Preseason #1 Rusty Kujdych of Neshaminy took to the trails for the first time in 2017 at the PTXC Invitational, but it was a former PA superstar that ended up stealing the title. Sam Affolder of Loudoun Valley led his team to a dominant victory, taking the win and leading a 1-2-3-4 sweep against perhaps PA’s best runner. At first, I was worried for Kujdych as it seemed like it wasn’t a great sign to be bested by 4 guys from the same team. However, then I dug a little deeper into the time (Rusty dropped a 15:55) and realized A) he was right in the mix with the top group and B) he ran one of the fastest times the course had ever produced. Let’s take a quick look at the PA guys who have been sub 16 on the Farm Course layout.
1. Colin Abert, Easton 15:21 (2014)
2. Dominic Deluca, Dallas 15:43 (2013)
3. Jeff Groh, Lower Dauphin 15:48 (2013)
4. Dominic Hockenbury, Lake Lehman 15:53 (2015)
5. Rusty Kujdych, Neshaminy 15:55 (2017)
6. Dominic Hockenbury, Lake Lehman 15:58 (2014)
7. Noah Affolder, Carlisle 15:58 (2016)
8. Colin Abert, Easton 15:59 (2013)
Out of that group, you’ve got four guys who went on to be the state champion later that year, including last year’s champ Noah Affolder. Colin Abert was second at states in 2013 and was sub 15 in 2014 at Lehigh. Not a state champ, but a pretty darn good resume.
Regardless, I don’t think Kujdych is the big story here. The biggest result has to be from Mr. Tyler Wirth of Wallenpaupack. The junior was a stud on the track this past spring running 1:53 and 4:19, but hadn’t showcased any XC skills to date. I put him in my top 50 anticipatorily, but, as was rightly pointed out, that was acting a bit premature. Now, after a #2 PA finish at the PTXC invite, Wirth is going to not just return to the list, but fly up near the top. His time of 16:03 puts him #9 on the all-time list based on my research and, as far as juniors go, he is ahead of all but Hockenbury and Abert, who finished the year 2nd and 1st in their respective championships.
As far as I can tell this 16:03 is Wirth’s first XC invite so, in theory, he is only going to get better from here. Is it possible this guy can jump into the Beveridge-Kujdych-Campbell tier atop the AAA rankings? I would say it’s definitely possible. Is it likely? Well, that’s a different conversation.
Avery Lederer continues to be one of the most consistent performers in the state. The Penncrest senior finished 3rd among PA athletes and clocked a strong 16:10. I feel like this could be a big season for Lederer. He’s been near the front of every race he’s contested the past two years and always seems to hang tough. He just missed out on a state medal last fall and I think he will be hungry for redemption.
Some other notable individual performances came from Jacob McKenna of Spring Ford and Governor Mifflin junior Alex Ermold. McKenna was among the Spring Ford pack last season during XC, but wasn’t quite a star. This was a star quality result out of him as he finished just 7 seconds back of Mechanicsburg all-star Morgan Cupp and #5 of all PA performers. Meanwhile, Ermold comes off a sneaky good track season where he ran 4:23 and 9:40 as a sophomore. The kid was already ascending and now carries that momentum into XC. Governor Mifflin has done a nice job developing contenders on the trails and I think this could be next in line. He’s one of the most talented milers we’ve seen in the program since Logan Mohn (who was top 10 in the state as a junior).
Looking a little deeper down the list, A sophomore Andrew Healey took the #27 spot overall and was the second best in his classification. The runner from Holy Cross was just off my preseason top 50 and strongly believe he can make a big jump this season. One of the guys he is chasing is another Andrew, Andrew Stanley of Southern Huntington. The D6 stand out was solid during XC last year, but he didn’t really start to make a name for himself until the track season when dropped a powerful outdoor 3200. Considering the hot start his district is off to, I wouldn’t be surprised if Stanley catches some momentum and his in the lead pack come states. He’s never been afraid to get out aggressively.
