By Ed Farrell
Herald Assistant Sports Editor
MERCER COUNTY —
When it comes to Mercer County’s cross country contingent, success almost is taken for granted. And while that speaks to the caliber of competition, with it also comes cautionary concern:
Is this the year the remainder of the 6-county district catches up?
The answers will come Saturday in Buhl Farm Park, site of the annual event that serves as the PIAA Championships qualifier.
Saturday’s order of events will be: Class AAA and A girls, 10 a.m.; AA girls, 10:45; AAA/A boys, 11:30, and AA boys, 12:15 p.m. Mercer County has no AAA teams.
State qualifiers will include, in single-A, the top 2 girls’ and top 3 boys’ teams (plus the next 10 individuals who are not members of those teams), and in double-A, the top 2 girls’ and boys’ teams (plus the next 10 finishing individuals not part of those teams).
The PIAA Championships are set for Nov. 2 at Parkview Cross Country Course, Hershey.
Last year Grove City boys 3-peated, copping Class AA, while West Middlesex’s girls copped the Class A crown. Hickory (AA) and Wilmington (A) girls and West Middlesex boys (A) boys ended as runners-up for team titles.
On paper, the area aggregation — as it relates to the aforementioned, plus some other noteworthy individuals — again appears aimed for success.
ä West Middlesex mentor Bob Morris has maneuvered the Ms. Reds’ program to 6 straight statewide berths, while the Big Reds have run in 4 consecutive commonwealth competitions. Both Reds’ racers have run roughshod over their respective regions — the girls 8 times in 9 years and the boys a perfect 9 for 9.
The Ms. Reds are led by Kristen White, the 2012 runner-up who covered the course in 20:40. Alyson Pierce and Chloé Tyillian also return, complemented by Anna and Helena Zrile, Jordan Aubel and Sophia Kachulis.
ä Hickory’s girls return essentially the majority of last season’s top 7 that ended 2nd to Villa Maria, 37-95. The Lady Hornets are led by Lexi Bible, the 2-time Region 1-2 (Mercer County Invitational) titlist. And veteran mentor Tony Mastrian’s minions also include Jackie Abraham, Haley Boyd, and Bailey and Paige Brown.
Abraham actually bested Bible, 20:13 to 20:18, to take 3rd last year.
ä Also returning virtually intact are Wilmington’s girls, who ended 2nd only to Middlesex, 43-71, in Class A.
Rikki Brumbaugh and Allison Baldwin, 7th and 8th, respectively, in 2012, led the Lady Greyhounds of Coach Mary Beth Acker, and are joined by Lexi Brumbaugh, Hannah Drake, and Hannah Winters. Lexi Brumbaugh, only a freshman, led the Lady ’Hounds at last week’s county championship.
ä Saegertown secured a slender 1-point win over West Middlesex boys a year ago, 92-93.
David Johnson stood 6th for the Big Reds, and will be bolstered by Big Reds Levi Canon, Jared Germani, Brett Kirk and Isaac Williams. However Saegertown’s top 6 from 2012 lost only one runner, and Brendon Barclay, Morgan and Matt Schenberg, Wyatt Fleischer and Chris Guy all are underclassmen.
ä Coach Mike Sample’s successful Eagles could soar again. Grove City is bolstered by Aaron Benka, who finished 4th in 17:39 last year as GC garnered a 26-79 win over Gen. McLane. Ryan Budnik, Ryan Whiteman and John Scott Somora also return after placing 5th, 10th and 12th, respectively, last year.
ä Several state placewinners, in addition to the aforementioned, also return, including Grove City’s Hanna Sanford and Katie and Mary Jaskowak, Greenville’s Maddie Thrasher and Sharpsville’s Maddie Przicina. However Katie Jaskowak, Sample said, sustained a recent injury and her Saturday status is contingent upon her pain threshold, Sample said.
Recent Mercer County Invitational medalist Dylan Foley of Greenville and his 2012 counterpart, Commodore Perry’s Nathan White, lead the boys’ Class A clubs.
However there will be numerous challengers to the county.
Cambridge Springs’ Olivia Mamula and Maplewood’s Jeremy Parsons are the defending single-A gold medalists, as is Villa Maria’s Bernadette Prichard (AA). Parsons and his brother Jake recently led Maplewood to the Rocky Grove Invitational championship, according to The (Erie) Times-News, while Seneca’s boys tied for runnerup laurels. Jeremy Parsons and Cambridge Springs’ Reilly Walsh won recent Region 3 crowns, while North East’s Gary Olson and Emma Verdonik (who bested teammate Kate McIntosh, according to The Times-News) were the Region 4 medalists.
Other challengers include Rocky Grove’s Maggie Prorok (A), Mercyhurst Prep’s Sarah Kupniewski and Taylor Pletz, Villa’s GraceTrucilla, Claire Brown and Allison Carson, and Gen. McLane’s Morgan Price.
Jeremy Parsons edged his brother Jake by 10 ticks (17:27 to 17:37) for last year’s crown, while Mercyhurst’s Sebastian Curtin and Marc Parnell, Eisenhower’s Devin VanGuilder, and Maplewood’s Hanz Wentz were other Class A top-10 finishers. So dominant was Grove City last year, only Gen. McLane’s Lukas Hallett, Oil City’s Gordon Phipps and Austin King, and Franklin’s John Danvers return as the only 2012 top-10 placewinners.
Meadville’s Matt Svetz, like Benka, fared well at the recent Tri-State Invitational in Slippery Rock. Benka stood 6th (16:24), while Svetz posted an 18:03 clocking.
Notes: Mercer County’s Class A clubs include: Commodore Perry, Jamestown, Kennedy Catholic, Lakeview, Mercer, Sharpsville, West Middlesex, Reynolds, Greenville (boys) and Wilmington (girls). The area AA aggregation includes Grove City, Hickory, Sharon, Slippery Rock, Greenville (girls) and Wilmington (boys). ... McDowell girls and Cathedral Prep boys are the reigning AAA team titlists. ... Villa girls and Prep boys are the Region 6 champs. ... RunHigh.com, courtesy of Mark Courtney, will serve as the D-10 championships’ official timer. ... Jack McIntire is meet director.