BY JEFF FALK
LEBANON – A change at the top did nothing to slow the Palmyra girls.
They were already there, so the Palmyra boys decided to tag along for the ride.
Jared Harnish didn’t think he could make a run at it, he knew so.
As for Kelsi Bixler? Well, she was just following in some giant footsteps.
Palmyra and a senior from Elco stole the headlines and the show at Saturday’s annual Lebanon County Cross Country Championships, over a 3.1-mile course mapped out from the perimeter of South Hills Park. With newly anointed leader Bixler, a somewhat different cast of supporting characters and a new head coach, the Palmyra girls continued a tradition of excellence by winning their seventh straight county team championship.
Not to be out done, the Cougar boys’ also captured a Lebanon County team title, but in somewhat more of a surprising fashion. In winning the boys’ race, Harnish laid down his fastest trip ever.
“It is my best time,” said Harnish. “I like this course. I like the place where you hit the second-mile point, because it’s all down hill after that.
“I guess the thing I’m most proud of is having my best time,” Harnish continued. “Things have gone good for me this season.”
For the first half of the race, Harnish engaged in a personal duel with Lebanon junior Derin Klick. But over the final mile, Harnish managed to gain control of the outcome and eventually began to pull away.
With his 17:18.34, he ended up beating Klick to the tape by a whopping 29 seconds. Cougars Kevin Colebert and Derek Wadas were third and fourth, followed by Annville-Cleona freshmen Caleb Wenger, Brad Blaszyniski of Palmyra, Elco’s Ryan McAllister, Cougar Matt Brandt and Anthony Frattaroli representing A-C.
“At the mile mark, I got the lead,” said Harnish, who’s been running since the seventh grade. “I just try to stay behind the other runners for the first mile, and if I feel like I can go, I go. Once I passed the Palmyra kid, I just didn’t look back. I just kept on running.
“My goal is to win districts,” continued Harnish. “But I need to get good times before that. The thing I like about running is seeing how good you can be.”
“It was kind of a goal,” said Palmyra first-year head coach Dave Hollen of the Cougar boys’ team title. “The difference between the girls’ race and the boys’ race was we knew the boys’ was going to be a lot more competitive. We only found out Cedar Crest wasn’t going to be here when we got here, and it was a little disappointing they weren’t here. We thought we had the team to match up with them.
“Our first three guys stayed near the front,” added Hollen. “We have ten guys who push each other, and they all want that last varsity spot. I love that strong-pack mentality. They just stepped up.”
With Colebert, Wadas and Blaszyniski showing the way, Palmyra also received a strong 10-11-12 finish from Garrett Funk, Kyle Nolan and Jared Richard. All that pack running added up to 31 team points, some 57 points better than runner-up Elco’s 88.
Annville-Cleona came in third, Cedar Crest’s representative was fourth, Northern Lebanon fifth and Lebanon High sixth.
“No, there wasn’t really anyone who stood out,” said Hollen. “I’m pleased with our guys who were sixth, seventh and eighth. They’re not going to show up in the scoring column, but they were right there.
“This is not a difficult course,” Hollen added. “That’s why the kids like it. The hills are so gradual that you hardly even know you’re going up them. Going down the hills, you can just fly. But there’s a lot of turns, which can slow down times.”
Bixler, who was second to former Cougar Miranda Salvo at last season’s county meet, spent the entire race running with teammates Elizabeth Keck and Sarah Hollen in the lead pack. The only drama was deciding who would cross the finish line first
Ultimately, it was Bixler, who was clocked in 21:20.99. Keck, the runner-up, and Hollen, who garnered bronze, were the only other runners in the 33-person field to break 22 minutes.
“Oh, she’s so strong,” said Hollen of Bixler. “At two miles, our top three were together and I said, ‘Let’s push it’. Kelsi just seems to get stronger as the year goes on. That’s her history. She likes the big races. She’s such a competitor. She just likes to run fast. She was feeling good today.
“The pressure would be on individual girls,” Hollen added. “They push themselves. They put more pressure on themselves than I or their parents or the school does. Some of the seniors this year were freshmen on that state championship team. They want to win. They want to run well.”
By claiming the top seven spots – and eight of the first nine – Palmyra achieved the lowest possible score of 15. Cougars Ameiia Baldo, Julia Plato, Katie Keck and Emily Cowfer held down the four-through-seven positions, while teammate Juliana Kerper ran ninth.
Cedar Crest freshman Pal Wuori came in eighth and Annville-Cleona’s Sarah Domencic took tenth.
Behind Palmyra in the team standings stood the Falcons, who compiled 59 team points, Elco and the Little Dutchmen.
“For the girls’ side, this is how many years in-a-row?,” said Hollen. “I kind of knew we’d win it as a team. But I really wanted them to go after it. You always hope for strong competition, because you want them to do their best. With it being around mid-season, we’re kind of running tired. But I was really, really pleased.
