Aiden Weber, Jr Harbor Creek (10)
Christian Babo made the XC Pre-Season Top 50 last year. Ryan Stravaggi made it this year. But Aiden Weber could end up being the best of the Harbor Creek big 3 in 2017. Weber was a state medalist last year, taking 21st overall just 1 second behind his teammate Stravaggi. A year earlier, as a freshman, Weber finished ahead of his district champion teammate and just outside the state’s top 50. He’s also run very quick marks of 16:26 and 10:03 plus he’s been 4th and 3rd at the District 10 championships. Weber is a stand out performer with a ton of potential just like his two star studded teammates. I’m excited to watch this young core in action.
Jarrett Raudenski, Jr York Suburban (3)
If York Suburban is going to get back to the top of the podium in 2017, they will lean on rising junior Jarrett Raudenski. Not only does he have a dope name, Jarrett also boasts state finishes of 38th and 40th in his first two high school seasons with district finishes of 3rd and 7th. Personally, I think this kid could be sitting on a big breakthrough as he enters his junior season. He reminds me a bit of his teammate Bryce Ohl who had been knocking on the door of state medal position for two seasons before a tremendous breakthrough his junior year where Ohl posted a top 10 finish. By the way, Ohl is among the many talented teammates who will be pushing Raudenski in practice and races each week. That should provide an extra boost for the 16:40/2:00 junior.
Mitchell Rome, Jr Dallas (2)
Speaking of the state title picture, the boys from Dallas are looking for a 3rd straight team title this year against Raudenski and York Suburban. The x-factor could end up being Mitchell Rome. Rome was the lone sophomore in Dallas’s top 5 from the 2016 state meet and, as the youngest scorer, may have the most upside of the bunch heading into 2017. Rome made the jump from 73rd as a freshman (which was amazingly just the 10th best freshman performance in his loaded class) to 37th as a sophomore (9th best, yes this class is still loaded) and was a key contributor in two tight title races. I probably don’t need to say this again, but Rome does have a pretty famous last name in Dallas circles as well. No pressure of course. His own times speak well enough for themselves as he’s clocked 16:43 and 10:01 before even starting his 3rd year of high school running. Dallas vs. York Suburban is going to be one heck of a match up this year.
Jacob Pasake, Sr Western Wayne (2)
There’s not much to dislike here. Pasake proved his worth last year with a 3rd place finish at districts and a 12th place finish at states. He’s the #7 returner for states and the first AA medalist to be left out of the Top 50. In fact, only Manheim Central’s David Merkey ran a faster time at Hershey last year across all classifications without breaking onto the preseason top 50 list for 2017. Add in the fact that Pasake’s track bests are 4:31, 9:08 (3k) and 9:53 and you’ve got yourself a very deserving member of the honorable mention club. He’s already got a best of 16:18 for 5k so this could be a big year for the Western Wayne senior.
Nate Price, Jr & Erik Andrzejewski, Jr General McLane (10)
General McLane was one of my favorite storylines from the final weeks leading up to states. A pair of sophomores helped lead this squad through a difficult district meet and onto states where both Nate Price and Erik Andrzejewski were top 40 finishers. In fact, Andrzejewski was the top finisher at states for all of District 10. He absolutely caught fire down the stretch en route to that 18th place finish at states. His success should be a confidence booster for Price as well who is fresh off a track season that included times of 4:28 and 9:38 for 1600 and 3200. Andrzejewski was not far behind in 4:31 and 9:41. Amazingly, D10 still basically has everyone back from the top of the district so these guys still have their work cut out for them if they want to get to states as a team and stay in the top 10 of D10. But they’ve got the talent and momentum to do a whole lot more than that in 2017.
Cejay Walker, Jr Somerset (5)
District 5 is rarely stealing the spotlight in Pennsylvania distance running, but Cejay Walker of Somerset has quietly been developing into a medal threat. After a strong freshman season, Walker came back better than ever as a sophomore. He has now run 16:38, finished in the top 50 at states and ran 2 flat for 800. The kid has range, a high quality teammate in Dominic Mazzariello (who is perhaps even better than Walker) and a steady progression that could mean another nice jump in 2017. Walker has his work cut out for him as 15 of the 25 state medalists return (as well as 26 of the top 40 and 32 of the top 40), but he’s got just as good of odds as anyone else at breaking through and sneaking into the top 25.
Le’Shawn Huff, Sr New Castle (7)
Huff is a bit of a wild card in 2017. The New Castle senior was 105th at states last year and isn’t even his squad’s #1 returner from districts (that’s rising soph Anthony Litrenta). However, Huff became something of a household name when he stunned the 1600 field at WPIALs and took the district title in a huge PR of 4:24.18. That’s moving. In the process he beat out a ton of top 50 guys, including multi time state medalist Sam Snodgrass.
Sometimes those big breakthroughs can do wonders for the mental side of the equation. Huff went from running 4:33 and 4:34 in his first two milesplit worthy invites in 2016 down to 4:24 in the blink of an eye. If he makes a comparable jump in XC, he will be a state medalist.
Ethan Bernstein, Sr Saucon Valley (11) & John Koons, Jr Notre Dame (11)
A year ago, Ethan Bernstein was the District 11 champion in XC, but it was his rival John Koons of Notre Dame who left with the state medal. Bernstein has run some terrific times in the past year including a 16:18 5k and a 9:39 for 3200 meters. He also placed in the top 50 at states for XC. Koons boasts the state medal, taking 25th overall as just a sophomore. His 5k PR is only listed at 17:02 on milesplit, but he does boast a 16:04 for 3 miles. We will see if things hold consistent in 2017 or one of these runners builds up a clean sweep at districts and states.
Bryce Zapusek, Jr & Lucas Volpetti, Jr Holy Redeemer (2)
District 2 has proven itself as a high quality district in AA. With just two teams and 10 individuals, they’ve produced almost exclusively top 10 teams and top 50 placing individuals. Last year, 6 of the 10 at large qualifiers were in the top 50 and D2 in general had 13 top 50 guys. For comparison, District 3 had 5 in the top 50 (3 from YS) and District 7 had 10. Team wise, District 2 had the champs (Dallas) and the 10th place finishers (Holy Redeemer). Plus, Berwick, who didn’t make it to states out of the loaded D2, had 3 individuals in the top 45.
All this is basically a long way of saying, I trust in the district. That means I’m going to trust that some of its rising stars may be ready to step up in 2017. Bryce Zapusek and Lucas Volpetti seem like just as good of candidates as anyone. Zapusek was just outside the medals last year in 27th and he and Lucas were a key part of this team’s big 3 that allowed them to punch a somewhat surprise ticket to states. With 3 other varsity guys back, the momentum should continue to roll in the HR hallways. Don’t sleep on Volpetti this year. He had a heck of a season on the track running 4:35 and contributing to a 4th place 4x8 at states.