Beyond the finish line area, near a gravel path lined with tents, the Penns Valley cross country runners and their family members broke out into cheers when they saw the results of their state championship race load on their phones for the first time.
“We did it!” one runner shouted, after learning the Rams captured the PIAA Class A championship Saturday. “Yes!” another yelled.
They smiled and embraced before parents took photos. They chatted about the significance of the moment, as they became the first boys team in Penns Valley history to win a state championship.
“It’s just so unreal,” Penns Valley’s Sammy Gray said.
Added Rams coach Terry Glunt: “It’s euphoric.”
Penns Valley turned in a dominant effort to take home the team title, finishing with 68 points to beat runner-up Elk County Catholic. In the team competition, Colton Sands placed seventh to pace the Rams with a time of 16 minutes, 48 seconds — followed closely by Chris Colwell (10th; 16:55), Brendan Colwell (12th; 17:02) and Gray (14th; 17:10). Mark Bierly (25th; 17:37), Charlie Romig (29th; 17:42) and Daniel Kelly (69th; 18:54) rounded out the Rams’ competitors.
Penns Valley led at the one-mile and two-mile marks, but Glunt and his runners couldn’t hear those announcements near the finish line. When they completed the race, they didn’t know if they had accomplished the goal they set during the summer.
Back in June, the Rams started training Monday and Wednesday mornings, and they already started to think about this state championship race. They knew they’d be among the top-5 teams in the state. They wanted to bring the PIAA championship trophy and gold medals back to Spring Mills.
With that goal driving him, Brendan Colwell didn’t struggle to get out of bed at 6:30 a.m. in the summer.
“It’s that state championship,” the Rams freshman said. “That’s what you’re working toward.”
The Penns Valley runners discussed that goal throughout the season. If someone was having a bad day, a teammate offered a reminder about the state run at Hershey. When the Rams finished a strong workout, they looked at it as moving one step closer toward hoisting the state championship trophy. They thought about it constantly.
And they knew they had the right mix of runners to achieve that goal, starting with senior Chris Colwell. Glunt said Colwell served as a coach for his teammates while managing an injury perfectly. Every third day, Colwell worked out on his bike — he got a bike rack to bring his mountain bike to school this year — to stay sharp while dealing with hip bursitis. He stuck with his routine leading up to the championship race, riding the stationary bike in the team’s Holiday Inn Express in Hummelstown Friday instead of running on the Hershey course.
Colwell and his teammates were ready to go Saturday after working toward this moment all season.
“I couldn’t sleep,” Glunt said. “Every hour I was waking up, I was just thinking about the race, thinking about the race and then I asked the kids this morning, ‘How’d you sleep?’
“‘Great.’ The old man worries more than they do.”
Gray shot out to the front of Penns Valley’s pack during the first mile — he’s normally the Rams’ fifth runner — and Sands finished ahead of Colwell for the first time. The Rams didn’t get out in front like they had hoped, but they still held the lead at the end of the first and second miles. And they continued to pass opposing runners to put together a dominant team performance.
After the race, the runners received a surprise from Penns Valley athletic director Nate Althouse. He had special shirts made featuring the words “Penns Valley 2017 Cross Country Champions,” and the runners soon pulled on the championship gear.
“It shows that people had confidence in us,” Chris Colwell said. “They really believed in us.”
Bierly said the Rams started to believe when they punched in their times in the PA Milesplit website for virtual meets during the season, comparing their team to others in the state. Penns Valley was among the best, and the Rams proved they were the top team in the state Saturday.
They dreamed about wearing their gold medals and carrying the team trophy onto the platform in Hershey. On Saturday, it wasn’t a dream anymore as they grinned after being announced and recognized as state champs.
“I’m speechless,” Bierly said.
Other county teams at states
The State College boys’ cross country team finished 11th in Class 3A at the PIAA championships on Saturday.
Mitchell Etter paced the Little Lions with an 11th-place finish in the team competition, recording a time of 16 minutes, 21 seconds. Other State College finishers included Owen Isham (23rd; 16:40), Erik Boethius (46th; 17:05), Sam Horn (82nd; 17:37), Henry Ballard (95th; 17:50), Ben St. Pierre (110th; 18:10) and Joe Messner (117th; 18:20).
The Little Lions had a team score of 257.
In Class A, St. Joseph’s runner Carter Kauffmann was 23rd with a time of 17:09. In Class 2A, Bellefonte’s Brett Pope took 28th in the individual race with a time of 17:00.