The cross country programs of State College, Penns Valley — and, most recently, St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy — have all figured out how to continually run ahead of the pack.
The State College girls have won 15 straight District 6 titles, while their male counterparts have won four straight. The Penns Valley boys have three in a row. Each had top-10 finishes as a team at the state championships last fall.
St. Joseph’s, a school entering just its seventh year, has had the best showing, winning the last two girls’ Class A state titles.
They all aim high right from the start.
“We get stronger and stronger every year,” Lady Little Lion junior Camryn Bendik said. “The team bonding gets stronger too. I think that really helps living on the tradition of winning districts.”
Once it becomes expected, it’s up to the team members to keep themselves ready and to help teach the newcomers.
“The girls are very driven, focused and understand the need to be disciplined to make progress,” St. Joseph’s coach Jayson Jackson said, noting the need to reflect on the season when the year is over, much like a football or basketball program and examine strengths and weaknesses.
“We are very process driven,” Jackson added. “We look for areas to improve, individually and as a group. We treat each year as a new journey so we work with (the) team on goal-setting, not just from a results perspective, but on the ... process and what they’re willing to do to get better.”
The process and teaching the subtleties keeps the traditions and success alive long after student-athletes graduate, and runners can be a part of a standard that was high even when current team members were not yet even in Kindergarten.
“There is tradition; there is history,” said Penns Valley coach Terry Glunt, who has guided the program to 10 district titles and 16 PIAA appearances in the last 27 seasons. “We’ve been blessed with great kids from great families who find out that running cross country will be one of the best decisions they will ever make in their life.”
The process and hours of dedication also has the boys and girls eager to get running when the season begins Sept. 2.
“We’re always excited for an opportunity to show our hard work,” Bendik said, “and how much we’re willing to put into the sport.”
Bald Eagle Area
The Eagles are hoping to find a few more runners for the fall, especially on the boys’ side with only four hitting the trails at the start of August practices.
Everett Herr is joining returning runners Caleb Spackman, Luke Wilson and Weston Eppley to start the season.
“We want to improve with each meet,” coach Jeff Jodon said. “We are still looking for more runners.”
The Lady Eagles have a little more depth, with eight girls ready to start the season after not being able to field a full team last season. Leading the pack is sophomore Caitlin Taylor, who was 30th last fall at the District 6 championships and the highest BEA finisher.
Having better numbers for the girls gives Jodon a little more optimism.
“We want to be competitive within the (Mountain) League,” he said.
The Lady Red Raiders’ roster was really small last season: The list started and ended with freshman Amber Shirey.
New Bellefonte coach Carla Cipro is overjoyed that Shirey not only will have teammates this season but a full contingent of five runners with the additions of freshmen Amaya Rothrock and Sadie Belsky, sophomore Maya O’Shea and senior Andrea Linn.
Shirey, now a sophomore, figures to remain the leader on the heels of an 11th-place finish at the District 6 championships last season, missing a spot in the PIAA Championships by two places and 14 seconds.
“It is a young team and we are looking to grow and build this year,” Cipro said. “I am very excited to see what will happen.”
While the girls are young and growing, the boys have a lot more experience, senior leadership — and depth. There are 11 Red Raiders ready to run, including seniors Zachary Covone, Cole Hovis, Brett Pope and Connor Richey. Pope leads the way, finishing fifth at the District 6 Championships and 108th at the PIAA meet. Hovis just missed joining Pope at the state meet, finishing 13th at the district race.
However, Cipro is also looking at the youth on her team, with five freshmen and two sophomores training for the future.
“They are learning a lot since most are so young,” she said, “and I’m excited to see where they end up in October.”
The Rams are once again aiming high and have reason to be optimistic. Their top-5 finishers from winning the District 6 Class A title have returned for this season. The group is paced by Chris Colwell and Mark Bierly, who finished 1-2 at the district meet, along with Sammy Gray, Charlie Romig and Haden Stamm. All five are seniors, with the rest of the roster filled by four freshmen.
