Mission accomplished: Chucks claim D-IX boys' XC gold

RIDGWAY โ€” Mission accomplished! The Punxsy boys' cross country team set its season goal of reclaiming the District IX title and made it become a reality with a complete team effort on Saturday afternoon in Ridgway.

The Chucks' top four runners all placed in the top seven with a second, fourth, sixth and seventh placings to power the team to the first District IX title since 1998. The Punxsy fifth and final scoring runner raced across the finish line in 12th for the team total of 31 points to best traditional district rival Bradford, which had 42 points as the runner-up. The district title gave Punxsy a clean sweep of four races over Bradford on the season.

St. Marys was third with 77 points; Clearfield finished with 97 points in fourth place, while district newcomer Moniteau rounded out the field in fifth place at 125 points.

"Mission accomplished!" pronounced Chucks head coach John Smith. "Our goal was to run as a team with each runner given specific instructions on where to be and who they had to beat. No letdowns โ€” no excuses. They did just that and then some as they came away with the district title."

The hunt for the top individual placing was a hotly contested one. Punxsy sophomore Bo Dinger was in the hunt stalking defending district champion Aziz Yousif of Bradford in the front of the pack.

In the end, senior Yousif was able to get some breathing room to repeat as individual champion with a time of 16:45.

Dinger wrapped up the runner-up spot with room to spare. He was 23 seconds off the winning time at 17:08, but 26 seconds better than third place Alec Foster of St. Marys (17:34). The second place finish was not only a three spot improvement for Dinger, who was fifth in last year's race, but also 1:45 faster than his 18:53 time from 2011.

"Next year, everyone in the district will be after Bo," pointed out Smith.

Following Foster in third, the lone Punxsy senior Nate Ward found the finish line. Ward did not stumble this year after having a fall in the less than ideal conditions in last season's championship. In his fastest time of the season, he took fourth in a time of 17:42, 12 seconds faster than the next runner.

"Nate produced an outstanding effort to beat out Bradford's highly-talented Tyler Nuzzo to finish fourth," noted Smith. "This kept us even with Bradford in the scoring department."

The Owls' Nuzzo was fifth in 17:54 as their second runner.

The biggest point swing in the scoring came with the next two Punxsy runners.

"The dynamic duo of Seth Burkett and Eric Ingros running together outdistanced Bradford's number three runner senior Brenden Skaggs. Their finishes of sixth and seventh ahead of Skaggs' ninth was a huge boost to our team effort," explained the Chucks' coach.

Burkett and Ingros were literally running and feeding off each other on their runs with only an exact half second separating the teammates.

Burkett posted a time of 18:02.80 for sixth with Ingros a half step back for seventh (18:03.30).

Clearfield's top runner Jonathan Sponsler was eighth (18:05) followed by Bradford's Skaggs (18:16) in ninth. Austin Frey of St. Marys and Moniteau's Evan Miller were close together for 10th (18:41) and 11th (18:44).

"At this point, we needed our fifth, sixth and seventh runners to matchup evenly with Bradford's fourth and fifth runners," said Smith. "That was the clincher."

Sophomore Jared Meterko came through in the best way he could with his best race of the season. Meterko ran an 18:54 for 12th place, ahead of Bradford's fourth and fifth runners of Hunter Ackley by five seconds in 13th, and 11 seconds better than Justin Keller's 14th place finish.

"We didn't want to get displaced by Bradford's sixth and seventh runners which would have inflated our score," continued Smith. "Luke Fugate bested Bradford's sixth runner and Zach Moore came through ahead of Bradford's seventh man."

After Clearfield's second man, Fugate broke the finish tape in 19:14, which was 1:47 better than his time a year ago on the same course, for 16th.

The junior was six seconds ahead of the Owls' Andrew Scanlan in 17th.

Moore completed the Chucks runners as the next finisher in 18th. The second-year runner had a time of 19:26, 26 seconds better than Bradford's seventh-man Noah Whittemore (19:52) in 21st place.

In the varsity extra race, Punxsy alternate junior Matt Burke ran a good race. Burke's time of 19:45 would have beaten Bradford's seventh runner.

"Everything gelled together at the right time," pointed out Smith. "As a coach, it was so pleasing to see this โ€” they worked hard with each runner having some ups and downs during the season."

The Chucks also had three other participants in the varsity extra race. Joe Whitman ran a time of 21:30 as the best of the three with Nate Hankinson (23:03) and William Boddorf (23:42) completing the Punxsy harriers.

Punxsy now heads to the PIAA AA state championship race this Saturday, Nov. 3.

The race will be held at the Parkview Cross Country Course on the Hershey Entertainment Complex grounds.

The Lady Chucks will have their AA state title run start at 10:15 a.m. while the Punxsy boys will toe the starting line at approximately 12:30 p.m.

"The state championships will really open their eyes. It takes a learned focus to do well there," added Smith. "Maybe this year's experience will be the trend setter for years to come. As always, it's up to them and those that follow."

The Chucks will look to race to a solid outing at the state meet on Saturday as well as have this 2012 District IX team title be the beginning of a new run of championships across the district for years to come.