BY JEFF FALK
ANNVILLE – It’s kind of like an annual block party for harriers. Just instead of burgers, corn hole and frosty beverages, the order of the day is spiked shoes, replenishing drinks and stamina.
And oh yeah, trophies.
On a summer-like Saturday at Annville-Cleona High School, over a hundred local neighbors gathered to celebrate the sport of cross country, at an event affectionately known as the Lebanon County Championships. And while a good time was had by all, the kids from Palmyra really seemed to enjoy themselves.
Fronted by strong performances by their lead runner, the Cougars captured the top team award in both the boys’ and girls’ competitions.
Palmyra needed sixth runner Zach Toth’s 12th-place finish to break a first place tie with Elco and claim the boys’ team trophy. The Cougars and Raiders each ended up with 29 team points, while Cedar Crest was third, followed by Annville-Cleona and Northern Lebanon.
On the girls’ side, the Cougars compiled 30 team points to nudge Cedar Crest and its score of 36. Senior Sarah Hollen showed the way for the Cougars, but was strongly supported by teammates Ellie Keck, who was fourth, Claire Keck, who was fifth, Emily Cowfer, who was ninth, and Caroline Williams, who was 11th.
The boys’ individual race was a lot less competitive, as Palmyra sophomore Matt Carroll ran away and hid from the competition, in 16:58.9. Carroll’s closest competition was freshman teammate Jakolby Fackler, the runner-up by 22 seconds, while the Cougars also counted Markus Vottero’s seventh-place finish, Lucas Richardson’s ninth-place performance and Xander Topos’ tenth.
“I love it,” said Palmyra head coach Dave Hollen. “Maybe it’s a little old-fashioned, but it’s still very valuable for these kids. There’s some value to this. The kids know each other. The coaches know each other. It’s not highly competitive, but it’s still good competition. Annville-Cleona has done a great job of having it here. They’re doing a lot of work to run a good show.
“The day was, in one word, ‘exhausting.'” Hollen continued. “We didn’t know exactly what to expect. We wanted to win. I was pleased that the kids stepped up. It was good to have that competition for our boys. The girls’ side was a little bit of a surprise, because we don’t have the numbers. Our girls know they could run with them. Our goal was to run up front and see what happens. They ran well, despite the heat.”
“It’s a great day,” said Sarah Hollen. “We know the girls from the county from track. It’s a great event. It’s not a huge county, but it’s our’s.”
“I enjoy it,” said Carroll. “But I’d like to get more kids here. I’d like to see all the runners from the county here. I know a lot of the other kids from track. And we all push each other.”
Following a fast start, the boys’ race slowed somewhere around the midway point. It was there that Carroll – and to a degree Fackler – broke away from the rest of the lead pack.
During the second half of the race, Carroll enjoyed substantial leads.
“It went out really fast,” said Carroll. “My teammate (Fackler) went out really fast. I thought if I could go out with him and stay with him I’d be OK. Around the mile mark, the pack started to slow. We all slowed down. But I thought I’d go because I wanted to win.
“I did look over my shoulder a few times,” Carroll continued. “I looked back and I couldn’t see them. I wanted to get a bigger gap on them.”
“I thought he could win, but maybe not by that much,” said D. Hollen of Carroll. “He’s very competitive and incredibly strong. He has a lot of upside, and works really hard. In this one, Jakolby went out hard, Matt went with him and things opened up.”
Carroll, who finished third at last year’s County Cross Country Championships, aspires to end his season at the PIAA meet.
Elco was paced by a pack of Mitchell Gray, Noah Bragunier, Cole Nelson and Ryan McAllister, who occupied the third through sixth finishing positions.
“I wanted to win,” said Carroll, “and I wanted the team to win.”
“So far, I’ve run a low 16:00,” added Carroll. “I’d like to get that lower. But my main goal is to get to states, and take a few teammates along with me.”
