Meterko, Baker ready to run at states again

HERSHEY — Punxsy senior A.J. Meterko will make his third trip, and junior Dane Baker will compete for the second time at the PIAA Class AAA Cross Country Championships at noon today in Hershey.

It's been a while since a member of the Chucks has earned three-straight chances at winning a state title. Meterko finished in 180th place during each of his trips to states in 2008 and 2009. In '09, his time was 18:07, and his 2008 mark was 18:09.

After Meterko's time at districts was 17:27 — good enough for second overall — Punxsy head coach John Smith feels pretty good about Meterko's ability to finish in or near the top 50.

"A.J.'s a little bit seasoned now," Smith said. "His goal is to get as close to 50 as he can get."

Being successful at states is all about the start. With more than 250 runners getting after it, it's easy for the competitors to clump up at the starting gate.

"He's a little bit more savvy now, so he wants to get a good start. But to get up in there in that top group of runners is really tough," Smith said of Meterko. "His hope is to get a fair start, and hopefully keep his tempo and fight through that top 100 runners and maybe get his best finish ever."

Baker finished fourth overall at districts in 17:56 last week. During his only trip to states last year, his time of 18:44 was good enough for 235th overall.

"For Dane, we hope that he can break the (top) 100 mark," Smith said. "It's extreme competition, but you want to always go against the best. Kids want to know how they rank against the best."

The fact that Baker was able to run in last year's PIAA race means a lot, as experience against all of those runners is invaluable.

"Hopefully, this is a good experience, and he can maintain," Smith said. "Dane's a very aggressive runner, and I think that Dane's going to see that he can handle himself."

Rainy weather usually accompanies the state meet, but things appear to be clear for today. Still, the course may be chewed up a bit, since three races — the Class AA boys' and girls' and Class AAA girls' — will take place before the Chucks compete.

Because of the course conditions, placement is more important than time at this meet.

"I think this year, they're not so much worried about their time, but the place. We can't predict the weather," Smith said. "If you get some moisture, the course won't be in as good of shape, so time might not be the factor to go by. We're just hoping for the best weather, but it doesn't always look that way."