BY JEFF FALK
LEBANON – There is no sport quite like cross country.
In no other sport do competitors pull for and encourage each other as much as they do in cross country. But that doesn’t mean they like it when they’re beaten by their friends, neighbors or even teammates.
On a humid Saturday afternoon at Gloninger Woods Park, the locale celebrated the sport with its annual contesting of the Lebanon County Cross Country Championships. This season’s storyline featured a couple of runners shaking their ‘runner-up’ tags and the continuing dominance of Cougars.
Spearheaded by a gutsy performance from sophomore Jakolby Fackler, Pamyra ran away with the boys’ team competition. The Cougars compiled 27 team points to easily out distance second-place Cedar Crest, as Fackler and teammates Markus Vottero and Zack Toth went one, two, three individually.
Elco finished third and Lebanon High was fourth, followed by Northern Lebanon and Annville-Cleona.
In the girls’ competition, the Cougars extended their nearly decade-long dominance of the county meet by scoring a similar total of 27 points. Individual runner-up Marissa Mull showed the way for Palmyra, as Elco took second, followed by Annville-Cleona and Cedar Crest.
The top individual honors went to Elco senior Lily Brubaker. Hitting her personal-best, Brubaker finished well ahead of the field, for her second Lebanon County title in three seasons.
“I’m really pretty thrilled,” said Brubaker, who was the runner-up last year at Annville-Cleona High School, after winning it as a sophomore. “I PR-ed (personl record) by over a minute. My goal coming into today was to PR, and hopefully the place would fall in line.”
“I like the idea of a county championship,” said Dave Hollen, who serves as both Palmyra’s boys’ and girls’ head coach. “It’s not the high pressure of the bigger invitationals. This is our local championship. I like that aspect of it.
“And I think the timing of it is right,” added Hollen. “It’s our (Palmyra’s) only crossover with Lebanon County. It’s nice to get a feel for what other people are doing.”
“This is something fun we always do,” said Fackler. “It’s fun to hang out with the team and run with it. It’s a good invitational to prep for the bigger races. It’s just a fun day.”
Running relaxed ahead of the Cougar pack, Fackler enjoyed himself thoroughly.
He got off to a good start, got to the front and chose to lead the pack instead of run away from it. His winning time of 15:16.6 was nine seconds faster than Vottero and 11 seconds quicker than Toth.
Last year, Fackler finished second to currently injured teammate Matt Carroll.
“It was a tight squeeze at the beginning, so you had to go out quickly,” said Fackler. “I just wanted to roll and see what I can do. Halfway through the race I wanted to keep pushing msyelf.
“I wanted to win and I knew I had a chance to do it,” continued Fackler. “It feels pretty good. I’m happy about it. I want to get faster all season, and this is part of it.”
“He’s so strong and confident,” said Hollen of Fackler. “For him, the sky is the limit. He’s going to run to the level that the competitiion asks. His goal is probably to be the best in the state, or to be the best tenth-grader in the state.”
Northern Lebanon’s Gage Krall was fourth in the boys’ race, Cole Nelson of Elco and Raider teammate Mitchell Gray were fifth and sixth, while Viking Jordan Berger came in seventh. Xander Topos of Palmyra ran eighth, Cedar Crest’s Dominigue Smith-Rodriguez took ninth and teammate Ryan Wolfe finished tenth.
The Cougars’ fifth and final counter was Jake Klucinec, who finished 13th.
“That was definitely the goal coming in,” said Fackler. “We wanted to go one, two, three. And we wanted the team to finish well.
“I just want to keep getting faster,” Fackler added. “Going to states is a goal. It’s going to be challenging, but I think we can do it.”
“It’s good,” said Hollen. “I’d like to have Cedar Crest have its varsity here so it would be a true county championship. But the best thing is we could come out and compete. We wanted to run together as a team.”
Brubaker wasted little time establishing her superiority. She went out strong, lengthened her lead and over the last mile competed against herself.
Brubaker covered the 3.1-mile course in 18:41, some 57 seconds fasater than Mull and more than a minute quicker than her previous best.
“I always like to go out strong,” said Brubaker. “Coach always talks about ten big steps after the hill. I could hear the other girls behind me. But I was focused on opening the distance to relieve some of that stress. On the second lap, I just relaxed.