The girls’ individual race came down to a kick to the finish line between S. Hollen and last year’s champion, Lily Brubaker of Elco. With about 150 yards remaining, S. Hollen went for it and discovered she had a little more left in the tank than Brubaker.
“I wanted to keep it close,” said S. Hollen. “I knew I had a good kick. But I knew she (Brubaker) did too. Coming down the hill and along the track, all the way up the hill, it was back and forth.
“It means a lot to me,” S. Hollen continued. “I’ve never won an official cross country meet before.”
“Sarah has wanted to win a race,” said D. Hollen. “She knew she could win. She ran against Lily before. She knew she’s (Brubaker) a good runner and good competition. She really wanted this one. Nine of our 13 girls are seniors, so it’s good for them to get this. This is a culmination for them.”
Early on, Hollen and Brubaker were joined in battle by Cedar Crest freshman Gwyneth Young and E. Keck. Young ended up finishing third, while fellow Falcons Shayla Bonzelet and Mia Reigert came in sixth and seventh, respectively.
S. Hollen, who was fourth at the Lebanon County Championships last season, was timed in 21:00.3
“We wanted to win as a team. That was the first goal,” said S. Hollen. “We wanted a Palmyra girl to win. I knew I had to run near the front. I knew if I ran well I could win.
“Palmyra has a history of a strong program,” continued Hollen. “We want to carry it on. We wanted to win, especially here.”
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Annual Lebanon County Cross Country Championships
(at Annville-Cleona High School)
Final Team Standings
1. Palmyra 29, 2. Elco 29, 3. Cedar Crest 94, 4. Annville-Cleona 107, 5. Northern Lebanon 134. Note: Palmyra wins on 6th runner tiebreaker
Top 20 Individuals
1. Matt Carroll (P) 16:58.9, 2. Jakolby Fackler (P) 17:20.9, 3. Mitchell Gray (El) 17:27. 2, 4. Noah Bragunier (E) 17:30.2, 5. Cole Nelson (E) 17:30.8, 6. Ryan McAllister (E) 17:37.4, 7. Markus Vottero (P) 17:43.7, 8. Jordan Berger (NL) 17:50.0, 9. Lucass Richardsen (P) 17:55.6, 10. Xander Topos (P) 17:56.1, 11. Justin Kegerise (E) 18:01.8, 12. Zach Toth (P) 18:09.3, 13. Derek Wadas (P) 18:16.0, 14. Jake Klucinec (P) 18:16.1, 15. Hunter Hartranft (E) 18:17.9, 16. Gavin Knox (Annville-Cleona) 18:19.5, 17. Dominique Smith (CC) 18:31.9, 18. Peter Frazier (Palmyra) 18:41.0, 19. Connor Soderstedt (P) 18:45.2, 20. Miles Weber (CC) 18:45.9
Final Team Standings
1. Palmyra 30, 2. Cedar Crest 36, 3. Elco 61.
Top 20 Individuals
1. Sarah Hollen (P) 21:00.3, 2. Lily Brubaker (E) 21:01.3, 3. Gwyneth Young (CC) 21:20.5, 4. Ellie Keck (P) 21:37.1, 5. Claire Keck (P) 22:19.4, 6. Shayla Bonzelet (CC) 22:32.1, 7. Mia Reigert (Cedar Crest) 23:01.9, 8. Mary Tshudy (Annville-Cleona) 23:13.3, 9. Elizabeth Nazeeri (CC) 23:17.4, 10. Emily Cowfer (P) 23:23.4, 11. Emily Williams (E) 23:26.2, 12. Caroline Williams (P) 23:36.9, 13. Taylor Laliberte (CC) 23:45.3, 14. Brenna Chernich (CC) 24:04.2, 15. Jacy Carmenatty (P) 24:21.0, 16. Sarah Domencic (AC) 24:45.0, 17. Jessica Gutekunst (AC) 24:49.9, 18. Brenna Troutman (E) 24:54.7, 19. Jalissa Nolt (E) 25:03.9, 20. Avery Atkins (CC) 25:27.4