RIDGWAY — To say that the Punxsutawney girls' varsity cross country team just missed out on winning its third-straight PIAA District IX Cross Country Championship would be a vast understatement.
The Lady Chucks finished in a tie with Bradford with 30 points, but the championship went the way of the Lady Owls as Bradford's sixth runner finished four places ahead of Punxsy's sixth runner, giving Bradford the edge.
Easing the pain a bit was the day that senior Milea Schall had, as she claimed her second-straight district title with a time of 19:54, nearly 40 seconds ahead of the rest of the field.
"The girls ran a fantastic race, but so did Bradford. Both teams were deserving, but Bradford was quite a bit deeper through seven runners than we were, and that made the difference today," Punxsy head coach George Wehrle said. "Knowing we were so close to winning was frustrating, but it certainly wasn't that the girls didn't run well. It was a great race from both teams that literally couldn't have been much closer."
Despite not earning the team qualifying berth for states, a quartet of Punxsy runners will be headed to Hershey next weekend, as the top five finishers not on the district-winning team make the trip.
For Punxsy, Schall, Alexis Young, Shannon Byerly and Juliann Boddord all ran strong races and will travel to states, an impressive feat for sure.
"These four girls all ran under 21:19, which is by far the best performance Punxsy has ever had at districts in the six years they've run this same course," Wehrle said. "In 2005, we had four girls out of five qualify, but this year's group was on average about a minute faster."
Weather didn't play a factor in the race like in past years, allowing a dry course to be the foundation for some great times, including the best time of the day, turned in by Schall.
Schall dominated the field, and for Wehrle, there was never a question of just how good the senior could be Saturday in Ridgway.
"I was very confident in Milea winning, and she did make it look routine," Wehrle said. "After the first mile, she just pulled away and maintained a comfortable lead all the way to the finish. Her last three years at districts, she's finished third, first and first, an impressive record to say the least."
Continuing her spectacular running was sophomore Alexis Young, as she placed second overall with a time of 20:33, the second best time of her career.
"I'm not surprised by Alexis placing second, as I was hoping she would place no worse than third," Wehrle said. "Still, for us to take 1-2 is a very nice accomplishment. I can't remember any team going 1-2 at districts in my eight years of coaching. Alexis has done a great job this season."
After Bradford's Meg Newburg took third, Byerly crossed in fourth for Punxsy, with Newburg just two seconds ahead.
"Newburg really had a nice race to be able to beat Shannon. Otherwise, we would have had the first three places," Wehrle said. "Shannon's time was a career-best, and she beat some girls today who had beaten her all season. She does everything right as a runner, and it's great to see her get rewarded with such a high finish and a trip to states as an individual."
Freshman Juliann Boddorf was in a fierce battle all race long with a pack of Bradford runners, all of whom finished within three seconds of one another. Boddorf finished ninth overall in 21:19, good enough to earn her the final qualifying spot.
“Juliann really ran a great race, as did the Bradford girls. Juliann beat several girls today who had beaten her previously this season, and to run 21:19 on this course as a freshman is an excellent result," Wehrle said.
Bradford and Clearfield both had three girls cross the finish line before Punxsy’s fifth runner, freshman Tamera Anthony.
“I was figuring Bradford would get all seven girls in before our fifth, but Clearfiled pushed us back an extra place and didn’t affect Bradford’s score at all," Wehrle said. "There were three or four little things that added up to us losing by the slimmest of margins, even though I think we ran about as well as we could have today. Tamera ran 23:40, compared to 24:24 three weeks ago on this same course, so you can’t ask for much more than that."
Junior Heidi Rodgers was just 11 seconds and one place behind Anthony at the finish, while senior Bethany Beatty finished her career with a 19th place finish, running a time of 24:32.
After a rest day Sunday, Punxsy’s four state qualifiers will be back at practice today in preparation for next Saturday’s state meet.
“With 285 of the best runners in the state competing in the AAA classification, our goals will have to be adjusted a bit because of the level of talent they will be facing," Wehrle said. "We are sending down four excellent runners, so I expect them to come away with satisfying results.”