BY JEFF FALK
WEST LEBANON – The cerebral competitors that they are, cross country runners never go into a race without a plan of attack.
Sometimes there are distinct differences between their individual goals and their team goals. And other times one fades into the other, and the boundary between the two becomes blurred.
If Willie Bragg and the Cedar Crest boys have anything in common with Miranda Salvo and the Palmyra girls it’s that they are moved by the pack, and not the other way around. Oh, and one other thing, they’re all champions.
On Saturday morning at Union Canal Park’s 3.1-mile course, during the annual Lebanon County Cross Country Championships, Salvo and Bragg were spurred on to individual titles by their winning teams. With teammates hot on her heels, Salvo won the girls’ race in 19:17, while Bragg channeled the collective energy of three other senior leaders to a triumphant time of 16:09 in the boys’ event.
The Falcons’ performance was down right dominant, as their runners copped the top four spots, and seven of the first eight. Cedar Crest counted 16 team points – just one off the minimum – while Annville-Cleona came in second, Palmyra was third, Elco fourth, Lebanon High fifth and Northern Lebanon sixth.
Palmyra, the reigning Class AA state champions who were competing without injured district champ Maria Tukis, wasn’t as impressive, but just as effective. The Cougars totaled 23 team points to Cedar Crest’s 46, Elco’s 84 and Annville-Cleona’s 94.
“You always have a personal goal and a team goal,” said Salvo, a junior. “Mine was to beat my time from the last time we ran here. The team goal was to win and get everybody back in the top 20. Our motto this year is: ‘We’s greater than me.'”
“We thought we did really well,” said Palmyra head coach Barb Mellinger. “We had to adjust to not having Maria in the lineup. Our three-through-six (runners) was pretty good, but we just have to move them up now. We had a bad day Tuesday, so we just wanted to have a different outlook today.”
“When it comes down to it, some people need to win more than I need to win,” said Bragg, a senior. “If my teammate is coming up there with me, I’m not going to run them into the ground. I try to encourage my teammates. I focus on the team. I might’ve won today, but next time you might be talking to someone else.”
“Strong, team, depth,” said Cedar Crest head coach Brandon Risser. “We are blessed with a strong group of kids, and they’ve worked very hard, and they raced really hard. I think the most important thing is they believe this year. If the mind isn’t in the right place, it really doesn’t matter. Where we are with our training schedule, no one looks at September 14.”
Following Bragg across the finish line were fellow 12th-graders Daniel Neiswender, who was seven seconds off his pace, Chad Bomgardner, who was 17 second back, and Jarrod Cruise, who ran a 16:34. Annville-Cleona junior Jeffrey Inman momentarily interrupted Cedar Crest’s dominance by finishing fifth, before Falcon juniors Jordan Cruise, Tanner Craun and Jarred Glosser continued it.
Elco’s Jonathon Garcia was ninth and A-C’s Garrett Bosworth tenth.
“We were expecting to win,” said Bragg. “We have five great seniors, and today the top four finishers were Cedar Crest seniors. I was a junior captain, so this is my second year of being a captain and I do have some experience being a leader, whether it’s vocal or by example. But we have a lot of seniors on this team. We’ve come to rely on each other. It’s almost more like a brotherhood than a team.”
“It’s a stepping stone,” said Risser. “This was a great confidence boost. The kids went out and ran good times. If we only rely on our top seniors, we don’t have enough depth. We are excited to compete with anyone out there. I feel like we’re ready to go.”
It didn’t take long for the Falcons to establish their dominance. They went out strong, hard and together, and reeled in everyone in front of them, until there was one but Inman left standing.
It just so happened that Bragg was leading the pack when they hit the 3.1-mile mark.
“At the starting line, we had a good warm-up and my team felt good,” said Bragg. “I went out quick and the rest of my team was there. We kind of remained as a pack at the front.
“This was my first time running it (Union Canal) for cross country,” Bragg continued. “It felt pretty quick. It was feeling nice and light. It was a good course.”
“Willy is a leader,” said Risser. “He’s a two-year captain and the president of the senior class. But now he’s surrounded by people who are also leaders. You can’t say enough by Willy Bragg’s leadership skills.
“Based on how the kids ran, I love this course,” Risser added. “But I don’t think it’s a full 5,000 meters.”
With Salvo showing the way, Palmyra placed six runners in the top ten of the girls’ race – runner-up Kelsei Bixler, fifth-place finisher Lizzy St. Clair, senior Devin Strynkowski, who took seventh, Katie Keck, who was eighth, and Emily Bliemeister, who finished ninth. Cedar Crest’s Mackenzie Siner was third, followed closely by teammate Michelle Kiss in fourth.
Elco’s Abby Dundore ran sixth, while Molly Foster of Lebanon came in tenth.
“Yeah, we really miss Tuke (Maria Tukis) on the course, so I need to step up,” said Salvo. “But she’s always here in spirit. She’s a tough cookie.
“Last year, it seems like a blur,” continued Salvo. “Our goal every year is to progressively get better as a team. I think we did that last year. This year is a different team, but we just have to keep working and doing the same things.”
“We still have expectations,” said Mellinger. “Our goals might be different, but we expect the girls to give 150 percent. And if they do, results will follow.”
With Salvo and Bixler going off each other up front, the Cougar combo wore down Siner and the rest of the Falcons. Salvo and Bixler finished three seconds apart, Siner was another 13 seconds back, but the next closest runner was almost a minute behind.
“We ran this course last week and that helped us, so we had some strategy,” said Salvo. “With Tukis out, we knew we had to be closer in a pack.
