Well friends, the world championships are officially over which means I can focus again on other things. One of those things? The 2017 Etrain Team Rankings. As I mentioned previously, I’ll be combining the rankings that you guys put up on the blog with my own to create a group team rankings to start the season. Now I only used posts that actually had state wide rankings to create the “commenter” rankings. If you made a note but didn’t actually provide full rankings, I read your note, in most cases I learned something from your note (lots of insightful stuff) and I incorporated that into my thinking for my own rankings, but there was not a reasonable mathematical formula to apply to the rankings for those type of comments. So I left them out. For my own rankings, I only went up to top 10 so if you see an “N/A” for my ranking it could mean anything from 11th to 111th (although I would bet closer to the former).
Anyway, without further ado, here are the top 10 rankings for each classification. Remember to check out the returners cheat sheets as well as the bulletin board material post for lots more feedback on just about every team around the state.
Honorable Mention: Masterman (ET: 10, Comments: N/A)
10. Elk Lake (ET: N/A, Comments: 8)
Elk Lake is a consistent, excellent program with some proven talent in Peyton Jones and Cody Oswald. They were both top 50 finishers in the state last year. The difficult question for Elk Lake will, of course, be making it out of their loaded district as Montrose is looming as a state title contender once again.
9. Riverview (ET: 9, Comments: 10)
The WPIAL has been consistently strong in A, having the top two teams in the state as recently as 2014. Riverview has spent the past few seasons gaining experience on the state course and their front runners are improving at the right time. Ben Barnes shines as the returning state medalist, but there could be a breakout from Michael Komaniak or Ryan Cecil this year that takes this team to another level.
8. Seneca (ET: 8, Comments: 9)
Seneca will be an interesting team to watch this upcoming fall. They lose the three key components of their state title contending squads in the Myers twins and Adam Hanes, but they do return a lot of other quality pieces who spent time developing under the Seniors leadership. The question becomes, will this team continue to move forward without their stars or will they struggle to find an identity? Personally, I think this team is going to continue to excel and win the district once again, however, it’s a tall order to ask for a team that loses it’s big three. I think Jake Schneider is the name to watch on this roster, but don’t sleep on Brock Smith either.
7. NE Bradford (ET: 6, Comments: 6)
The District 4 powerhouse is still probably my pick to make states, but they will get everything they can handle from Southern Columbia. I like the depth, I like the potential for some of their young guys to step up (especially some of the younger brothers on the roster), but they will have an uphill battle just to make the championships. Zak Smith looks like a sleeper pick for a state medal, but Mosier or Moore (or someone else we don’t know) will need to become a top 50 guy as well if this team is going to continue a remarkable top 5 streak.
6. Southern Columbia (ET: 5, Comments: 7)
I’m very high on this squad as exhibited by my top 5 ranking. They showed at Foundation last fall that all they need to be a top 5 team in A is an opportunity. Ethan Knoebel has the potential to be a top 10 guy in the state (maybe even top 5) after a terrific sophomore campaign and Nick Kuzo is no slouch as a #2. They return a hungry pack that has been chomping at the bit to rematch NEB and punch a ticket to states.
5. Jenkintown (ET: 7, Comments: 4)
It’s hard to discount a team that returns two state medalists, including a guy who was top 10 in the state as a sophomore in Jack Miller. Jenkintown seems on the way up, but they need to prove they can restock the back end of their depth. They lost some key pieces to graduation and, with small schools, having depth is not always a guarantee, even at the top programs. However, their front running and experience makes me feel pretty confident about another top 10 finish for this squad, assuming they survive the challenge from District rivals Christopher Dock.
4. Penns Valley (ET: 4, Comments: 5)
I’m super high on this team. I’m a big believer in Penns Valley, a squad that has been consistently improving each year, led by their all-star Chris Colwell. Colwell and Bierley give this squad one of the best 1-2 punches in the state and the pack behind them has the potential to be excellent. They’ve got experience, they’ve got depth and, if one guy makes a jump, they could be competing for team medals in November.