Without any super powerful teams behind Loudoun Valley, the battle for PA #1 was a tight one. Ultimately, it was District One sleeper Boyertown who narrowly pulled out the victory over more two potentially more sought after squads in CB East and Spring Ford. Boyertown had the best #2 and #3 runners from this trio of teams and rode that narrow advantage to the title with 153 points. Josh Endy was the team’s low stick while last year’s state qualifier Dominic Derafelo added a key performance as the aforementioned #2. Boyertown has a nice top three and a solid 4-5 who both finished last season as sub 17 guys.
We’ve talked a bit about CB East already as this squad was winners at Northampton before taking 3rd in this meet. East didn’t get quite as much from the #2 spot as they did in meet one, but they’ve clearly got a competitive pack that can work together and make an impact. As I’ve mentioned before, the key for East isn’t the early season. They’ve got to time that peak and be ready to roll at Lehigh. The talent to compete for a state spot is on the roster, but they still have a young team. Let’s see how they control their enthusiasm through to October.
Lastly, we have Spring Ford. Despite a huge day from McKenna they couldn’t quite slip past rivals Boyertown and CB East. However, it is nice to have a big time low stick from McKenna. That’s something they were missing in the last two district championships (although Conner and Ainscoe were both excellent). I still am high on this team and I think Ainscoe (who broke 16 last year) can push up near the front group. The strength of this team is how good all of their top 4 guys are so they need to have a tight spread 1-4 to hit their true potential. It was about a minute in week one, but I expect it to shrink a good chunk next time out.
Lastly, I should mention Wallenpaupack. The boys from Abington Heights got some well deserved love in the preseason, but Wallenpaupack may be the team that ends up grabbing a state spot when all is said and done. Their 1-2 punch with Wirth and Johnson is good enough to match the Burke-Uhranowsky so it should come down to the pack running. Worth noting, Scranton has also been putting in work in the early part of this season. They too could factor into this district championship.
Milton Area’s Tyler Leeser picked up the victory in the Blue field at PTXC. Although it’s the “B” race, it has produced some great performances. Last year the winner was Joe Cullen, a state medalist and district champ in XC. A few years before that it was Casey Comber, who ended up a Footlocker Finalist. Leeser is fresh off an excellent track season where he expanded his range and ran a brilliant 1600 meters (I actually picked him for the upset) in 4:16. Leeser is already an XC medalist in AA and makes up a really strong contingent of runners from D4 in Isaac Davis, Quinn Serfass and himself. One of those three may end up state champ in November.
Leeser’s Milton teammates helped his squad pick up the non-Loudoun-Valley victory as the D4 squad scored 139 points and defeated AAA squads like Red Land and Elizabethtown. Shenango, led by the talented Matt Salem was tops from the A classification and held their own in a mostly large school field with 209 points. This team has really impressed me so far. I definitely underestimated their core and think they could make a nice run this year.
Behind Leeser, the top names were mostly unknowns for even hardcore fans. The Scharf boys from E-town finished 2nd and 8th and helped lead their team to a top 5 finish. They had solid finishes at districts last year, but didn’t get much shine within the loaded D3. Look for them to be in the state qualifying mix this season. Zack Forney of Ridley is definitely a name to watch. He had a huge DELCO race a few years ago that got him on my radar, but then he drifted back off it a bit. Now he looks like he is in excellent form, running a terrific dual meet against the Penncrest boys and adding a 3rd place finish in this race, ahead of super soph Garrett Baublitz of Juniata by one spot.
Well the infamous RWB course went back to its old layout and the blazing fast times of old are back! This year was a particularly impressive year as a combined 11 runners broke 16 minutes on the course, the most we’ve seen in the course history for one race. Leading the way was South Fayette senior Sam Snodgrass, who clocked a time of 15:30 to pick up the victory. Snodgrass, a top 12 finisher at each of the last two AA state championships, will look to keep the state title in the WPIAL this fall as he battles a great District 4 trio for supremacy in this state classification. This also marks another win for the AA classification at this meet as Zach Skolnekovich was the champ a year ago. Snodgrass’s time is tied for 9th best on the course since 2008.
