Centre county cross-country runners turned in impressive performances at the PIAA Cross-Country Championships on Saturday in Hershey. Not only did the St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy girls’ win the Class 1A team title, but the Penns Valley duo of Colton Sands and Brendan Colwell took the top two spots in the boys’ race. Sands beat out his teammate for gold.
The State College girls’ team finished as runnerup to defending champ North Allegheny in the Class 3A race — the Little Lions’ best finish in 25 years.
The St. Joe’s boys’ team also had its best team finish in program history — coming in at 12th place in 1A, while the State College boys’ finished 9th in 3A. Penns Valley girls’ and Bellefonte runners also represented District 6 in Hershey.
Here’s what happened:
‘Family’ mentality leads to another state title for St. Joe’s girls’
Before the race started Saturday, sophomore co-captain Kate Youngmark admitted that all the girls were feeling some nerves. But being together as a team and cracking jokes helped calm those nerves and get them ready to attack course, as the Wolves went on to score 93 points and bring home the program’s third PIAA title.
For coach Jayson Jackson, the key to his program’s sustained success — which includes PIAA team titles in 2016 and 2015 — is the “tight-knit family” atmosphere and each runner buying into the mentality that they run together and for one another. It was that mindset that Jackson said helped push his team to victory Saturday.
“I think they did a great job,” Jackson said. “They were running with each other and for each other, and I think that was a bi g part of it. They did a good job of doing what we do in practice — running together — and I think that pushed them over the top. We were able to get uncomfortable and enjoy that discomfort.”
Youngmark paced the Wolves, finishing 10th with a time of 20:10.8. She was followed by fellow co-captain Kathleen Simander, who came in at 43rd in 21:08.9. Freshman Brandi Carmack and senior Myah Chappell were a second apart, with Carmack finishing in 21:11.2 for 46th, and Chappell in 21:12.9 for 47th. Junior Camryn Eby wasn’t too far behind, crossing the finish line in 21:25.8.
“I think the team did really well today,” Youngmark said. “We came into it wanting to lay it all on the line for each other, and I really think the way we all blend together really helped with the chemistry in the race and helped us win.”
Added Simander: “Our team is very close, and it was amazing to be able to pull through with five girls and get the win.”
Penns Valley duo push each other to victory
As Penns Valley boys’ cross-country coach Terry Glunt stood around the 2.5-mile mark during the PIAA Class 1A Boys’ Cross-Country Championships Saturday in Hershey, he wasn’t surprised to see two of his junior runners — Colton Sands and Brendan Colwell — pulling away from the rest of the pack.
That is what the pair has done all season long — at the Big Valley Invitational, when Sands set a new school record, and at Spiked Shoe when Colwell broke Sands’ record, which was later broken again by Sands when he ran a 15:14 last week at districts. But as he started up the hill and into the final stretch of the race, Sands said he could feel himself pulling away from his teammate and started thinking he could win. But with Colwell as the competition, he didn’t truly feel safe until he crossed that finish line.
Sands did prevail, finishing in 15:56 to earn his first cross-country state title, while Colwell came in second in 16:05.
“It’s awesome to have a guy like that, great friend, great guy, to be able to race with him and get these results together is really incredible,” Sands said.
Having one of the state’s top runners as a teammate can be both a blessing and a curse. While each said that having one another as teammates has helped push them and boost their confidence, they also would sometimes like to run a race where they’re not competing against one of the state’s bests.
“You can’t slack off ever, because he’s going to be right there,” Sands said. “So you’re always giving it your all when you have a guy like that on your team.”
Both Sands and Colwell have overcome injury issues over the past year. Sands dealt with an injury last October, which kept him from achieving the goals he set last year for states, when he finished 18th. Colwell, who ran to a sixth-place finish last year, dealt with Achilles tendinitis for five weeks during the spring track season.
That five weeks of not being able to run were what Colwell called the “toughest point” of his life.
“I thought I had a shot at winning the outdoor 3200 title (which Sands went on to win), and then not to be able to compete at that level in outdoor was pretty heartbreaking,” he said. “So it made me really want to work harder, so I put myself through the hardest training I think I’ve ever done in my life. So mentally and physically, I knew going into cross-country that I had a shot at doing the best that I could do.”
Injuries were a common theme for Penns Valley this season. While Sands and Colwell were mostly 100% by the fall, three of the Rams’ six runners dealt with various injuries throughout the season.
Despite the injuries, all six runners were able to compete Saturday and help the Rams run to a fifth-place team finish. Penns Valley finished with 167 points, just seven points off of third-place fisher Jenkinstown’s 160. Being that close but narrowly missing the top 3 was “bittersweet” for the team, Colwell said.