3. Montrose (ET: 3, Comments: 3)
I’m going to sound like a broken record, but Montrose was really good last year. Like really, really good. In a pretty solid district, they absolutely dominated the district meet. They had depth stretching past the varsity squad and into JV and they handled a loaded group in their first appearance in A. However, at states they didn’t have their best day and they were on the outside looking in for the medals. To compound that, they lost a lot of their firepower out front in Mead and Brewer. I still feel good about their chances this year considering their remarkable depth for a small school, plus their extra experience and motivation from their defeat last year.
2. Elk County Catholic (ET: 2, Comments: 2)
Elk County Catholic doesn’t get a ton of talk behind Winchester Thurston, but people are starting to notice how good this program is. They got a #1 vote over WT in the preseason rankings and last year’s runner-ups have caught my attention as well. I think Ben Hoffman could be a superstar this season after a terrific freshman season and his fellow rising sophomore Isaac Wortman could be a top 35 type as well. The top 4, on paper, is the best in the state. If they get a #5 and their sophomores can handle the spotlight, look out.
1. Winchester Thurston (ET: 1, Comments: 1)It’s easy to see why Winchester Thurston is the #1 team on both of our rankings. They’ve won two state titles in three years. They absolutely dominated every small school race they competed in last year. They’ve put 3 guys on the medal stand in each of the past two seasons as well. With three top 50 guys coming back and some other young pieces returning as well, it’s hard to bet against this proven program. However, we’ve seen that even the best programs can slip when injuries come into play. WT knows all about that from their 2014 and 2015 runs. Hopefully this team stays healthy and we get to see what they can do. Also, keep your eyes out for a breakout freshman to come from this roster. They’ve produced some of the best in the state the past few years, including Tristan Forsythe, who is now a senior looking to grab his first individual title on the XC trails.
Honorable Mention: Pope John Paul (ET: 10, Commenters: N/A), Milton (ET: N/A, Commenters: 9), General McLane (ET: N/A, Commenters: 10)
10. Central Cambria (ET: 9, Commenters: N/A)
Central Cambria didn’t get a lot of love from the commenters in the build up to these rankings, but I’m a fan of this squad’s potential. They are still very young and potentially inexperienced, but there is too much talent here to ignore. My projected top 5 for this squad includes two sophomores and two juniors, any of which could be the breakout stars of 2017. Plus, I think this district in general could take a nice step forward. Most of the top guys return including Garrett Baublitz and that should allow the big names to push each other and work toward faster times throughout the season. Just ask District 3 how much that can make a difference.
9. Greensburg Salem (ET: N/A, Commenters: 6)
This team has officially become a household name after a terrific 2016-2017 that included a WPIAL championship and a 7:51 4x800. However, Greensburg Salem has lost a key piece to that success in Frankie King and the GS boys will need to add to their depth if they are going to replace him. The good news is they have one of the best top 3s in the state in the Bindas and Mark Brown, all three of which are entering their junior years after huge track success. If they get a 4-5, look out.
8. Grove City (ET: 5, Commenters: N/A)
Although this team is a year in and year out contender, I don’t think they made it onto any of the commenter rankings this offseason. Yes, it’s easy to forget about these guys because they missed out on states last year, but let’s keep in mind this program is historically always a contender for a top 5 spot in the state (and usually more). Plus, it’s not like they don’t bring back any talent. Most notably, they have Jonah Powell, a potential state champion candidate in 2017, but also Tyler Quinn, Mason Murray and Luke Owrey. The disappointment of missing states last year is probably still fresh in this group’s mind and it wouldn’t surprise me if they use that as fuel for a run into the top 3 at states.
