HERSHEY — After taking not only one, but both District IX titles, the Punxsy boys' and girls' cross country teams were given the royal treatment as they headed out of Punxsutawney on Friday morning. The two squads will test their mettle against the best of the Pennsylvania's AA ranks today at Hershey's Parkview Cross Country Course adjacent to Hershey Park.
Before boarding the bus, the Chucks harriers were greeted by their fellow Punxsy Area High School student body. The special sendoff did not stop there. The Punxsy Borough, Pennsylvania State Police and two fire company engines escorted the squads through downtown and out State Route 119 to begin the trip to the central part of the state.
After staying over Friday night in the Harrisburg area, Punxsy went to the Hershey Park area to the Parkview Course.
The Parkview Course will be a difficult one for the Chucks' runners.
The course is notoriously challenging, with approximately one dozen uphills scattered throughout the 3.1 mile layout.
“The course is certainly not easy under the best of conditions, and who knows what it will be like after all the rain the eastern part of the state received the past few days,” said Punxsy girls head coach George Wehrle. “I will be surprised if the course doesn’t turn muddy fairly quickly on Saturday.”
Both Punxsy teams will compete today in the middle of the newly-minted three classification system. The Lady Chucks will participate in the AA girls race, the second of the day, starting at 10:15 a.m. The Chucks will wait for two more races to be completed before the AA boys toe the line at approximately 12:30 p.m.
Each of the six total races will have approximately 240 runners taking part.
With 2012 being the first year of the three-classification system, it is difficult to predict how either race field will shape up before the races. Previous seasons comparisons are irrelevant with many teams moving down to the A race and others moving down to the AA race from the AAA ranks such as the Punxsy teams.
“Before, with only two classes, you had a real good idea of what your team was capable of based on past results, but this year it’s a little more of an unknown," explained Wehrle. "We (the Lady Chucks) certainly should be more competitive without having to race against the very biggest schools throughout the state.”
The Lady Chucks goal of finishing strong as their coach said in the 20-team field of the AA division. The Punxsy girls are rated 13th based on the Penntrack.com rankings.
“Penntrack.com does a ranking of all teams in the state, but it’s not perfect," pointed out the Lady Chucks coach. "They only include invitationals, and they take the best race performance of each runner and use that for the ranking, not necessarily the best team performance from any one meet. Also, certain courses are faster than others, so you would be penalized a bit for not running on a fast, flat course. “
Nonetheless, based on these rankings, the Punxsy squad is shooting for a top 10 finish as a realistic goal.
“I think the girls have a decent shot at placing in the top 10 if they all run well, which is easier said than done," said Wehrle. "It’s certainly something to shoot for and would be a great accomplishment, although placing anywhere from 10th to 15th would be a pretty good result as well. If we’re outside the top 15 it probably wasn’t a very good race on our part, or else we underestimated the competition.”
The girls' team favorites include Palmyra, Archbishop Wood, Holy Redeemer and Dallas high schools from the eastern side of the state. From the western side, Villa Maria from the Erie area along with Knoch, Uniontown and Quaker Valley from Pittsburgh's District VII are the best squads.
While the team standings take precedent for the Lady Chucks, individually Juliann Boddorf and Alexis Young will look to lead they way once again for the rest of their teammates.
Joining the top two Punxsy girls will be Ala Small, Korinne Young, Kaston Mohney and Marissa Greenblatt.
Sophomore Elissa Hill will fill in for the injured Logan Brooks. Tamara Anthony will be the Lady Chucks' official alternate for the state race.
The Punxsy boys will be trying to make their own noise today. The Chucks send their full team to the state meet for the first time in some years after garnering the program's first District IX championship since 1998.
Punxsy will face the same challenges in the boys' field as the girls'. With the juggling of classifications, the Chucks will have a chance to make their marks on the new AA race.
The pre-race boys' team favorites includes Pottsgrove, Scranton Prep and Bonner Prendie from the east while Grove City and Quaker Valley should be the biggest threats from the western side.
Sophomore Bo Dinger, who was the district runner- up, will lead the Chucks.
Punxsy will look to have its strong top four be close together yet again, with Dinger and his three teammates of senior Nate Ward and fellow sophomores Seth Burkett and Eric Ingros.
The Chucks will have junior Luke Fugate and the sophomore pair of Jerad Meterko and Zach Moore racing for the fifth scoring spot. Junior Matt Burke will be the Punxsy alternate.