HERMITAGE — Cochranton head cross country coach Mark Roche remembered his prediction going into the 2019 season.
“I said they were going to count us out,” he recalled. “At best, we were maybe going to slide back to fifth or sixth or whatever. They’re going to say, ‘They’ve got one or two good guys, but they don’t have the back end of it.’
“But I also said, ‘We’re going to surprise some people.’”
On Saturday, the Cardinal harriers popped up from behind the couch and sprung their trap on the rest of District 10.
After restocking three of the top five runners that led them to back-to-back Class 1A championships in 2017 and 2018, these new Cardinals showed that they can still fly, grabbing their third straight title during yesterday’s District 10 championship meet at Buhl Park.
“Fantastic,” said Roche. “This was a super surprise. We had to work for this one and we earned this one. Last year, we had horses behind us. This year, we had to find them. It was a big race by all the kids. They knew what we had to do.”
Cochranton had plenty of challengers for the crown this year. Their stiffest competition came out of their own region, with a talented Cambridge Springs squad knocking on the door. West Middlesex was another deep squad that had a shot.
And by the time yesterday’s championship race was over, the Cochranton, Cambridge and West Middlesex runners had been so bunched up at the front that no one really know who had won, who qualified for states in second, and who was left out in the cold.
“We figured it would come down to three teams. We battled with each other all year long,” Roche said. “Talk about a horse race. I wouldn’t want to bet on this one.”
Soon enough the scores appeared online. Cochranton was first with 69 points. Cambridge Springs was second with 74. West Middlesex finished third with 75.
“We, pretty much, were the underdogs this year,” said Cochranton senior Noah Bernarding. “So I’m happy to say that we were the underdogs and we won it. A lot of people didn’t think we could win it. So it was nice to prove them wrong.”
Bernarding gave the team a big boost with a great run, finishing second in 16:30, just a hair behind 1A winner Troy Hart of Reynolds, whose time was also 16:30.
In fact, Hart practically snapped the tape while looking behind him. The Raiders runner had a considerable lead over Bernarding coming down the home stretch. But Bernarding put on the jets over the last couple hundred yards. Hart heard the footsteps and had to give one last kick to hold of the Cochranton challenger.
“My plan was that I hoped that I would be close enough to catch him in that last stretch,” said Bernarding. “I have a pretty good kick. And I thought that was the best way I could beat him. It almost worked out. I missed it by just a little bit.”
Senior Franklin Morris and freshman Chase Miller came through a short time later in fifth (17:07) and sixth place (17:10).
The contribution by Morris was key. He was Cochranton’s sixth finisher a year ago. But with three Cardinals graduated, Morris was looked upon to fill some shoes. He did that admirably.
“I knew I had a lot of work to do in stepping up,” said Morris. “And I had to help the younger ones, I had to pull them aside. No pressure or anything, I just knew what we had to and I thought I did pretty well.”
As for Miller, he could be the link to furthering Cochranton’s success into future seasons.
“The real surprise is Chase, which is the freshman,” said Roche. “We knew that he was capable. But the last two races, Chase has been fantastic.”
What clinched it for Cochranton, however, was senior Alex Jackson taking 21st in 18:03 and junior Anthony Freer finishing 35th in 18:30.
Jackson, like Bernarding and Morris, was a crucial part of the Cardinals’ senior class, which had to make this year their own.
“Being part of last year was pretty special,” said Roche. “And you want to always keep that going. And I said to them, ‘You are seniors now. You’ve got to step up.’ And Alex Jackson was a big part of that.”
As for Freer, he got those crucial back-end points that pushed Cochranton over the top.
“Freer was our fifth guy,” said Roche. “He struggled at the beginning of the season. But each race the guys were there for him — ‘Keep it coming, keep it coming.’ And he really put it together.”
‘Blue’ Blue Devils
A runner-up finish at districts, qualifying for states as a team.
It has been, without question, the best season of cross country for the Cambridge Springs boys.
But the Blue Devils wanted more. You could see it on their faces after the win. They were five points away from Region 3 rival Cochranton. And that five points made their accomplishments bittersweet.
“It’s our first time qualifying for states, and that’s exciting” said sophomore Hunter Spaid. “But we were shooting for the D-10 title today.”
Spaid led the Devils’ effort, finishing eighth in 17:19. Senior Christian Kline was right behind him in ninth in 17:20.
“I still think we did pretty well today,” said Kline. “Everyone did well. Some of these guys ran some of their best races today. Everyone just went all out for this and it was a big deal. Hopefully we can get them next week. This was only a stop on the way to states.”
