REEDSVILLE — Mifflin County used guile and grit to win the District 6 Class AAA cross-country championship Saturday at Indian Valley Elementary and Intermediate School, surprising State College and Altoona, two teams many thought would compete for the title.
“Well really, we’ve beaten (Mifflin County and Altoona) all year long,” said State College coach Dave Felice, whose team finished third (45 points) behind Mifflin County (36) and Altoona (39). “Mifflin County, they pulled it off today. They suckered everybody into a slower pace…and unfortunately we bought into it.”
Mifflin County senior Jon Colwell, who practiced sparingly last week because of what he suspects might be a broken left foot, won the 3.1-mile meet in 16 minutes, 17 seconds but wouldn’t commit to calling it an upset. “I mean…(each school) knew it was going to be a really great race,” Colwell said with an ice pack on the bottom of his black and blue left big toe. “All of us as a team said going into this, ‘We have this.”
In Class AA, two local runners are headed to the PIAA Championships. Bellefonte senior Mitchell Smith captured the title, winning in 16:19. Saint Joseph’s Catholic Academy’s Christian Hopple took third in 16:41.
“I’m incredibly excited and I’m very proud,” Smith said. “There was a lot of really great competition, so I’m just proud to finish where I did.”
Penns Valley's Michael Decker is also headed to the PIAA meet. Decker placed sixth in Class A with a time of 17:25.
State College settled for two PIAA qualifiers in juniors Will Cather (second in 16:29) and Kyle Adams (seventh, 17:02), but the Little Lions were hoping for more.
Colwell and his three other senior teammates, Addison Monroe (16:39), Patrick Parker (17:06), and Cullen Russler (17:14) sat down throughout the season and brainstormed on ways they could win the district title. Their strategy worked this time.
“Usually I don’t kick until the last half mile or so,” said Colwell. “But I’m not going to lie, I really started moving right after the first mile. As soon as we hit the mile we started going. That’s when the race started, at the mile.”
The Little Lions never recovered.
“It was our goal to get the team title this year for the first time in six years,” Cather said.
Cather said the Little Lion game plan was to sit back for the first two miles and then kick at the last, but because Colwell and his teammates set a brisk pace after the first mile, Cather and his team were never able to make up that ground.
“Mifflin County came out with a great plan, they took it out real slow. ... I just wasn’t prepared for that tactic and that’s what won them the race and lost it for us,” Cather said.
Cather and Adams will have to run in Hershey without their teammates.
“I’m going to run just as hard as I had planned to even if we had the team there,” Cather said. “Maybe even harder and come out with a vengeance and hopefully get a Top 25 and get that medal for state.”
Felice said a silver lining for State College is that their top runners will return next season and Saturday’s loss will be all the motivation they need in the offseason.
But for now, it stings.
“We just waited way too long today,” Felice said. “There’s a psychological battle that goes on. Unfortunately when you keep runners that are not as fast [in the race]…they hang around…and all the sudden they get that shot of encouragement and think ‘ooh I can [run] up here’ and they run a fantastic race.”
It was a day that Colwell, a two-time PIAA individual qualifier, and his coaches will cherish. Mifflin County coach Ruth Yoder and assistant Emily McConnell were moved to tears when they heard the official results.
“When I look back on this,” said Colwell, “I’m gonna remember that we won as a team, because we all did it.”
Bellefonte’s Andre O’Donnell (11th, 17:34) and Michael Lewis (13th, 17:44) along with Bald Eagle Area’s Zach Moody (16th, 17:54) and St. Joseph’s Stephen Forstmeier (20th, 18:02) finished in the Top 20 in Class AA. The Red Raiders (80) placed third as a team, while St. Joseph's (147) was sixth, Philipsburg-Osceola (288) was 10th and BEA was 11th (289). Somerset (56) won the title.
Penns Valley's Nick Fuller (18:02) was 17th in the Class A meet. as the Rams (120) placed fourth as a team. Westmont Hilltop (79) won the team title.