BY JEFF FALK
HERSHEY – A well-rounded student-athlete, one of Miranda Salvo’s favorite hobbies is mining precious metals.
The kind of mining Salvo does doesn’t require a shovel, a pick-ax or even heaving equipment. But it does involve digging deep.
On Wednesday afternoon at the District Three Cross Country Championships, contested on the 3.1-mile Hershey Parkview course, Salvo grew her impressive distance-running collection by another gold and silver. The Palmyra junior captured the Class AA individual championship and in the process paced the Cougars to a runner-up showing in the team competition.
Salvo covered the hilly and challenging course in 19:15 to outdistance second-place finisher Caroline Schemel of Greencastle-Antrim by 25 seconds. And with Salvo, freshman Kelsei Bixler, who was ninth, and senior Devin Strynkowski, who was 23rd, leading the way, the Cougars amassed 106 team points, a total that was second only to York Suburban’s 91.
Although the Cougars fell short of repeating as District Three Class AA team champs, their effort did earn them the right to defend their 2012 state title, at the PIAA Class AA Championships, back at Hershey’s Parkview Course on Novemeber 2.
Salvo’s title wasn’t the only notable story involving Lebanon County competitors to emerge from the district meet, But it was the most noteworthy.
“My main goal for the team was to make it to states,” said Salvo, who a year ago played more of a supporting role when now injured teammate Maria Tukis spearheaded the Cougars to district gold. “We could’ve repeated but it would’ve been tougher without Maria. But I knew I had to be in the top three for us to reach our goal.
“I really think it would’ve come down to one of us for first (if Tukis was healthy),” continued Salvo. “That could’ve been a real toss-up. And if we had Maria, I think we could’ve been a contender for first (among teams).”
With Tukis, who is still nursing a broken foot, looking on, Salvo battled the front of the pack back-and-forth over the first half of the race. For a time it was her and Schemel dueling for the lead, before Salvo took control at the two-mile mark.
“It was a really fast start,” said Salvo, who also has district and state track-and-field gold medals on her resume. “After that it was working up hills. The last mile was working down hills and finishing strong. But you don’t want to have too much at the end.
“The second-place girl (Schemel) was first for most of the race,” Salvo added. “I knew I just had to stick with her, and there were other girls there. Coach Barb (Mellinger) tells us to run scared because there’s always someone behind you.”
On the topic of defending Class AA champions, the Annville-Cleona boys followed up their 2012 title with a third-place effort, one that punched their ticket to states. Junior Jeff Inman was the first Little Dutchmen to hit the tape, eighth overall in 17:19.
Also in Class AA, Palmyra junior Ezra Daniel received a medal and a state berth for his 14th-place performance.
Meanwhile, the Annville-Cleona girls finished second as a team in a Class A field that sent just champion Delone Catholic to the PIAA meet. Little Dutchmen Tiarra Helman, Emily Rooney and Michelle Rudd finished 11th, 12th and 13th, respectively.
But while some Lebanon County competitors were exceeding their expectations, the Cedar Crest boys weren’t living up to their’s. With ‘Do It Now’ plastered across their backs, the reigning Lancaster-Lebanon League champion Falcons finished a disappointing tenth as a team in Class AAA.
Senior Willie Bragg was the lone bright spot for Cedar Crest, taking home a 12th-place medal and a return trip to Hershey for his 16:39.
“I was happy I qualified for states. I feel like I was qualified to qualify,” said Bragg. “But we were trying to be in the top four, and today didn’t turn out to be our day. If we came here ten times, I think we’d finish in the top four seven times. I’m very team-oriented and I’d rather have a strong team showing than a strong individual showing.”
“That’s awesome on this course,” said Cedar Crest head coach Brandon Risser of Bragg’s 16:39. “Willie Bragg embodies what Cedar Crest cross country is about. He’s been all about the team. He’s one of the best leaders we’ve had in the program.
“We had six of seven guys come in here healthy and ready to go,” Risser continued. “It did not come together. Fourth would’ve been good, but not great, so tenth is not great. Pretty much every one of our guys is staying together. That makes me proud. This was a tough day.”
Cedar Crest senior Daniel Neiswender, who last week topped off an undefeated Lancaster-Lebanon League season with a title at the circuit’s championship meet, was 39th in 17:15. At the halfway point of the race, Neiswender was running among the top 20.
“I was expecting Dan and Chad (Bomgardner) to be up there,” said Bragg. “I was going up a hill and I passed Dan, and I expected a response and I didn’t feel anything from Dan. But I love everybody on this team.
“The last three years we’ve come here and for three years we haven’t reached our potential,” added Bragg. “It’s team energy before the race. You could feel guys weren’t ready to go at the beginning of the race.”
“What you think determines what you feel,” said Risser. “Until we’re about thinking strong in the middle of the race, it’s tough to run well in this meet.
“We were out. We were mixing it up for the first mile,” Risser continued. “But then I saw it in their eyes, saw it in their body language. That will kill me. That will keep me up many nights. Until I get an answer, I can’t change what we do.”