HERSHEY — Four members of the Punxsy girls' cross country team competed in Saturday's 2010 PIAA Class AAA Championships, and while not performing poorly by any means, head coach George Wehrle said that the results were somewhat less than expected.
"I don't know if it was a letdown for the girls that the whole team didn't qualify, or just the effects of a long season, but all four girls seemed just a bit off their top form," Wehrle said. "I can't necessarily explain it, and I'm not sure there is any one thing you can look at and say that's why they didn't run their best. I was hoping for better, and I know they were as well, but it wasn't to be today."
Despite somewhat dire weather predictions for Friday and Saturday, both days were excellent for cross country running. Punxsy arrived for a run Friday on the course expecting cold rain, but Friday was nice, and Saturday was even better, Wehrle said. There were some soft and muddy spots on the course, but overall racing conditions were excellent, he said.
Senior Milea Schall came into the meet as the two-time defending district champion with a personal best time of 19:34, but she was unable to recapture her early and mid-season form in the final cross country meet of her high school career.
She finished 95th out of 282 finishers with a time of 20:30. Despite being in 145th place at the mile, Schall kept working and managed to move up 50 places over the final two miles.
"For Milea to medal this year, it would have taken a 19:31, which would have been a stretch even if she had run her best race," Wehrle said. "The AAA race just seems to get tougher every year, as Saturday, 50 girls were at 20 minutes or better on this tough course.
"At full strength, I have no doubt Milea would have been under 20 minutes, but she struggled just a bit the last month of the season, and that's enough to get you pushed back against this caliber of competition," he said.
Schall still ended her cross country career with two district titles, three state meet appearances with two finishes in the top 100, and she helped lead her team to a pair of District IX Championships and one runner-up finish.
“Milea has a fair amount of talent as a runner, but her biggest asset is her mental discipline. She never waivers or loses focus," Wehrle said. "There just can't be many other high school girls who have trained as hard or as consistently as Milea has over the past few years, and even though I wish she had ended her cross country career with a better state meet, she still has a lot to be proud of. I feel confident she will be successful running in college because of her commitment and attention to detail."
Sophomore Alexis Young turned in probably the best performance of the four Punxsy runners, as she placed 144th overall with a time of 20:54. Last year, Young placed 163rd with a time of 21:10.
Saturday, she moved up steadily from 180th place at the mile to 153rd at the two mile before picking off nine more runners in the last 1.1 miles of the course.
"Alexis moved up 19 places from last year, although again, I think she was capable of something closer to 20:30, which would have been top 100," Wehrle said. "Alexis had a very good season and improved significantly, which often does not happen for sophomore girls. Her runner-up finish at districts shows what she's capable of, and I look forward to seeing what she can accomplish in the next couple years."
Senior Shannon Byerly finished her cross country career with her best performance at states, improving her best time on the Hershey course by a second despite finishing six places lower than last year's 170th.
"Shannon ran well, but of course, she wanted to do a bit better in her final race," Wehrle said. "She moved up from 212th at the mile and was able to overtake 36 runners over the next two miles, which is great to see. Shannon has turned herself into an excellent runner by training correctly and consistently over the past four years, and she has certainly had a cross country career to be proud of."
Freshman Juliann Boddorf overcame some mid-race difficulties to finish strong, although her time and place certainly don't reflect her fitness level and ability, Wehrle said. Boddorf's time of 22:22 was more than a minute off her seasonal best, placing her 253rd overall.
Boddorf was in 238th place at the mile, and normally, would have moved up from there. Instead, she dropped back to 272nd at the two-mile mark before rebounding a bit in the last mile of the race.
"I think she would have been about 50 spots better had she had a good day, but she did her best and gained a bit of experience in what will hopefully be the first of her four state meet appearances," Wehrle said. "Juliann had such a good season, developing into one of the best runners in the district, and I know she will be motivated to do even better in the future. She is not afraid of putting in the work, for sure."
In a season which saw one of its best runners, Kirsten Dean, go down with injury and never return to competition, the 2010 Punxsy girls' cross country team still managed to leave its mark.
The Lady Chucks fell tantalizingly close to winning their third-straight district crown by tying Bradford, 30-30, at districts. But the Lady Owls' sixth runner closed before Punxsy's did, meaning Bradford was the district winner.
Punxsy's top four girls still finished in the top nine at districts, and the Lady Chucks were about three seconds away from finishing 1-2-3.
"Despite not winning districts, I am certain we were very close to having our strongest team ever," Wehrle said. "We could never quite make up for the loss of Kirsten, but hopefully, this year demonstrated the importance of depth in cross country. If the girls want to return to states as a team in 2011, they will have to get better in the off-season."