Last year Lindsay Kerr went to Hershey to compete in the PIAA State Cross Country Championships and placed fourth in the Class AA field.

That was the highest finish in memory for a TIMES NEWS area girl at States. Kerr actually led the race during the first mile before crossing the finish line in 19 minutes, 12 seconds.

The Northwestern senior returns to Hershey's 3.1 mile Parkview course Saturday morning as one of the main contenders to capture the 2009 Girls AA title.

The two-time defending District 11 AA champion will be joined by her Lady Tigers teammates, fresh off of winning their first-ever D-11 cross country championship.

The Girls AA State race is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. followed by Girls AAA at 10 a.m., Boys AA at 11 a.m. and Boys AAA at 12 noon.

Also competing at States from TN Area will be the Northern Lehigh boys and the Lady Bulldogs' Stephanie Pryor; Tamaqua's Amber Carroll and Ricky Clemson; and Pleasant Valley's Evan Makuvek and Samantha Klingel.

Kerr is shooting to join Northern Lehigh's Bob Chandler (1992) and Tamaqua's Isaac Dunkelberger (2005) as TN area PIAA Cross Country champions.

Leigh Anne Wirfel of Forest Hills, last year's State AA runner-up, returns, as does third place finisher Kayleigh Perry of ELCO, the only returnees to finish ahead of Kerr a year ago.

Kerr, who also competed at States as a freshman and placed 99th, competed in a pre-state invitational at Hershey this season and finished second, which has fueled her confidence for the PIAA race.

"After last year, my dream is to be a State champion," said Kerr. "After that invitational, I feel this year is a definite possibility."

Northwestern finished seventh in the Class AA team standings last year. With Kerr returning, as well as junior Katie Hallingstad, who placed 56th; sophomore Natalie Boehm, who finished 126th; and senior Ramsy Burns, who was 130th, plus senior Megan Handwerk, who ran at States as a freshman in 2006, the Tigers feel they can improve on that finish.

"Our team goal is to be in the top two, and the way we're running now, I feel we can bring some medals back from States," said Northwestern coach Chris Stitzel, who will have that quintet joined by freshman Anna Fricchione and sophomore Sarah Ribecky.

Also in Girls AA is Tamaqua's Carroll, a sophomore, who was a PIAA State Top 25 medalist last year after placing 18th in 19:54. Carroll took ill and collapsed during the Schuylkill League championships two weeks ago, but she rebounded with a sixth place finish at Districts.

"I'm practicing hard," said Carroll. "I'll do the best I can. I'm feeling all right, so hopefully I'll have a good race."

No. Lehigh senior Pryor will be competing in her third State race, finishing 179th two years ago and 94th last year. Her best time on the Hershey lay-out is 21:22.

Pleasant Valley's Klingel, a junior, is also competing in her third PIAA run in the Girls AAA field. Klingel placed 33rd as a freshman in 19:45 and was 136th last year in 21:10.

In Boys AA, the No. Lehigh boys are fresh off a second place team finish at Districts.

"Our primary goal is to simply run as well as we can," said Bulldogs coach Dave Oertner. "Realistically, we know we are not a top 10 team but this is a great opportunity for our kids and. We do hope to compete to the best of our abilities and see how we stack up against the best in the state.

"We've talked about shooting for the top half of the field. We believe we have a number of runners who could possibly push into or near the top 100 and also that our four and five runners could do better than many other fours and for other teams."

The Bulldogs' contingent will include seniors Zach Fleming, Ryan Fronheiser and Aaron Rarick, juniors Austin Danish and Scott Showak, and sophomores Zane Heller and Vaughn Reese.

Tamaqua's Clemson and Pleasant Valley's Makuvek are both seniors competing in their first State races in AA and AAA, respectively.