Besides Sands and Colwell, junior Thaddeus Smith finished in 17:47; junior Daniel Kelly in 17:51, freshman Simon Smith in 19:19 and junior Max Feidler in 19:32.
Penns Valley will return its entire team next year, and with leaders like Sands and Colwell to look up to, Glunt is proud of this year’s team, and confident moving forward.
“They’re great models for the kids, they’re great training partners,” he said. “It’s just a culture that continually wants to be better. We’ve been successful because we’ve had great kids from great families, and that held through again this year.”
State College girls’ earn best PIAA finish in 25 years
While they would’ve preferred to finish first, coach Rebecca Donaghue was overjoyed with her Little Lions’ runnerup finish in the the Class 3A PIAA Cross-Country Championships on Saturday.
After having placed third last year, the Little Lions were determined to crack the top two this year and earn a spot on the podium. With 152 points, the Little Lions were just 15 points from North Allegheny, which won its second consecutive state title. Those 15 points were the closest Donaghue said her team has been to North Allegheny all season.
The key to State College’s success Saturday was hitting that first mile hard, Donaghue said. Her runners knew that if they got behind in that first mile, it’d be hard to catch back up. After the first mile, State College was in the lead. While they dropped down to third in the second, the State College runners stepped it up in the third, passing multiple competitors in the final stretch — which ended up being the difference between going home with a medal and not.
“Our girls stepped up when we needed to and that was huge,” Donaghue said. “They ran tough., they ran aggressive, they attacked, they did everything they were supposed to do.”
The Little Lions were paced by freshman Marlee Kwasnica, who finished 17th in 19:09 to earn All-State status. Senior Lizzie Gilpatrick came in at 28th in 19:30; junior Jordan Reed at 40th in 19:38; senior Elle Haushalter 107th in 20:27; junior Maggie Leahey 133rd in 20:46; junior Karsyn Kane 185th in 21:42; junior Mihret Strauss 189th in 21:48.
Although the varsity team will be losing some key seniors next year, runners like Kwasnica are returning, and they’ll be bringing up a large freshman class from junior varsity. Overall, Donaghue is optimistic in the future of her program. In fact, the last time State College placed second at states — in 1993 — they won the next year.
State College boys’ overcome midseason adversity to finish 9th in the state
“If you can make it into the top 10 in Class 3A boy’s cross-country in Pennsylvania — you’re good,” State College coach Dave Felice said.
And that’s exactly what his Little Lions did on Saturday, placing ninth with 232 points, just four points out of eighth place.
While Felice said his team started this season strong, they hit some adversity around midseason, with injuries and illnesses. However, about a week out from the district race — from which the top team qualifies for state — his team made the determination to turn their season around and make it to states.
“I think they rebounded well,” Felice said. “When people are down a little bit, it’s easy to get down mentally, however, from about the week before districts on, they made a commitment to work hard and get back on top and they did. So I’m really proud of their performance this year.”
The Little Lions were led Saturday by junior Brady Bigger, who earned All-State status with a 20th-place finish in 16:23.8. He was followed by Ben St. Pierre who came in 34th in 16:40.7; Sean Adams in 130th in 17:24.4; Bennett Norton in 149th in 17:33; David Gluckman in 157th in 17:35.8; Henry Ballard in 187th in 17:52.4; and Charles Endres in 201st in 18:10
“I think it was a really solid performance today,” Felice said. “It was the toughest 3A field I’ve seen assembled, and we had a really solid performance.”
St. Joe’s boy’s run to program’s best PIAA finish
Finishing in 12th place with 264 points, the St. Joe’s boys’ cross-country team added to the girls’ success by finishing with its best PIAA placement in program history.
The wolves were paced by Josh Hershbine who finished 30th in 17:19; Carter Kauffman was 35th in 17:28; Aiden Cross 82nd in 18:53; Isaac Hyman 92nd in 18:15; Jonah Clark 151st in 18:56; Asa Reynolds 170th in 19:15 and Josh Hyman 200th in 19:57.
“Boys’ had a great day, too,” Jackson said. “Twelfth place is our highest finish ever at the state meet, so that was fun to have them end on a high note as well.”
Penns Valley girls’ and Bellefonte runners also compete
While their full teams didn’t qualify, the Penns Valley girls’ and Bellefonte boys’ and girls’ programs were each represented at states.
Penns Valley freshman Alexis Durn finished the Class 1A race in 28th place in 20:54, right outside All-State territory, while teammate junior Kelsey Hull finished 64th place in 21:31.5.
Bellefonte’s Austin Melius finished 60th in 17:21.4 in the boys’ Class 2A race, while fellow Red Raider Mia Elmore finished 147th in 22:07.6.