However, the big story was the tremendous showing by the sophomores in this race. Dan McGoey came within a second of knocking off Snodgrass, also running 15:30. Yes, the course is blazing fast, but keep in mind McGoey is the fastest sophomore of the past 10 races on this course. He’s also the second fastest NA Tiger over that same stretch, trailing only Matt McGoey from Matt’s senior season (in which he ran 15:47 at Hershey and 8:56 for 3200 on the track). Considering the prestigious history NA has had in the past decade, #2 is pretty spectacular.
Behind Dan, sophomores Christian Fitch (15:47), Patrick Anderson (16:02), Zachary Leachman (16:11) and Zack Marmol (16:14) all placed in the top 15 overall with blazing times. For reference, the only sub 16 sophomore heading into today was Brent Kennedy, who ran 15:51 in 2011. Fitch’s time is moving and bests past stand outs like Ethan and Colin Martin from his own team. Anderson’s performance was naturally critical as he helped his team pull out the victory as the #1 runner on Mount Lebanon.
Let’s talk about that team title race for a second. Mount Lebanon, who came into this meet with a good amount of hype behind them, backed up that tough talk with an emphatic victory. They scored 88 points and posted a 33 second spread to fend off out of state Morgantown (95) and pre-season WPIAL favorite Seneca Valley (104). The always dangerous North Allegheny Tigers were back in 4th place with 152 points.
Lebo not only was deep in the varsity race (they had 7 in the top 35 team scorers), but they owned the top of the JV race as well. I’d say, right now, this is the deepest team in the state. And they still don’t have one of their best guys in Bryce Brandenstein who it appears the team will have to go without for now as he has missed two straight. Lebo’s top two guys were excellent in 9th and 10th, but Alex Brokaw was a big key as he took 16th and kept things close between Lebo and Seneca Valley’s respective big threes. Then the 4-5 pack really brought it home as they were clearly tops in this deep field.
However, it’s fair to mention that Seneca Valley didn’t wow us in this invite a year ago before turning on the jets for the stretch run of the season and winning the WPIAL championship. SV has proven they can time out a good peak the last two championships and I was actually quite impressed with their performance this weekend. Sam Owori and Seth Ketler seem to be very strong, posting 4th and 5th place finishes. They should both be medal contenders and provide front running that Lebo may not be able to match (because it’s possible no one in the state can match it). They also picked up junior Connor Volk-Klos from Mars who, in case you missed it, finished 11th overall and was just 2 seconds back of Lebo’s 1-2 punch. That’s a huge pick up and bolsters arguably the biggest weakness this team had entering the season. The biggest missing piece for Seneca was Christian Resch, a consistent top 5 guy for them last year who ran 10:05 for 3200 on the track. That’s a guy they could really use to bolster the back half of the varsity. There are others that can step up like Bellack and Domencic, but Resch is a proven clutch performer.
As for the North Allegheny Tigers, they will have to sweat out the next few weeks as they hope to keep their state qualifying streak alive. With Lebo and Seneca Valley looking strong and Butler looming as a potential top 5 team, the Tigers are facing arguably the best district in the state for team depth. It’s a shame the WPIAL will only get to send three teams this fall to states. But the Tigers won’t hang their heads as they are a resilient bunch. A year ago, they rode a very tight spread to success, but this year, with a front runner, they don’t have to operate on the razor thin margin they did last fall. They’ll need some guys to step up and close the gap (no one else was within a minute of McGoey), but someone like TJ Robinson could be that guy.
Let’s hit a few more quick thoughts. For starters, how about Czar Tarr? This guy was just outside the top 50 rankings coming into the season, but I never expected a 15:33 opener out of him. Chartiers Valley, a program on the rise, has developed a real stud in the Czar. His 15:33 puts him in pretty elite company. That’s the same time Ryan Gil ran the year he won states and it’s faster than Ethan Martin or Juris Silenieks ever traversed the course. If he stays at this level, he will be CV’s long awaited state medalist and maybe even a contender for top 10 in the state for AAA.
Shout out once more to Taylor Allderdice. If you thought their opening performance was flukey, think again. Allderdice dropped two sub 15:50 performances that are better than anything two time state medalist Ean DiSilvio dropped on this course. Ethan Hermann is off to a monster start as the #2 behind Davis. I didn’t see this coming at all from him. I knew Davis had a shot to be solid (not this good, but solid), but Hermann was barely on my radar. Props to these guys. The team’s depth was a bit more exposed in this race than McDowell, but they will get to states without issue from D8. Then, in a race where their front running will be very valuable, they could make a run.