Junior Elijah Mamula came in with a 15th-place time of 17:38, followed by senior Alec Bidwell in 16th in 17:45. Junior Bobby Moats was 26th in 18:14.
Moats managed to step in front of Lakeview’s Luke Hostetler right at the finish line, which was a crucial step. If he doesn’t do that, then West Middlesex and Cambridge would have been tied, and West Middlesex would have had the tie-breaker with a higher-finishing sixth unner.
“I heard somebody yell ‘32nd,’” said Moats. “I don’t think it was to me. I don’t know who it was. But then I just started counting down the people until I was into the top 20 or so. I got 26th overall.
“I got it just right.”
Moats’ finish ensured that there was at least one more team that felt more letdown about the situation than the Blue Devils.
“It would have been nice to have been first,” said Mamula. “But if you look at West Middlesex, they’re angry that they didn’t get second. And we’re happy that we did.”
Lady Sailors second
For the fourth season in a row, the Lakeview girls cross country team is going to states.
They were, however, hoping that this time they would be the ones going as district champs.
Instead, for the third season in a row the Lady Sailors finished as runner-up. This time, Wilmington — led by overall winner Grace Mason, who finished in 19:38 — put together a great race and won Class 1A with 72 points.
Lakeview was second with 90.
“It’s not easy,” said Lakeview head coach Glenn Dosch, reflecting on maintaining a state-level squad over this period of time. “It takes a lot of time, a lot of effort on the kids’ part. They work really hard. They gel as a team. They make goals together. And the coaching staff, I can’t say enough about the coaching staff. They sacrifice so much of themselves, their jobs, their time. None of us are teachers. It’s not like we can get out with the kids at school. We have to get out of work every day to be at practice. It takes an incredible amount.
“But you know what? The payout is worth it. Because you see the smiles on their faces when they are done, it’s absolutely worth every second.”
Senior Claire Oliver led the way for the Sailors with a sixth-place finish in 20:43. Other scorers for Lakeview included sophomore Mikayla Montgomery in 14th (21:38); freshman Carly Amon in 18th (21:56); sophomore Abby Mellon in 24th (22:25) and sophomore Aubrey Hogue in 28th (22:37).
Saegertown brings a pair
Several local runners managed to be among the top 10 individuals in Class 1A and qualify for next Saturday’s state championship meet in Hershey.
Saegertown will be bringing a pair, one boy and one girl.
On the boys side, freshman Sam Hetrick got his varsity career off to a tremendous start, taking third yesterday in a time of 17:00.
The two runners ahead of him, as well as the two runners behind him were all seniors.
“I loved it,” Hetrick said about his first varsity D-10 race. “Overall, it was just a fun experience. A lot of screaming and yelling. It just adds to the intensity of the race.”
Sophomore Paige Fuller will be heading to Hershey for the second straight year after finishing seventh in yesterday’s race with a time of 20:46. That’s a bump up from 11th a year ago.
“I’m pretty excited about it,” Fuller said. “My goal was to be in the top 10.”
Kline joins Devil boys
The Cambridge Springs boys team won’t be traveling alone to Hershey next weekend.
One of their female counterparts also punched her ticket to states, as sophomore Elizabeth Kline came through with a fifth-place time of 20:40.
This will be her second trip to states. She finished ninth as a freshman.
“(Last year) my shoe half came off at the start because it was so muddy,” Kline said. “It was quite the race. I didn’t do as well as I’d hoped.”
This year, the shoes stayed on and Kline put together a strong run.
“I was very pleased,” she said. “I got exactly what I wanted. I wanted top five. And there was a certain person that I wanted to beat that I got at the very end. So I was happy about that.”
Kline declined any specifics on that last point.
Jenkins takes seventh
The new wave of area runners was well represented yesterday. Among them was Lakeview freshman Colson Jenkins, who trotted to a seventh-place finish in 17:17.
“I was pleased with my run,” he said. “That was a new (personal record).”
He was disappointed that none of his teammates would be joining him, however.
“I was hoping we could go as a team together,” said Jenkins. “But it didn’t work out so well.”
His Sailors finished fourth with 131 points.
“But we always got next year.”
Union City sophomore Landon Myer is making his second trip to the state meet.
He was a bit of a surprise last season when he finished third at districts. This time around, people were looking for him.
“I was a little more nervous this year,” he said. “I didn’t have too many expectations last year, so I wasn’t nervous about it. This year I was.”
While Myer didn’t finish as high as he did a season ago, it was still good enough to get him to Hershey, as he finished 12th in 17:29.
“I felt pretty good,” he said. “It was a PR for me, so I was happy about that.”