“Kelsei Bixler and I broke away, probably around the half-mile mark,” Salvo continued. “We knew the Cedar Crest girl (Siner) would be up with us, and we knew she had a good kick. The goal was to intimidate her. We eventually passed her and pulled away.”
“This is our first race without Maria,” said Mellinger. “Miranda is going to keep doing her job, and that’s to be a leader and to be out front. Out front in the race and a leader of the team.
“Miranda ran her race,” added Mellinger. “She’s always going to run her race. She has to take care of herself and the rest of the team has to take care of itself. That’s my job. I have to be in their heads when they’re running. It’s about confidence, and I thought we stepped up there today.”
LEBANON COUNTY CROSS COUNTRY CHAMPIONSHIPS
(at Union Canal Park)
Team Results – 1. Cedar Crest 16; 2. Annville-Cleona 77; 3. Palmyra 84; 4. Elco 114; 5. Lebanon 132; 6. Northern Lebanon 151.
Individual Results – 1. Willy Bragg (CC) 16:09.00; 2. Daniel Neiswender (CC) 16:16.90; 3. Chad Bomgardner (CC) 16:26.40; 4. Jarrod Cruise (CC) 16:34.20; 5. Jeffrey Inman (A-C) 16:38.50; 6. Jordan Cruise (CC) 16:43.10; 7. Tanner Craun (CC) 16:54.30; 8. Jarred Glosser (CC) 16:54.30; 9. Jonathon Garcia (EL) 16:58.70; 10. Garrett Bosworth (A-C) 16:59.70.
11. Daniel Ezra (PAL) 17:00.50; 12. Jason Robinson (PAL) 17:09.08; 13. Matthew Royer (CC) 17:13.30; 14. Max Perry (PAL) 17:16.80; 15. Tyler McFeaters (NL) 17:23.00; 16. Matthew Hentz (EL) 17:24.20; 17. Jared Harnish (EL) 17:32.40; 18. Jonathan Zechman (A-C) 17:36.00; 19. Anthony Frattarole (A-C) 17:38.80; 20. Paul Kudlanov (NL) 17:45.60.
21. Derin Klick (LEB) 17:51.00; 22. Linus Morales (LEB) 17:58.70; 23. Evan Kovacs (PAL) 18:12.20; 24. Josh Alderson (PAL) 18:25.01; 25. Matthew Darok (A-C) 18:28.50; 26. Daryl Werni (LEB) 18:31.60; 27. Dale Lingle (PAL) 18:40.60; 28. Tyler Carpenter (A-C) 18:49.40; 29. Brandon Mullins (A-C) 18:53.50; 30. Taylor McGarrity (PAL) 18:57.80.
31. Ethan Arnold-Paine (LEB) 19:06.80; 32. Jaime Montalvo (LEB) 19:09.90; 33. Scott Seibel (PAL) 19:11.40; 34. Lance Litschi (EL) 19:11.50; 35. Eugene Kudlanov (NL) 19:14.40; 36. Joshua Estep (A-C) 19:23.80; 37. Jesse Brownstein (LEB) 19:27.30; 38. Aaron Zurick (EL) 20:00.30; 39. Dylan Bennett (EL) 20:01.70; 40. Jarrett Huber (NL) 20:02.60.
41. Matt Snyder (NL) 20:29.70; 42. Nate Lyon (NL) 20:29.70; 43. James Sumlin (LEB) 20:33.40; 44. Dylan Raihl (LEB) 20:46.80; 45. Ben Grinev (EL) 20:46.90; 46. Devin Tipton (NL) 20:55.90; 47. Logan Reed (NL) 23:09.70.
Team Results – 1. Palmyra 23; 2. Cedar Crest 46; 3. Elco 84; 4. Annville-Cleona 94
Individual Results – 1. Miranda Salvo (PAL) 19:17.10; 2. Kelsei Bixler (PAL) 19:20.00; 3. Mackenzie Shiner (CC) 19:33.80; 4. Michelle Kiss (CC) 20:32.10; 5. Lizzy St. Clair (PAL) 20:38.60; 6. Abby Dundore (EL) 20:41.90; 7. Devin Strynkowski (PAL) 20:48.40; 8. Katie Keck (PAL) 20:57.10; 9. Emily Bliemeister (PAL) 20:58.30. 10. Molly Foster (LEB) 21:11.20.
11. Kyla Waldron (CC) 21:15.40; 12. Kelsey Lyter (CC) 21:17.10; 13. Juliana Kerper (PAL) 21:18.40; 14. Leah Hollowell (PAL) 21:27.80; 15. Kayla Harnish (EL) 22:02.10; 16. Michelle Rudd (A-C) 22:24.60; 17. Maddy Hartman (LEB) 22:25.90; 18. Melissa Casciotti (A-C) 22:53.40; 19. Charley Darkes (NL) 23:08.30; 20. Angela Fair (A-C) 23:12.00.
21. Janessa Cruz (CC) 23:13.70; 22. Libby Koehler (EL) 23:34.10; 23. Gwyneth Davis (CC) 23:50.00; 24. Monica Hilbert (A-C) 23:58.80; 25. Kayla Light (EL) 24:16.20; 26. Jena Koppenhaver (EL) 24:34.00; 27. Alondra Santos (CC) 24:34.10; 28. Emily Rooney (A-C) 25:21.60; 29. Mindy Hill (EL) 25:49.40; 30. Kelly Cooper (LEB) 27:17.40; 31. Schyler Moyer (A-C) 27:28.40.