HERSHEY — Up against the best runners in the state in the big school division, Punxsy senior A.J. Meterko and junior Dane Baker came away feeling pretty good about their performances Saturday in Hershey at the PIAA Class AAA Boys' Cross Country Championships.
Meterko, a senior who was competing in his third state meet, finished in 114th place with a time of 17:26 out of 283 runners. Baker, running at states for the second time, followed in 210th place in 18:09.
Both runners greatly improved their times from last year's PIAA event. Meterko took 180th in 18:07, and Baker finished in 18:44, good enough for 235th place. Even with a much larger cluster of runners — there were 283 competitors at states compared to 35 at districts Oct. 30 in Ridgway — Meterko was able to improve his time from districts to states by one second.
"As a coach, you couldn't have asked these two to do any more. They looked great and ran well against the best in the state," Punxsy head coach John Smith said. "A.J. was the 52nd senior to finish, and Dane will be one of the top 115 runners coming back next year."
The goals of Meterko and Baker were to reach the first mile within five minutes. If they finished the second mile within 10:40 to 11 minutes, it would once again be a successful mile.
"The start is so criticial — they had to get out extra fast to prevent being swallowed up in a pack of 280-plus runners," Smith said. "Both did a great job staying at five minutes at the first mile, with A.J. at 10:43 and Dane at 11:00 at the second mile."
Meterko, the district runner-up, led St. Marys junior Gideon Woelfel the entire race, but Woelfel was able to best the Punxsy senior by two seconds and two places.
Only 30 seconds went by as 25th through 125th place were decided.
"He was overtaken (by Woelfel) in the last few meters of the race. He almost got his revenge," Smith said. "The runners finished in droves of five runners per two seconds around A.J., which greatly inflates your finish place."
Baker was seven seconds away from cracking the top 200 place-finishers.
"Dane got some valuable experience and will likely be back in the hunt next year," Smith said.