Penns Valley finished undefeated in dual meets, adding a Mountain League crown and ninth-place finish at the PIAA meet.
“(We have) great leadership from the seniors, incredible work ethic and are willing to put in the work to be a champion,” said coach Terry Glunt, who has guided the team to 223 wins as he heads into his 28th season.
The Lady Rams have a few shoes to fill with three of the top-5 finishers at the district meet gone to graduation, including district champ Rebecca Bierly, but junior Karly Smith and senior Alexis Witherite pace the returning Lady Rams. They were 14th and 32nd, respectively, at the district meet.
With the injection of more young talent to last year’s Mountain League title team, Penns Valley is expecting to contend again.
“Looking forward to a competitive season with some success due to the return of our letterwinners and the potential of our newcomers,” coach Lynda Federinko said.
The Mounties are seeing a youth movement for both the boys and girls, with just one senior on each roster.
The boys will be paced by senior Zach Myers along with Josh Rea and Ben Schiefer. Rae, a sophomore, was 39th at the District 6 meet last fall and is the top returning finisher.
“I’m looking forward to seeing the team grow and improve throughout the season,” coach Jason McKenzie said.
The girls’ lone senior is Kyra James.
The top returning runner is sophomore Sam Bainey, who took 18th at the district meet. She’s joined by the other returning runners: Megan Kosut, also a sophomore, and James.
“This is a young team, but they are willing to put in the hard work necessary to be successful,” McKenzie said.
St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy
With all but two runners returning from the team’s second straight PIAA title, the Lady Wolves are poised for another strong run. The group is paced by District 6 and PIAA champion Sera Mazza and Julia Cusatis, who was second at districts and 18th at the state meet.
“We return eight athletes who have had valuable varsity experience over the last two years and will be able to help our newcomers learn the why/how of what we do,” said Jackson, who has four returning runners who were among the top 21 in the state in Class A.
Lindsey Carmack, Maggie Urban and Addie Ebbs also ran in Hershey last fall.
On the boys’ side, PIAA qualifier Isaac Hyman, who was 18th at districts, is back as a sophomore as the team lost just one runner to graduation. Senior Max Wortman also has experience running at the state meet as a sophomore. The team brings in plenty of depth and is looking to match the levels set by their female teammates.
“It should be an exciting year with the combination of our returning nucleus and strong group of newcomers,” Jackson said. “The group is working hard to be in the hunt for Hershey.”
The Lady Little Lions return five of the seven girls who ran to a fourth-place finish at the PIAA meet, including senior Gabbi Bock, the top finisher at states. The team, which won the Mid Penn Conference title as well, also brings back Cailin Saylor, Emma Simon, Julia Neely, Jane Biddle, Kileigh Kane and Elle Haushalter.
Haushalter also was part of a third-place finish with the 4x800 relay team at the PIAA Track and Field Championships in May.
“We are known for our tight pack running and our depth,” coach Rebecca Donaghue said. “This team is already proving to have strong unity and is also very driven to do big things, both key ingredients for success.”
Graduation had a big impact on the boys, but the Little Lions also have plenty of depth from a team that took seventh at the PIAA meet. The returning group is led by Sam Horn, Owen Isham, Mitchell Etter, Joe Messner and Nick Banerjee.
“The team has a large amount of depth and they support each other as a group,” coach Dave Felice said. “We are looking forward to seeing all our runners improve throughout the season.”
