RIDGWAY — After falling just short the past two seasons, the Lady Chucks captured a convincing District IX cross country crown on Saturday in Ridgway.
Punxsy ran away with first by 28 points, 31-59 over runner-up Clearfield. The two-time defending champion Bradford was third with 64 points, while St. Marys completed the field with 67 points in fourth.
“I certainly thought we had an excellent chance of winning, but I surprised at the margin of victory,” admitted Punxsy coach George Wehrle. “The girls proved they were for sure the best team in the district this year.”
The Chucks placed four runners in the top eight and five in the first 13 to clinch the win and the automatic PIAA AA berth. The PIAA state cross country championships will be held next Saturday, Nov. 3, at Hershey’s Parkview course.
"There are 20 teams which advanced to the PIAA meet in the AA classification from the 12 different districts spread throughout the state, and now we’ll look to see what the rest of the field is like and set some team goals for Saturday,” explained the Lady Chucks director.
“With the new classification system in place, we can aim a bit higher than in the past, but there are still plenty of outstanding teams in our division. We can be competitive but have to run very well just to be in the thick of things.”
The weather and course conditions in Ridgway were excellent for the first district meet in quite some time which gave the runners a true test of their fitness on Saturday.
“The weather was great, and the course was in very good conditions, which is so rare for this meet in Ridgway. It seems as if it’s cold, rainy and muddy just about every year. For once, the athletes got to race, not just survive the mud,” said Wehrle.
Adair Gennocro from Saint Marys raced out to an early lead and was never challenged, running the 3.1 mile layout in 19:04.
“Gennocro probably could have gone quite a bit faster if pushed. A runner like her only comes around once every 20 years or so, if that, so her win was definitely no surprise,” added Wehrle.
Also no surprise was the Punxsy duo of Juliann Boddorf and Alexis Young taking the next two places, second- and third- overall, with times of 20:23 and 20:51, respectively.
“Juliann and Alexis really gave our team an edge by taking the second and third place positions," noted the Punxsy coach. “I think both of them will be pushed a bit more next week at states, and I feel confident they can both run even better than they did today. They were just steady out there and got the job done.”
Young did have to work a bit toward the end to hold off Clearfield freshman Claire Mikesell by seven seconds, who was then followed by Ala Small in fifth place with a career best time of 21:02.
“Ala ran a great race, getting ahead of two other Clearfield girls and finishing ahead of all the Bradford runners. She is one tough runner and really came through in a big way today,” said Wehrle.
Korinne Young placed eighth overall with her fastest time of the season, 21:21.
“Korinne was 29 seconds faster today than she ran three weeks ago on this same course, which is really impressive.
“I feel as confident in her as a freshman as I do with some of the more veteran runners,” admitted Wehrle. “Even though Clearfield had three runners in before Korinne, I knew we were in good shape because of our fifth and sixth runners being in the top half of the field while Clearfield’s were way back.”
Bradford started to flex some muscle as it took three of the next four places, with Saint Marys' Shelby Schreiber also getting into that group.
“Bradford was just too far back to mount a challenge today, and when Kaston came in 13th overall as our fifth runner, I knew we were in pretty good shape,” added Wehrle. “Kaston is vastly improved from a year ago and really solidifies our top five nicely. Our 1-5 spread was 1:53, which was our third best performance of the season.”
Marissa Greenblatt turned in another solid outing by placing 16th overall in 22:59, with a Saint Marys' runner and a Bradford athlete sandwiched between her and Kaston Mohney.
“Marissa has typically been a bit closer to Kaston, but she hung in there and gave us some nice cushion just in case one of the girls ahead of her had any problems. Marissa has been reliable and steady all season, just one more reason for the teams’ success,” explained the Lady Chucks coach.
Sophomore Elissa Hill ran in her first varsity district race and didn’t disappoint, placing 21st with a career best time of 24:04.
“Elissa as our seventh runner was ahead of Bradford’s seventh, Clearfield’s fifth and Saint Marys’ fifth finishers. She stepped in for the injured Logan Brooks and really did a great job,” commented Wehrle.
Three other Punxsy athletes competed on Saturday as well, as Kayla Carpenter, Beth Barnett and Tamera Anthony all ran in the extra race, designed to give runners not participating in the championship race a chance to compete.
“I’ve said it many times before; the runners in the extra race have it harder in many ways because they are the last race, and they’ve been standing around for four hours or so cheering on their teammates, then they have to go run with very little fanfare. That’s tough to do mentally,” pointed out Wehrle.
Kayla Carpenter shrugged off all obstacles as she ran her best race of the season by far, recording a time of 25:10 to chop 33 seconds off her previous best.
“Kayla really ran a strong race today, ending her season on a high note for sure,” said Wehrle.
“She is a dedicated member of our team and deserves this performance.”
Beth Barnett wrapped up her freshman season in style by finishing just 14 seconds behind Carpenter and only seven seconds off her best time of the season.
“Beth has a lot of ability and improved from her first couple races being in the 29’s to her last two being low 25’s. She should only get better with more training and race experience,” commented Wehrle.
Tamera Anthony ran 27:26, which did not approach her previous race times.
“Tamera had to really work to get through this one today, which of course she did. You would have to drag her from the course to get her to stop competing, because normally she would have been up with Kayla and Beth as she has in recent weeks,” added Wehrle.
With a week to prepare for the final meet of the season, the Punxsy runners will have little time to enjoy their district championship.
“On behalf of all the girls, I would really like to thank all the parents, friends, teachers and former athletes who have supported the team throughout the season, but especially by showing up in Ridgway for districts,” concluded Wehrle. “It was a very special experience that obviously doesn’t happen every year. Now we can get back at it on Monday and try to end our season on another high note with a quality performance at states.”