7. Holy Redeemer (ET: 8, Commenters: 7)
Holy Redeemer was one of the pleasant surprises of district week last year and backed it up with a great run at states. They have a couple rising juniors with a ton of talent in Zapusek and Volpetti who they will lean on heavily, but they also return some nice depth to round out the roster. This squad should really benefit from going up against top teams like Dallas, Tunkhannock and Berwick on a consistent basis in District 2 and, even in what should be a loaded year for the AA classification, it’s hard to imagine this team outside the top 10 given their talent.
6. New Castle (ET: 6, Commenters: 8)
I really like this team. They were sneaky good last year, nearly defeating South Fayette (who went on to be 3rd at states) at WPIALs. They had a terrific pack last year and return a good chunk of it. Rising sophomore Anthony Litrenta has the potential to be a star this year, but the real wildcard name to watch is Le’Shawn Huff. This kid surprised everybody with a 1600 victory at the AAA WPIAL meet last spring and could be a real force in XC as he enters his senior season. If he does become great, that will just make this intriguing core even more dynamic.
5. Harbor Creek (ET: 7, Commenters: 4)
Harbor Creek returns 3 state medalists. 3! That should be all you need to know right there about this program. However, they do need to solidify the back half of the roster. Plus, it will be nice to have a little insurance policy so that there isn’t too much pressure for all of the top pieces to run out of their mind. Harbor Creek is a strong program and I think they have the potential to bolster the back half of the lineup and become top 5 contenders again, but nothing is a given. I’m excited to see how this team looks when they start the season. Regardless, that top 3 is so impressive, I have a hard time betting against these guys. They may end up with 3 in the top 15 this year.
4. Wyomissing (ET: 4, Commenters: 5)
I’m very excited about Wyomissing’s potential. They just barely missed my top 3. Joe Cullen is already a star as the reigning district champion so the key for this team is their other pieces. Rising sophomore Ben Kuhn has shown flashes of brilliance already and he only just finished his freshman year. Matt Driben could be an x-factor if he jumps into the XC line up after a monster track season. Plus, Wyomissing will have a great measuring stick in house in York Suburban that should help push them and show them what it takes to be elite. They have to prove that their potential can be realized, but the upside here is undeniable.
3. South Fayette (ET: 3, Commenters: 3)
South Fayette had one of the best races of the weekend at states last year. They finished 3rd in a loaded AA race and nearly stole team medals away from York Suburban. One of the more obvious keys to their success was the excellent front running of Sam Snodgrass and Aaron Pfeil (now graduated), but what took them over the top was their consistent pack running to round out the top 5. Silas Mays and Michael Cusick will have to bring that same clutch factor to the 2017 season if this team wants to make up for the big whole left by Pfeil’s graduation. I’m excited to see if they can take over the WPIAL or if another squad will rise to challenge the early season favorite.
2. York Suburban (ET: 2, Commenters: 2)
1. Dallas (ET: 1, Commenters: 1)Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Dallas and York Suburban are two terrific teams, returning a lot of fantastic runners for programs with state championship pedigree. It’s unbelievable how strong these two squads have been year in and year out for the past 4 seasons! Dallas is going for a crazy strong three-peat and yet, if Dallas wasn’t around, York Suburban would be the heavy favorites for a four-peat! Although I think Dallas is better right now (and they have the advantage of winning the last two titles), I really like York Suburban’s early season odds for knocking them off. The difference this year will likely be the #5 spot. Both teams lost a key senior contributor, so someone else will need to step up and fill that role. Even with all the firepower out front, this is a great reminder that XC usually comes down to the unsung heroes.
Honorable Mention: North Penn (ET: 8, Commenters: N/A), Southern Lehigh (ET: N/A, Commenters: 9), Abington Heights (ET: N/A, Commenters: 10)
10. State College (ET: 6, Commenters: N/A)
As you’ve probably guessed, the team rankings are a bit all over the place as we enter the season. State College, who is #5 on my board right now, is on the outside looking in for a lot of people. The #5 spot may be a little bold, but I think it’s a fairly wide open discussion and I’ll hang my hat on a team that 1) has two potential all-star talents to front run, 2) has proven they can put together a top 5-7 program with some consistency, and 3) has good experience. However, State College still needs to prove they can bolster their back end depth enough outlast some of the District One powers, needs to hopefully keep everyone healthy and, most importantly, outlast Mifflin County in what should be an exciting district match up.
