HERSHEY — After heading across the state of Pennsylvania with a lot of enthusiasm, sophomore Bo Dinger came across the finish line 19th to earn an All-State individual medal to lead the Punxsy boys' cross country team at the PIAA AA boys' cross country championships on Saturday afternoon in Hershey.
As a team, the Chucks completed the 5K Parkview Cross Country Course with 372 points in 18th of the extremely tough 19-team boys field, narrowly beat out by General McLane with 369 points in the program's first state team appearance since 1998.
"The team went into the state championship with a lot of enthusiasm," noted Punxsy head coach John Smith. "The send off with state and borough police and fire departments, the support of principals Dave London and Darren Hack and athletic director Bill Vassallo, the student body and contributors — The Booster Club, County Market, parents and many others made it something really appreciated by the team — something that they will always remember."
With the new three classification system instilled this season, the Chucks knew the competition was going to be a very talented field to run against.
"The team competition was going to be extremely tough. Pottsgrove out of District I and Grove City from District X were the favorites and ended up just three points apart," explained Smith. "The next eight teams were solid."
Pottsgrove took the team title with a final tally of 96 points, three points better than Grove City's 99. In fact, the top three teams each placed three runners in the top 20 finishers. Annville-Cleona and Tunkhannock completed the top four with 151 and 152 points.
"I told the kids and parents that this season would be a learning experience and that if we could keep our fifth-place runner close to our top four we could move up in the standings," said the Chucks coach. "If we didn't our score would be inflated drastically. We were up against many seasoned teams, teams that have been here before. Many of the teams ran on this course throughout the season or at their district meet."
With the first complete team trip in many years, the Chucks were not disappointed with how the state race went as a whole.
"No one was disappointed though, because basically the whole team will have a chance to come back a little more next season," pointed out Smith.
The biggest Punxsy highlight of the state race came from its top runner all season in Dinger. The second-year harrier raced across in 19th overall place and sixth overall of the team represented runners with a time of 16:53.
"The big story is that we came away with some real success," continued Smith. "It was Bo time as Bo Dinger ran the race of his life to become an All-Stater, finishing 19th and his best time of the season securing his medal (the top 25 make All-State)."
"He now joins an elite group of 12 former runners at PAHS who have achieved this goal," added the long-time Punxsy coach. "He constantly improves and made everyone in Punxsy proud."
Dinger should be in a good position to improve upon his 19th place finish with hard work for next season.
"There were 15 of the finishers ahead of Bo Dinger who were seniors," noted Smith. "Bo and the other three (underclassmen) finished within nine second of each other. Question is, what will Bo's next move be. The pressure will be on him?"
In the fifth of six championship races on the day, the Chucks other three members — sophomore Eric Ingros, senior Nate Ward and sophomore Seth Burkett — produced quality efforts in the top-notch competition field. Ingros ran a time of 18:11 for a 70th-placing to lead the trio.
In his final scholastic race, Ward was only eight seconds behind Ingros at 18:19 for 78th place. Burkett completed the four Chucks 20 spots back in 98th spot (18:47).
"Ingros, Ward and Burkett ran great on a tough course under intense conditions," commented Smith. "As a coach, I was happy with everyone's performances because I know that they were inexperienced and jittery at the start. Some may have gone out a little too fast, but overall this was a great team effort."
The final three Punxsy runners were all fairly grouped together. Luke Fugate ended up being the fifth and final scoring Punxsy runner in the 120th spot. The junior completed the 5K in 19:25.
Sophomores Zach Moore and Jerad Meterko completed the Chucks' contingent five seconds apart. Moore went across the line in 19:47 (128th) and Meterko at 19:52 (132nd).
"Luke Fugate, Zach Moore and Jerad Meterko will all use this as a benchmark for next season," said Smith.
"As a team, we wish to thank everyone for their help and support on the season and at this state meet," finished Smith. "These guys worked extra hard on the season and didn't disappoint anyone. They worked as a true team."