The six TIMES NEWS area runners who qualfied for Saturday's PIAA Cross Country Championships have one thing in common.
Each harrier will be competing for the first time at the State Meet, to be held on the 3.1 mile Parkview course outside of Hershey's Giant Center.
The Girls Class AA race will 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.
It is unusual for the TN area contingent not to have at least one returning State qualifier, but what this year's qualifiers may lack in experience, they make up in enthusiasm.
While they haven't competed at States before, Northwestern's three qualifiers are familiar with the course, having competed at the PIAA Foundation Invitational race in Hershey on Sept. 25.
Tigers sophomore Tyler Stelmack, who placed sixth in Boys AA at the District 11 Championships at Bethlehem Municipal Golf Course on Oct. 28, medaled at the PIAA Foundation race on the Parkview course, placing 17th overall in 17 minutes, 52 seconds. Senior Tyler Malay, who placed 10th at Districts, finished in 59th place in 18:59.
Stelmack, who recovered from running with a 103 degree fever at the Colonial League Meet, is hoping to be in the running for a Top 25 medal on this visit to Chocolatetown.
"This is my first year in cross country, so just to get to States, I am extremely happy," said Stelmack. "I'd like to try to get one of the last medal places or higher, if I can."
"He (Stelmack) came in 14th at leagues, and he was devastated about that, but he came back at Districts and stepped up," said Northwestern coach Chris Stitzel. "He medaled at the PIAA Invitational, and I think he has a chance at a Top 25 medal now."
Malay is thrilled with the chance to run at States. "I just want to go out and push it, I don't care how I do," said Malay.
The Lady Tigers' Emma Kemmerer, a junior, was at Hershey a year ago when Northwestern's Lindsay Kerr captured the Girls AA title, but she did not run with the Tigers that day due to a stress fracture in her lower leg.
Northwestern's girls are competing in Class AAA this year. Kemmerer was able to make the cut for States despite the bump up in class, finishing in 10th place at Districts.
Kemmerer just missed a Top 20 medal by one place at the PIAA Foundation race, finishing 21st with a time of 21:31.
"Just to make it to States was my goal," said Kemmerer. "I knew it would be tougher going up to AAA. I just want to get out there and see how it goes for me."
In Girls AA, Northern Lehigh junior Samantha Corcoran placed 10th at Districts, and Palmerton junior Andrea Stevko placed 11th to punch their respective tickets for States.
"I just wanted to make it to States so bad," said Corcoran, a feeling shared by Stevko. "I just want to go out and see what happens," noted Stevko. "I'll just give it my all and go for it."
Pleasant Valley senior Dan Rose is the lone TN area representative in the Boys AAA race after his 11th place showing at Districts. Rose was the bronze medalist at the Mountain Valley Conference Championships.
"I'm really happy to make it. but it gets harder now," said Rose, who joked that his goal for States is "don't get last."