North Penn was the other team that almost made this spot on the list. I love the North Penn upside (excellent core, younger guys on the rise), but I just need to see it from start to finish this season. I think the peak for this squad is a top 5 finish in the state, but they could just easily be fighting for their life just to make it to Hershey.
9. Butler (ET: 4, Commenters: N/A)
As far as I could tell, Butler has only received one vote from the commenters and it was a #10 spot. I guess I’m missing something here as I see the Bull Dogs (I make up team mascots so I apologize when this is wrong) as a Cinderella story in 2017. This squad returns a fantastic core. They have a great front runner. They are confident, experienced and peak at the right time. There doesn’t seem like a lot of downside. That being said, Butler is in a district where it will be tricky just to advance to Hershey. They also weren’t a top 10 team last year at states and they aren’t the household name that other top programs are. Maybe those factors will end up mattering and maybe that’s why they haven’t gotten quite as much commenter love, but I’m on board.
8. Henderson (ET: N/A, Commenters: 4)
Henderson is basically the opposite of Butler. I had Henderson just outside my top 10 while the Warriors were one of just two programs to show up on every list that was presented by you commenters (the other being CR North). They have championship pedigree, a great front runner and a nice core that was a top 10 team in the state last year. At least one guy has to step up if they want top 5 in the state and, ideally, they need 3 guys around the top 50. The thing is the 5 district one teams to qualify for states have been top 10 at states every year since the move to three classifications. Henderson has made states every year since the move to three classifications. So it makes sense that this team is in the top 10.
7. North Allegheny (ET: 10, Commenters: 6)
North Allegheny is another team with a legendary reputation. Last year they took 6th in the state and it was a huge surprise to see them outside the top 5. Pretty wild to think about considering they didn’t have many guys who could clock sub 17 minute times for 5k and they still jumped up to 6th in final standings. NA has graduated so many elite guys over the years and the other top programs in the state have been loading up with young talent, so it’s reasonable to expect these guys to slip. But that’s not how the Tigers have operated. They have always been district title contenders and near top 5 in the state. Bet against NA at your own risk.
6. Mount Lebanon (ET: 9, Commenters: 7)
On paper, this Mount Lebanon team looks really strong. They’ve got 5 sub 17 guys back. They have rising sophomore who made states as a freshman last season. The track times posted by this group were excellent including multiple guys in the low 4:30s or near 10 flat for one and two miles respectively. If this were a district one team, they’d probably be getting more hype on here. However, Lebo has struggled at districts and the WPIAL is loaded at the top this season. Personally, I’d love to see them atop the podium in Coopers, proving to everyone they’ve exercised their demons, but it’s a long way to go between now and districts.
5. Shanahan (ET: 7, Commenters: 5)
When this team is clicking, it’s something special to behold. At districts last year, when everyone was coming around to be healthy and focused, Shanahan looked excellent with 5 returners under 17 minutes. On the track, when the team was ready to roll, the 4x8 grabbed a surprise indoor state medal without their best runner. There’s so much talent on this roster including the obvious super star in Josh Hoey, but also some lesser known stand outs like Logan Yoquinto. The former AA school isn’t quite as deep as many of their AAA counterparts so they need to be firing on all cylinders to keep their hold on this ranking, but the talent is undeniable. Jack Ettien, Jonah Hoey and Jon McGrory will be the swing voters this year. If they can get to the low 16s, this team will be really good.
