By Pete Chiodo
Those PENNCREST kids sure know how to run.
Athletes from the school district’s three prep facilities — Cambridge Springs, Maplewood and Saegertown — dominated both the team and individual leaderboards during the annual Region 3 Cross Country Invitational, which was hosted by Titusville Saturday at Hydetown Elementary School.
In the boys race, Saegertown — led by Hunter Johnston’s first-place time of 16:19 — was the top team with 52 points.
And in the girls race it was Maplewood taking first with 44 points, just edging Cambridge Springs (47 points) and the Blue Devils’ one-two finishers, Reilly Walsh (20:04) and Olivia Mamula (20:11).
Johnston gets first invite win
The win for the Saegertown boys was the team’s first in a region invitational since 2008, according to head coach Bill Hetrick. That’s surprising, considering the Panthers’ run of five straight regular season Region 3 championships.
“It’s nice to get this back in our hands,” said Hetrick. “We’ve gone undefeated in the region for five straight years. But only one time in that five years have we won this race. So, it’s nice to get the hardware back.”
It also turned out to be the first invitational victory for Johnston, who in the past was often trailing his former teammate and three-time District 10 champion Nate Tallada.
“We’ve been to a lot of big invitationals,” said Johnston. “And whenever Nate was here he always got in front of me. So I never really won one. So, hopefully I’m continuing the legacy. Nate won (the region invite) four straight years. Now this makes it five in a row.”
And it was quite the performance for Johnston yesterday. The Panthers senior was shadowed the whole way by Maplewood’s Jeremy Parsons. In fact, during the second lap around the course, Parsons was just a couple strides off Johnston’s pace.
Yet Johnston pulled away during the final loop, and ended up beating Parsons by about seven seconds.
“I was right with (Johnston) going through the woods and about three-quarters of the way through the last lap he got me,” said Parsons, who finished in 16:26. “It’s my fastest time, though, so I can’t argue with that.”
Saegertown also had strong showings from Brendan Barclay in sixth place (17:03), Morgan Schenberg in 13th (17:37), Matt Schenberg in 15th (18:06) and Wyatt Fleischer in the 17th spot (18:12). Also, Garrett Johnston closed late on Cambridge Springs’ Steele Henderson to take 19th place by two-tenths of a second (18:16.40 to 18:16.60).
“We have some really good young runners, too,” Hunter Johnston said. “We have two freshmen (Fleischer and Garrett Johnston — no relation to Hunter). They’re doing really well. One is our fifth runner and one is our sixth runner. They’re the reason we’re doing so well as a team. You need that fifth and sixth runner.”
For Maplewood, Jake Parsons, Jeremy’s twin brother, ended up taking third (16:53) and fellow Tiger Hans Wentz was fourth (17:00).
That was a pretty nice grouping at the top for Maplewood. However, the Tigers ended up taking third place, while Cochranton broke up the PENNCREST monopoly by finishing second.
“That’s what we were working for,” said Cochranton head coach Mark Roche. “We had some of our fourth, fifth and sixth guys step up for us and run well. ... Maplewood is a good team and Saegertown is a good team, and we’ve been kind of sneaking around outside of them. So hopefully we’ll pull another surprise next weekend (at the District 10 meet).”
Both Maplewood and Cochranton finished with 67 points. The Cardinals had a nice group near the front with Ryan Northcott in eighth (17:23:30), Nathan Kline in ninth (17:23:80) and Logan Herzberger in 11th (17:32). Plus, Nathan Lindeman added an 18th-place time (18:14) while Kyle Mudger came in 21st (18:23).
What it came down to, however, was each team’s sixth finisher. Cochranton freshman Bryce Ward finished in 27th place (19:02) while Maplewood’s sixth, junior Jacob Alexander, was 31st (19:11).
“I’ve got a couple freshmen that are filling out the back of my lineup and are now my five and six guys,” said Roche. “Great for the future, and they’ve come along maybe a little faster than you’d anticipate they would.”
Other locals to finish in the top 25 were Conneaut’s Christian Ladebu in 16th (18:10) and Nick Moss in 22nd (18:32).
And after Henderson, Cambridge Springs’ top finisher was Gerald Rodarmel in 24th (18:49).
Lady Tigers take top spot
The back of the pack also helped the Maplewood ladies win the invite’s girls title yesterday.
First of all, there was no catching Cambridge’s Walsh and Mamula. Those two were well ahead of the pack practically the entire route.
Mamula stayed hot on her teammate’s heels the whole way. But in the end, Walsh paced Mamula by seven seconds to win her second straight region invite.
“She had me the whole race,” Mamula said. “I tried to catch her. But every time I caught her we’d go around a corner and I’d slip or she’d just speed up a little bit. And she got me.”
The pressure applied by Mamula, “Definitely helped,” said Walsh. “She pushed me the whole way.”
Walsh mainly concentrated on keeping her footing on the somewhat mucky Hydetown trail.
“The mud coming through the woods was definitely hard to get through,” she said. “It was sucking at your feet the whole time.”
Even with Walsh and Mamula’s times — and a 17th place finish by Keirsten Skelton (23:01) and Hayley Brown in 24th (24:10) — Cambridge was saddled with second place and Maplewood took home the team trophy.
How? Well, the Lady Tigers went deep, placing all six of their runners in the top 30.
Savannah Phillips led the way in seventh place (21:30), Abby Martinson took ninth (22:04), Rebecca Worley was 16th (22:56), Melyssa Rea was 18th (23:10) and Raven Sutton finished 22nd (23:20); and Ally Propheter (25:05) finished in 29th.
“The girls, I’m happy,” said Maplewood head coach Dave Washousky. “The strength that we had was that all six of our girls were in a tight pack. It’s exciting because they’re still young.
“We have three freshmen, two sophomores and a junior. So they’re all young. This is a great way to start.”
Other quality performances from local girls included Conneaut’s Brook Phelps in fifth place (21:19) and Madison French in 23rd (24:09).
Cochranton also had a terrific day out of its trio of Katelyn Neff (eighth, 21:56), Ariel Smith (10th, 22:16) and Brittany Jackson (11th, 22:17).