AA & A Race
Tristan Forsythe is ready to roll. After his first individual state title last spring, the multi-time XC state medalist came flying out the gates with a 15:33 victory over a strong small school field. Forsythe, who has had trouble with health, finally strung together some consistent training last May and it resulted in a wire to wire 4:12 victory at Shippensburg. It appears that he’s still healthy and strong and it’s paying off with an easy victory. Forsythe is the clear favorite for states and a compelling watch for nationals out at NXN (he ran well at the regional meet last year).
Forsythe’s team is also a storyline. As the defending state champions, Winchester Thurston will have a target on their back in every race they run this season. Their two titles in 2014 and 2016 were emphatic victories with no weak spots in the top 5. That’s pretty unheard of for A school where depth can be an issue. This year, the classic WT top 5 formula appears to be in effect. First, they bring back key contributors from last year. Forsythe obviously, but also Gordon Pollock. Pollock stepped with an 8th place finish at this meet and was 5th among A runners. Then you have your young guys step up. Scott Routledge, who was solid but not quite a scorer last year, dropped a huge 16:46 and finished 12th in the race. That was a big run from him. Sean Heintzleman, a top 50 guy in the state last fall, ran well in 25th. Then, the last piece is adding a talented frosh to the equation. Last year it was Heintzleman, a few years before that it was Forsythe. This year it looks like it is going to be Patrick Malone. The frosh was 30th in this field and rounded out the team’s scoring. Of course they also may get a lift from Ben Bermann who was 36th as a fellow frosh. In total, WT put 6 guys in the club house before Elk CC got in their #5.
That Elk CC team was expected to give Thurston their biggest competition entering the season and they did not disappoint in this race. The District 9 champs scored 100 points to finish just 26 out of the gold medals and had 3 top 20 finishers. Sophomore Ben Hoffman, a guy I’m very high on for this season, took 4th overall and his fellow soph Isaac Wortman took 18th. Jacob Carnovale was the surprise addition to the team’s scorers, but did an excellent job in this new role. He took 29th place and was right where they needed him to be to stay competitive at the top of the field.
The AA team battle was tight as well. Grove City battled hard against a pair of WPIAL stand outs in Greensburg Salem and Indiana Area and barely came out on top 108-119-122. Grove City was led by Jonah Powell, who continues his excellent start to the year with a 15:50 performance and a silver. Greensburg Salem’s big three were sharp with Cameron Binda the new front runner at 15:58 and Mark Brown not far behind. The 4-5 were just a bit too far back to catch Grove City, but they are already improving. That’s a great sign for the defending champs in D7 AA. Indiana Area, a sleeper pick for a WPIAL title this fall, was excellent out front with 4 top 25 finishers, but they couldn’t quite close the deal at #5. Indiana had just 5 runners finish, none of which were the team’s #1 runner from WPIALs 2016, Rocco Fanella. If you add him to the line up anywhere near Bujdos and Brennan, this team starts to look scary strong. I’m also betting on Berzonsky to have a nice bounce back race his next time out. So even if Fanella doesn’t return, I see Indiana making moves.
South Fayette didn’t run in this race, but their average time would have put them just behind this tier of schools. We will see if the preseason favorites for the D7 title can rise to the meet the long list of challengers around them. New Castle looked excellent this weekend too and they weren’t at this meet. Lots to think about for WPIAL team implications.
Speaking of team implications, let’s also throw some love to Riverview. They were third best in A with a solid 204 points, led by Ben Barnes. Interestingly, Riverview also had the #2 overall finisher in the freshman race Gideon Deasy. Deasy would have been a scorer for Riverview and lowered their already impressive score. The top frosh in the entire race was Norwin’s Alex Jubert, who won by over a minute. Keep an eye out for Jubert to make noise in varsity races soon. He has a great teammate in Matt O’Neill and a strong pack that most years would make a nice run in the WPIAL.