramer was the #5 runner at districts, but turned it around and finished as the team’s #1 at states. On the track is where he really stepped things up. After just a 9:45 indoor 3k, Cramer clocked a 9:33 outdoors for 3200 and finished second at districts behind only Seth Slavin of Pleasant Valley.
Cramer still has a lot to prove as he didn’t even break 17 minutes for 5k last season in major invitationals, but Southern Lehigh also raced on some of the toughest courses PA has to offer. I’d be either he or Matsumura has a big year the upcoming fall and the Southern Lehigh team could really surprise some people.
46. Chayce Macknair, Jr Mifflin County (6 AAA)
You may not have noticed, but Mifflin County quietly emerged as a team of the future out in District 6 last year. Chayce Macknair, Seth Phillips and Chase Sheaffer, two sophomores and a freshman, all broke 17 minutes for 5k last year at Carlisle’s Invitational. Plus, they were all top 7 finishers at Districts. On the track, Macknair and Phillips both qualified for the state championships, running 4:23 and 1:55 respectively. This is a core that could make big strides in 2017-2018.
Macknair showed real distance potential all through track season. He come on very strong toward the end of XC, but blossomed on the track. His 4:23 state qualifying performance behind Owen Wing was just a piece of the puzzle. Macknair also clocked a 9:33 to win the Mid Penn 3200 over big names like Alex Tomasko, Morgan Cupp and Kyler Shea. That’s some real strength for a sophomore.
Chayce is another guy who fits the buzzword “potential”. What I saw on the track indicates this guy has the ability to compete for a AAA state medal in the fall. But potential doesn’t win races. Let’s see if he can build off the experience he picked up last year and become a serious medal contender for the first time.
45. Owen Isham, Jr State College (6 AAA)
It’s no coincidence that Isham and Macknair are right next to one another on my rankings. These two classmates have been stalking each other for the past 12 months and this season should bring some epic rematches. At Mid Penns for XC, Isham defeated Macknair by 4 spots. At Districts, Isham finished ahead of Macknair by just one spot. Then, during the outdoor season, Macknair made a jump and bested Isham in their dual meet and the WCC meet over 3200.
But what gets Isham the marginally better spot in the rankings was his impressive finish at the State Championships this past fall. As just a sophomore, Isham put on a brilliant kick and moved all the way up to 47th overall in the state standings. That made him the #5 sophomore in the state (and #4 when you remove the transferring Sam Affolder). Finishing top 50 as a sophomore is typically a great sign. Two years ago, Ryan Campbell of CR North was 42nd at states as a sophomore and he finished 7th this past season. Now that doesn’t mean Isham is locked in for a top 10 spot next season, but it does speak to his excellence at a young age.
The other big upside here is that State College has really developed into an XC power. After a long stretch without a state medalist, the Little Lions have had medalists every year since 2013, qualified for states as a team every year, and finished 7th last year in a clutch performance. This team knows how to rise to the occasion and that will hopefully translate to Isham as he pursues a top 25 finish this fall.
44. Cole Walker, So Unionville (1 AAA)
As mentioned, there were five sophomores in the top 50 in AAA for last fall’s state championship. And that was actually on the lower side. Four out of the previous five seasons included 7 top 50 sophomores including 10 sophomore medalists. Considering how talented the freshmen were this past season, it’s not crazy to expect a breakthrough from at least one of these outstanding runners.
Unionville is a great distance program that has produced three separate state champions at 3200 and two different national qualifiers. Last year, they had the top sophomore in district one in James Conway and by the end of the spring they had arguably the best freshman. Cole Walker clocked a 9:29.77 at the district championships for 3200, under the SQS in the event. He also ran 4:29 for 1600 to help bolster his case.
Walker’s XC credentials are bit more up in the air, but training alongside a proven state qualifier in Conway should be helpful. He did run 16:39 at districts as just a freshman and place top 10 in the Oberod Invitational. The list of sub 9:30 3200 freshman is pretty short and most, if not all, of the guys who have cracked that list have ended up being special on the trails. Off the top of my head Reiny Barchet, Jake Brophy and Sam Webb are the guys who have run similar marks and all three ended being top 7 finishers at states before they hung up their spikes.
It may not happen right away for Walker as sophomores typically come on late in the season, but once he gets rolling he might be a force to be reckoned with.
43. Josh Lewin, So WC East (1 AAA)
Again, the order here is not a coincidence. While Walker was clocking a blazing 9:29 3200, league rival and fellow freshman Josh Lewin was just one spot behind in 9:31. Lewin actually was ahead of Walker in the state rankings when he ran 9:41 at Henderson’s Invite and placed 3rd overall in the 2nd section, ahead of proven XC runners like Ethan Koza and Drew Alansky.
If you take a look at Lewin’s XC credentials, they are quite strong. He ran 16:26 at Paul Short last year, taking 9th in the White Race and also 10th at Ches-monts and 63rd at Districts in 16:31. While Lewin doesn’t have a teammate quite on Conway’s level, he does have a strong group of returners that could be a sleeper squad in District One, especially if Lewin drags everyone forward by making a jump.
42. Jake Underwood, Sr Wilson (3 AAA)
Underwood has been a stand out for Wilson since his sophomore season. He placed 11th at Districts that year, running 16:19. As a junior, Underwood clocked a very quick 16:08 at the Carlisle Invitational to start off his junior season and then was second at the Berks County Championships. Things were looking great for Underwood as a potential medal contender, especially as a part of a Wilson team that has proven they can peak at the right time. However, it was senior Evan Royko, not Underwood who ended up being the top dog for Wilson in the final two meets, placing 14th at districts and then cracking the top 40 at states.
Underwood had the potential to be right along his teammate. He ran through two miles stride for stride with Royko but couldn’t quite hold on. If he was a top 50 finisher last year, he would shoot even further up this list given his resume in other aspects.
That resume includes a 9:30.92 clocking for 3200 this past spring, a time that was fast enough to punch his ticket for the state championships in this event. He also won the Berks title at 3200. The guy is improving and he’s probably very motivated after his XC season didn’t finish quite the way he wanted to. He’s not a name that we talk about much, but Underwood should be a name on everyone’s radar this fall.
41. Tyler Wirth, Jr Wallenpaupack (2 AAA)
Tyler Wirth ran 4:17, split 1:53 and qualified for a state finals in AAA, all as just a sophomore. That right there sounds like a resume that even top 10 guys can’t boast. However, there’s one probably with throwing Wirth up on a Cross Country ranking sheet. Based on his milesplit profile, he’s never run cross country before.
The talent is there for Wirth if he decides to make a move to the trails in the fall. He could be an instant contender for a district championship. Plus, he’s have a strong teammate in Thomas Johnson, who ran 16:20 at Paul Short last year. If Wirth does opt for XC, he will join a district landscape that returns the top 11 (!) finishers from last year’s championships including more than one medal contender. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.