HERSHEY — On the biggest day of the year for cross country in Pennsylvania, the State College boys’ team put on its best showing.
Led by a top-25 performance from Will Cather and a 39-second spread among their top five runners, the Little Lions ran to a fourth-place finish at the PIAA Cross Country Championships at HersheyPark on Saturday.
“This is just beyond our wildest dreams,” State College coach Dave Felice said. “We figured we could be top 10, possibly top five if we ran exceptionally well. The three teams that finished ahead of us are nationally-ranked, and that’s some elite company there.”
Felice thinks the result to be the best finish for the Little Lions since the last of the program’s 10 state championship runs in 1994.
West Chester Henderson had five runners among the top 25 and won the Class AAA boys team title with 60 points, followed by 97 for North Allegheny and 101 for Cardinal O’Hara. State College was next with 170 points, just edging Council Rock North’s 172.
Led by a 30th-place effort for Emma Cousins, the State College girls took 13th with 282 points. Unionville won with 51 points, edging Pennsbury’s 57.
Penns Valley’s boys grabbed 16th in Class AA, paced by Nick Fuller’s 65th-place run, with 366 points for the Rams. Saegertown won with 60 points.
Cather turned in a time of 16 minutes, 41 seconds to earn All-State honors. His time was 25th overall and 16th among scoring runners for teams on the 5-kilometer course.
“This is probably the toughest course in the state,” Felice said. “This is not a course for good times. We just ran a smart race.”
He was followed by Chris Golembeski’s 17:04 for 55th, Alex Milligan’s 17:05 for 61st, Nick Feffer’s 17:20 for 88th and Kyle Adams’ 17:22 for 92nd.
“They ran an extremely smart race,” said Felice, who had a full team running in Hershey for the first time since 2006. “They didn’t run too hard, they hung when they needed, and at the end they started picking off other runners right and left, right and left. I’ve never seen a team finish that strong before.”
West Chester Henderson’s Tony Russell, who recently gave an oral commitment to run at Penn State, won the race in 15:49.
State College’s Matt Beyerle was 128th in 17:40 and Kevin Drago took 189th in 18:26.
Cousins, who will run next year at Bucknell, was clocked in at 19:37.
“That was her highest placing at states,” Lady Little Lions coach Rebecca Donaghue said. “That was a nice way to end her career.”
She was followed by Larissa Burka’s 20-minute run for 50th in her first season of cross country, Natasha Fedkina’s 20:42 for 110th, Kaelyn Yoder’s 21:13 for 155th and Hannah Catalano’s 21:51 for 164th. Also, Catherine Curtin was 177th in 21:51 and Victoria Scutti was 199th in 22:25.
“We had a few people that had off days and I think that hurt us,” said Donaghue, whose team took seventh last year. “We definitely underachieved. We were shooting for top-10. We knew the bar was set even higher this year, and it would be even harder to be in top 10, but if everyone was on, I think we would have been in the top 10. We weren’t 100 percent today.”
For the Rams, Fuller posted a time of 17:57 to lead the way. He was followed by Angelo Nicosia’s 18:29 for 100th, Isaac DuVaull’s 19:42 for 173rd and Andrew Hankinson’s 19:47 for 181st. Keith Griffith’s 19:55 was 186th and Andrew Hurd’s 20:23 was 198th.
“The course was a beast, so it was hard to recreate the magic from a week ago,” said Rams coach Terry Glunt, whose team was second at the District 6 meet. “Regardless, it was a whale of a season for the boys and me.”
Among other area runners competing as individuals, Penns Valley’s Alyssa Limbaugh finished in 21:14 for 51st place in Class A while Mackenzie Wenric was 137th in 22:59. Bellefonte’s Anya Hoaglund was 133rd in 21:38 in Class AA girls. In Class AA boys, Bald Eagle Area’s Zach Moody took 144th in 18:34 while Brian Hackman was 183rd in 18:58 and Eli Urban took 200th in 19:17 for St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy.
Griffin Molinaro of South Williamsport won the Class A boys’ race in 15:54, Tunkhannock won Class AA boys with 101 points while Dominic Deluca’s 16:21 for Dallas won individually, Holy Cross won Class A girls with 64 points and Marianne Abdalah of Vincentian Academy led the pack in 18:24, and Elizabeth Chikotas won the Class AA girls’ race in 18:43 while Dallas earned the team title with 99 points.