“We got the first seven spots,” added Hollen. “I wanted them to go hard and go really fast. I told them to run as a group, which they’re used to. They push each other. They did a nice job of team running.”
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Annual Lebanon County Cross Country Championships
(at South Hills Park)
1.Palmyra 31, 2. Elco 88, 3. Annville-Cleona 92, 4. Cedar Crest 96, 5. Northern Lebanon 123, 6.Lebanon 125
1. Jared Harnish (Elco) 17:18.34, 2. Derin Klick (Lebanon) 17:47.33, 3. Kevin Colebert (Palmyra) 17:51.51, 4. Derek Wadas (Palmyra) 17:57.54, 5. Caleb Wenger (Annville-Cleona) 18:09.83, 6. Brad Blaszyniski (Palmyra) 18:12.55, 7. Ryan McAllister (Elco) 18:13.94, 8. Matthew Brandt (Palmyra) 18:23.37, 9. Anthony Franttarole (Annville-Cleona) 18:24.82, 10. Garrett Funk (Palmyra) 18:31.16, 11. Kyle Nolan (P) 18:31.18, 12. Jared Richard (P) 18:45.45, 13. William Fellows (NL) 18:46.03, 14. Quinten Pemberton (CC) 18:48.76, 15. Daryl Werni (L) 18:54.99, 16. Klayton Adams (NL) 18:55.66, 17. Doyle Shertzer (AC) 18:56.50, 18. Alec Richard (P) 19:06.01, 19. Luke Clarkson (CC) 19:15.14, 20. Nick Blandy (CC) 19:21.96, 21. Dylan Mehler (CC) 19:33.15, 22. Devyn Stump (CC) 19:49.53, 23. Justin Cruise (CC) 19:57.68, 24. Lucas Wampler (CC) 20:06.17, 25. Hunter Hartranft (E) 20:11.36, 26. Jared Weaver (E)20:23.00, 27. Nick Felty (CC)20:38.40, 28. Alex Kudlanov (NL) 20:42.83, 29. Grant Brubaker (E) 20:52.16, 30. Hayden Taylor (AC) 20:57.05, 31. Ethan Fortuna (AC) 21:07.81, 32. Matt Snyder (NL) 21:23.60, 33. Devin Root (L) 21:36.80, 34. Jarrett HUber (NL) 21:46.93, 35. Sterling Hetrick (E) 22:05.44, 36. Matthew Hoffman (L) 22:06.49, 37. Dante DiAngelis (NL) 22:12.52, 38. Devin Tipton (NL)22:21.09, 39. Matthew McDaniels (L)22:25.53, 40. Aaron Zurick (E) 22:45. 37, 41. Jaco Beidler (NL) 22:51.85, 42. Preston Ceravalo (AC) 23:19.87, 43. Shelby Bauer (AC) 23:57.62, 44. Dereck Bosworth (AC) 24:52.65, 45. Julio Liriano-Sena (L) 24:55.12, 46. Vito Heck (E) 25:59.70, 47. Brandon Velez (L) 27:34.14
1.Palmyra 15, 2. Cedar Crest 59, 3. Elco 91, 4. Annville-Cleona 96
1. Kelsei Bixler (Palmyra) 21:20.99,2. Elizabeth Keck (Palmyra) 21:36.92, 3. Sarah Hollen (Palmyra) 21:39.99, 4. Ameiia Baldo (Palmyra) 22:23.55, 5. Julia Plato (Palmyra) 22:48.57, 6. Katie Keck (Palmyra) 22:52.69, 7. Emily Cowfer (Palmyra) 23:01.60, 8. Pam Wuori (Cedar Crest) 23:05.51, 9. Juliana Kerper (Palmyra) 23:20.29, 10. Sarah Domencic (Annville-Cleona) 23:29.10, 11. Olivia Hains (CC) 24:10.54, 12. Gwyneth Davis (CC) 24:19.30, 13. Hannah McCurdy (CC) 24:54.73, 14. Brenna Troutman (E) 25:04.26, 15. Taylor Laliberte (CC) 25:16.49, 16. Charley Darkes (NL) 25:19.58, 17. Hannah Rich (E) 25:21.99, 18. Drashti Patel (NL) 25;53.87, 19. Grace Keppley (CC) 26:42.39, 20. Maddy Hartman (L) 27:12.06, 21. Zoe Sweigert (AC) 27:20.91, 22. Maddie Mattern-Cortes (L) 27:22.11, 23. Shaylin Yourman (NL) 27:45.17, 24. Jalissa Nolt (E) 27:50.57, 25. Danielle Nelson (E) 28:10.08, 26. Angela Fair (AC) 28:54.16, 27. Regan Logdahl (E) 29:25.24, 28. Damaris Kreiser (L) 29:28.24, 29. Megan Werni (L) 29:57.94, 30. Erin Ditzler (NL) 30:25.66, 31. Zoee Garis (AC) 30:46.86, 32. Amanda Rhoades (AC) 34:58.16, 33. Lydia Fair (AC) 35:03.54