Bald Eagle Area
Head coach: Jeff Jodon (26th season)
Last season: Girls — 3-3; Boys — 0-6
Key losses: Lexi Turner, Liz Wellar
Returning letterwinners: Mariah Veneziano, Caitlin Taylor, Rachel Warner, Lindy Myers
Key newcomers: Madisyn McAfee, Raelyn McGonigal, Lindsey Reynolds, Mattea Simoncek
Key losses: Austin Klinger,Gavin Scharrs
Returning letterwinners: Caleb Spackman,Luke Wilson,Weston Eppley
Key newcomers: Everett Herr
Head coach: Carla Cipro (first season)
Last season: Girls — 0-5; Boys — 4-2
Assistant coaches: Bob Sutherland, Kim Gasper, Mike Dalton, Mitch Smith
Key losses: none
Returning letterwinners: Amber Shirey
Key newcomers: Amaya Rothrock, Sadie Belsky, Andrea Linn, Maya O’Shea
Key losses: Ian Hoaglund, Mitchell Pensak, Cayden Lucas, Alex Spangler
Returning letterwinners: Brett Pope, Cole Hovis, Connor Richey, Zach Covone
Key newcomers: Austin Melius, Harrison Herr
Head coach: Girls — Lynda Federinko (fourth season); Boys — Terry Glunt (28th season)
Last season: Girls — 7-1, Mountain League meet champions; Boys — 7-0, Mountain League champions, District 6 Class A champions, PIAA ninth place
Key losses: Rebecca Bierly, Abigail DuVall, Alexis Feidler
Returning letterwinners: Karly Smith, Alexis Witherite, Madison Bair, Catherine Bierlein
Key newcomers: Danielle Fetterolf, Kelsey Hull, Alicia Yoder, Hannah Dees
Key losses: Stephen Gover
Returning letterwinners: Chris Colwell, Mark Bierly, Sammy Gray, Charlie Romig, Haden Stamm
Key newcomers: Brendan Colwell, Colton Sands, Danny Kelly, and Owen Korman
Head coach: Jason McKenzie (second season)
Last season: Girls — 4-7, 4-2 Mountain League; Boys — 6-6, 2-4 Mountain League
Assistant coaches: Craig Fink, Renee Lanager
Key losses: Kristen Bennett, Lindsey Bordas, Adina Clasen
Returning letterwinners: Sam Bainey, Megan Kosut, Kyra James
Key newcomers: Hannah Wildman, Natalie Shaw, Maddie Kephart, Brittne Wiliiams, Rachel Burger, Alysa Butterworth, Emily Greenwalt
Key losses: Dane Soltys, Matthew Shimmel
Returning letterwinners: Zach Myers, Josh Rea. Ben Schiefer
Key newcomers: Cole Hoover, Matt Thomas, Zach Thomas, Ronnie Pinto
Head coach: Girls — Rebecca Gilkes (13th season); Boys — Dave Felice (10th season)
Last season: Girls — 4-2, Mid-Penn champions, District 6 AAA champions, PIAA fourth place; Boys — 5-2, District 6 champions, PIAA seventh place
Assistant coaches: Susan Marshall, Artie Gilkes, Steve Shisler, Chris Cipro, Nick Kello
Key losses: Catherine Curtin, Haley Garvin
Returning letterwinners: Gabbi Bock, Cailin Saylor, Emma Simon, Elle Haushalter, Julia Neely, Jane Biddle, Kileigh Kane
Key newcomers: Jordan Reed, Molly Solo
Key losses: Nick Feffer, Owen Wing
Returning letterwinners: Sam Horn, Owen Isham, Mitchell Etter, Joe Messner, Nick Banerjee
Key newcomers: Ari Gluckman, Bennett Norton
St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy
Head coach: Jayson Jackson (seventh season)
Last season: Girls — 3-0, District 6 Class A champions, PIAA champions; Boys — 3-0, District 6 fourth place
Assistant coaches: Sarah Wygant, Matt Groves, Jason Lunn
Key losses: Grace Cousins, Kate Ott
Returning letterwinners: Sera Mazza, Julia Cusatis, Lea Fisher, Addie Ebbs, Myah Chappell, Lindsey Carmack, Maggie Urban, Emma Youngmark
Key newcomers: Camryn Eby, Alexandra Kranich, Shannon Saclyn, Kathleen Simander
Key losses: Michael Peters
Returning letterwinners: Leo Bomboy, Isaac Hyman, Garrett Gall, Thomas McElhinny, Max Wortman
Key newcomers: Leland Calistri, Zach DeCarmine, Carter Kauffman, Ethan Kauffman, Amon Ohl, Noah Straub