4. LaSalle (ET: 3, Commenters: 8)
I think this LaSalle squad is being slept on hard. Yes, they lose a lot of key pieces from last year’s team, but what you can’t underestimate is this team’s depth. At the ’16 state meet, LaSalle’s top two runners had off days and they still rallied and got 5th overall with a tight pack. They return “just” 3 varsity guys but they are two talented rising sophomores (imagine how good you are to make LaSalle’s varsity as a frosh?) and an all-star in reigning district champ Evan Addison. If you look down their track roster there is a ton of potential as well. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if LaSalle is in the state title discussion by October.
3. DT West (ET: 5, Commenters: 3)
Well, it’s official. Downingtown West has reached “elite program” status. In the past, people have said Henderson, North Allegheny, CR North and others have been praised for their consistent success, regardless of returning talent. Those schools are typically lauded in preseason rankings without needing to look at the roster. Well, DT West has entered that realm. The commenters ranked this school 3rd and I gave them a top 5 spot despite the fact that they return just 1 varsity runner from their 3rd place team in the state. And, although I think Tyler Rollins is going to be very good this year, he wasn’t a top 50 guy in AAA and I don’t believe he would have been an individual state qualifier out of District One. Yet still, we all think this team is going to be good again this year.
Here’s the thing, despite DT West’s losses, they have plenty of talent coming back. This school was incredibly deep last year down to the JV and the freshman teams in elite invitationals. And guys like Rollins, Kaiser, Sewall and Chamoun all put down serious marks on the track that indicate they could be excellent pieces in a run at states again this year. So basically, I’m perfectly comfortable with the ranking by the commenters. Shout out to DT West and welcome to the elite programs club. Now go out and back up the reputation.
2. Seneca Valley (ET: 2, Commenters: 2)
It was a huge 2016-2017 for Seneca Valley. They toppled North Allegheny at WPIALs in a decade defining event and then turned around and became the districts top 4x8 squad with multiple school record runs at states. And get this-they bring back basically everybody who made those achievements possible. Seneca Valley is very legit and has an ascending 1-2 punch in juniors Sam Owori and Seth Ketler. They also bring back Alex Dixon and Christian Resch who were top 25 guys in the WPIAL last season. Andrew Balla, Luke Bellack, Adam Owori and Aidan Domencic each showed flashes of potential to step in a become a strong #5 runner (or perhaps more). I really like this team and think they can be gold medalists in November.
However, there will be some pressure now that they are on top. Seneca Valley will have a target on their back and the rest of the WPIAL (and the state) will be out to topple this budding powerhouse. I’m sure North Allegheny is hungry for a rematch and Butler would love to beat SV to establish themselves as a true contender. How will they handle the pressure of expectation? Will the juniors be ready to lead the team now that Trey Razanauskas is graduated? Those are perhaps the more pressing questions for this squad as clearly, the talent and pedigree is on the roster.
1. CR North (ET: 1, Commenters: 1)
The unanimous preseason #1 is the defending state champions from CR North. Back to back champions aren’t rare: we’ve seen them in 2012-2013 and 2007-2008 in AAA. Dallas is fresh off back to back titles themselves in AA. So it wouldn’t be a jaw dropper for a team with the consistent success of CRN to grab another gold in 2017. They have plenty of front running talent to get the job done as Ryan Campbell is a state title contender, Sam Early is an ascending state medalist and Ethan Koza is a jack of all trades 16 flat guy. It’s actually the depth that could be the biggest concern as, after Kevin Ehrgott, they don’t return a lot of low 16 types.
I’ll tell you this right now, CRN will likely not look like a title team for the first month of the season. This squad is notorious for looking (relatively) flat early before turning it on down the stretch to produce top 5 type results. Plenty of teams know how to peak at the right time, but perhaps none peak so dramatically as CR North does, going from left for dead to title contender in the blink of an eye. So feel free to jump off the bandwagon if you’d like during the early season, but remember that come late October, CR North will be ready to chase the title.