“I was like, ‘I’m alone,'” added Brubaker. “It was a weird feeling. It was a different feeling, but I kind of liked it. It was pure adrenalin at the end. My coach said, ‘Go now and you can get under 19 (minutes).”
“It’s a fast course, for sure,” said Hollen of the County Meet’s initial run at Gloninger Woods Park. “At the beginning is the only hill. I was a little concerned about the footing, but it turned out to be OK.”
Behind Brubaker and Mull finished Emily Williams of Elco, teammates Hannah Rohrer and Sarah Galvan of Palmyra and Braetan Peters of Annville-Cleona. Cougar Claire Keck took seventh, Falcon Mia Reigert came in eighth, Cougar Riley Holsople was ninth and Little Dutchman Mary Tshudy finished tenth.
Palmyra placed five runners in the top nine.
“”They’ve been running together a lot in that pack,” said Hollen. “Then they kind of break up, depending upon who’s having the best day.
“I’m just so happy the girls won,” continued Hollen. “Any one of those top girls can show up and be our first runner on any given day. I’m happy with that aspect of it. They’re a confident bunch. They compete against each other and with each other.”
“Last year I just did not run a smart race,” said Brubaker. “It was a slow race and it came down to a kick, and my kick is not as strong as some. This year I wasn’t going to risk it.
“This race gives me a time to go off of,” Brubaker added. “I can work towards this time and hopefully beat it.”
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Annual Lebanon County Cross Country Championships
(at 3.1-mile Gloninger Woods Park)
GIRLS’ INDIVIDUAL RESULTS (Top 20)
1. Lily Brubaker (E) 18:41.8, 2. Marissa Mull (P) 19:38.7, 3. Emily Williams (E) 19:50.3, 4. Hannah Rohrer (P) 19:53.1, 5. Sarah Galvan (P) 20:04.1, 6. Braetan Peters (AC) 20:33.9, 7. Claire Keck (P) 20:59.4, 8. Mia Reigert (CC) 21:02.8, 9. Riley Holsople (P) 21:38.0, 10. Mary Tshudy (Annville-Cleona) 21:38.6, 11. Emily Dietz (Annville-Cleona) 21:38.9, 12. Kaitlan Zook (E) 22:01.0, 13. Madelyn Field (P) 22:08.0, 14. Madison Angle (P) 22:14.4, 15. Alyssa Stiver (CC) 22:16.9, 16. Jessica Gutekunst (Annville-Cleona) 22:17.4, 17. Kendall Teets (P) 22:30.1, 18. Brenna Chernich (CC) 22:36.5 19. Bridget Bozman (E) 22:38.7, 20. Isabella Marro (P) 22:55.9
Girls’ Team Standings
1. Palmyra 27, 2. Elco 56, 3. Annville-Cleona 63, 4. Cedar Crest 80
BOYS’ INDIVIDUAL RESULTS (Top 20)
1. Jakolby Fackler (P) 15:16.6, 2. Markus Vottero (P) 15:25.8, 3. Zack Toth (P) 15:27.0, 4. Gage Krall (NL) 15:31.6, 5. Cole Nelson (E) 15:36.6, 6. Mitchell Gray (E) 15:42.7, 7. Jordan Berger (NL) 16:03.4, 8. Xander Topos (P) 16:06.8, 9. Dominique Smith-Rodriguez (CC) 16:18.0, 10. Ryan Wolfe (CC) 16:21.4, 11. Evan Blymier (L) 16:26.8, 12. Miles Weber (CC) 16:38.2, 13. Jake Klucinec (P) 16:40.6, 14. Riley Klick (L) 16:43.0, 15. Caleb Hershey (L) 16:44.6, 16. Daniel Stebbins (CC) 16:46.6, 17. Trenton Brubaker (E) 16:53.6, 18. Levi Brooks (E) 16:55.9, 19. Connor Soderstedt (P) 16:58.2, 20. Isaac Showers (L) 17:13.1
Boys’ Team Standings
1. Palmyra 27, 2. Cedar Crest 69, 3. Elco 85, 4. Lebanon 86, 5. Northern Lebanon 104, 6. Annville-Cleona 153