The number one priority for the Elk Lake cross country team at the beginning of each season is a simple one - make it to the state championship.
Both the boys’ and girls’ teams have done just that in the past two years, and seemed destined for déjà vu heading into the Class A District 2 Championships, held at Elk Lake High School on Wednesday, Oct. 22.
It was a sea of green as the first runners crossed the finish line at both the boys’ and girls’ races, and when the dust finally settled, it marked the third straight year that the Elk Lake team would be headed to Hershey with the chance to bring home a state title.
The boys’ team finished five runners in the top 15 to win the second district title in program history with 40 points. Holy Cross was second with 81 points.
In the girls’ race, the order was reversed, as Holy Cross claimed the district crown over the Lady Warriors for the second straight year with 27 points. Elk Lake finished with 44.
PACK OF WARRIORS
Earlier in the week, Elk Lake head coach Will Squier compared his team to the state championship squad that he fielded in 2008, not because of its superstars, but because his team knew how to run well together in a pack.
A strong pack wins big races, a quality that has helped the Warriors establish themselves as one of the best teams in the state.
“They’ve been running in a pretty strong, tight cluster all year long, so it’s been pretty par for the course,” Squier said. “The question would be how fast we could get on the front and maintain it. We had a solid race. I don’t think we had our best race on that day, but I was hoping for that kind of result that I thought they were capable of.”
Freshman Cody Oswald, who first burst on to running scene running for the Elk Lake junior high team last year, set a personal record on his home course and led the Warriors pack with a second place finish in 18:02.
“That was a big day for him and as a freshman I only think he’ll keep getting stronger,” Squier said.
Sophomore Dan Bell immediately followed his teammate, taking third place in 18:11.
Rounding out the top five finishers for Elk Lake were junior Hunter Bedell in 11th at 18:48, senior Dalton Sherman in 12th at 18:49 and sophomore Seth Owen in 15th at 18:56.
“It’s hard to single anyone out, but I was really happy for Dalton and the race he had, being able to medal as a senior in his last race on the course,” Squier said. “I was happy and proud of him for the way he works and his leadership.”
Also running for Elk Lake were sophomore Dylan Benscoter, who finished in 18th at 19:12, and junior Hunter Watkins, who finished in 23rd at 19:36.
Dunmore junior Matt Murray got out to a fast start in the first mile, expanded his lead during the second mile and cruised across the finish as the individual Class A boys champion in a winning time of 17:35.
Elk Lake runners also competed in the ‘B’ race, including junior Ty Moon in 29th (20:19); sophomore Dakota States in 55th (21:09); and senior Blaise Cleveland in 105th (23:02).
SEA OF GREEN
The Elk Lake girls’ have battled with Holy Cross for top-spot in the Lackawanna League for years, and this year was no exception.
The Lady Warriors won by a point when the teams faced off in the regular season, and also topped the Lady Crusaders at the PIAA Foundation race in September.
But Holy Cross had won at the Paul Short Invitational three weeks ago, and were poised to redeem its regular season loss at the district meet.
“It’s a good rivalry,” Squier said, for both the boys’ and girls’ teams. “It’s not an ugly one by any stretch and it’s one that’s appreciated by both teams. They do make us better and we both have to push to stay up. It’s better that we both have this instead of just one of us being dominant.”
Both teams remained as dominant as ever on Wednesday, as Holy Cross placed five runners in the top 12 and Elk Lake placed five in the top 16.
Junior Katie Bennett paced Elk Lake with a third place finish at 20:12, followed by sophomore Justine Johns in fifth in 20:33 and senior Kenzie Jones in seventh in 20:45.
Sophomore Keri Jones finished 15th in 22:08, and senior Jenny VanEtten crossed the line as the all-important fifth place finisher for Elk Lake in 16th in 22:13.
“She has gotten better and better,” Squier said of VanEtten, who missed all of her junior season while recovering from a car accident. “She continues to drop big chunks of time and has another race to do well at states.”
VanEtten filled the void missed from her younger sister Julie, a sophomore who was unable to race at districts and will miss states because of a foot injury.
Also for Elk Lake, sophomore Andrea Rockefeller finished 25th overall in 24:04, and sophomore Korena Kraynak finished 45th at 25:54.
Holy Cross junior Mackenzie Greenfield won in 19:45.
In the ‘B’ race, sophomores Miranda Decker and Breanna Yonkin placed 15th and 16th, respectively, with times of 24:44 and 24:45. Sophomore Jenny Grosvenor finished in 21st in 25 minutes.
ONE TO GO
With one goal out of the way, one more still stands for Squier and his squad at the PIAA Championships on Nov. 1 in Hershey.
“I told them I was proud of them and to enjoy it for about a half hour, but we have another race to run, the work isn’t done,” Squier said after the race. “We’re just going to be trying to keep everyone healthy and do enough work to keep us where we are, but make sure we’re relaxed and really ready for that meet.”
Regardless of outcome, the success that the Elk Lake program has brought not only to its school, but to the sport of cross country, will certainly not go unrecognized.
“Hopefully we will continue to attract more runners who want to be proud of the program from the younger grades,” Squier said. “It will just make the school community and the larger community proud of the school. What the kids have done helps put the school on the map, not only around here but in the state.”
Squier would also like to thank several sponsors and volunteers which made the race possible, including Taylor Rental (tent); Bartron Supply (UTV); C.W. Waltz Sons Inc. (UTV); Cabot Oil and Gas (golf carts); Lindsey Equipment (UTV); U.S. Army (display/water); Linde Corporation (lunch vouchers); Andre & Son (Pwr Sports) (UTV); Rush Vol. Fire Com. (UTV/EMS); Decker Farms (hauling); Meshoppen Stone (stone); and Willa Grove Farms (roller rental).
The Elk Lake School District, along with District 2 PIAA, greatly appreciate their support in making the event a great day, first for the athletes, and also for their coaches, friend and families.
CLASS A BOYS’ TEAM STANDINGS:
1-Elk Lake, 40; 2-Holy Cross, 81; 3-Forest City, 121; 4-Lackawanna Trail, 122; 5-Wyoming Seminary, 151; 6-Mountain View, 167; 7-Dunmore, 204; 8-Mid Valley, 222; 9-Meyers, 245; 10-MMI Prep, 246; 11-Riverside, 256; 12-Susquehanna, 273; 13-Northwest, 293.
CLASS A GIRLS’ TEAM STANDINGS:
1-Holy Cross, 27; 2-Elk Lake, 44; 3-Wyoming Seminary, 44; 4-Riverside, 116; 5-Susquehanna, 121; 6-Mid Valley, 169; 7-Dunmore, 199; 8-Lackawanna Trail, 204; 9-MMI Prep, 255; 10-Meyers, 258.