HERSHEY - In cross country, familiarity with a course can be an advantage.
The question for Northwestern's runners at Saturday morning's PIAA Championships was, how much would it be worth?
The Tigers ran on the challenging 3.1 mile Parkview layout at the PIAA Foundation Invitational back on Sept. 25, and three of their harriers returned for another crack at it at the State Meet.
By having previously run the course, the Tiger trio benefitted from the experience, timewise.
However, competing at States is a whole another matter, due to the increased number of elite runners from around Pennsylvania.
Northwestern sophomore Tyler Stelmack had the highest finish among the six TIMES NEWS area runners at States, placing 35th in the Boys Class AA race.
Conditions for the event were sunny and frosty. Temperatures started in the high 20s and climbed to the low 50s by noon, the time of the final race, Boys AAA.
Back in September, Stelmack placed 17th at the invitational on Parkview, which is located outside Hershey's Giant Center. His time was 17 minutes, 52 seconds, and he earned a Top 20 medal.
In his State race, Stelmack chopped almost 30 seconds off that time, as he was clocked at 17:23. The Boys AA gold medal went to Trinity senior Tommy Gruschow, who was clocked at 16:30. North Schuylkill sophomore Brendan Shearn, the District 11 champion, placed 15th at 16:58.
The top 25 runners in each class receive PIAA medals. Placing 25th in Boys AAA was Stephan Tewksbury, a senior from Wyalusing, who was timed at 17:09, 14 seconds ahead of Stelmack.
"I'm extremely happy," said Stelmack of his performance. "I really beat my time from September.
"Having run here, it helped a lot. I knew all about the hills and how challenging they are, and how to work them."
Stelmack said he has finally recovered from an illness that sent his temperature soaring to 103 degrees when he competed in the Colonial All-League Meet at DeSales University in mid-October. He finished 14th in that race but bounced back to place sixth at the District 11 Championships at Bethlehem Municipal Golf Course on Oct. 28.
"I'm really over that now," related Stelmack. "I was happy with my start. I got out okay, but I was a little further back than I like to be. I made up for it over the final two miles.
"I just went out like I always do, but I tried to keep a faster pace, because there were so many more people running," he added.
"For his first year, he put on a real good showing," said Northwestern coach Chris Stitzel. "He was sick for the league championships, but we didn't know it. He's just getting over it, so to come back the way he did out here was great."
Tiger senior Tyler Malay, who placed 10th at Districts, finished 172nd in Boys AA with a time of 18:40. That was an improvement of 19 seconds over his Invitational time.
"He had a good year for us, and he ran some smart races," said Stitzel of Malay. "He usually starts out slow and tries to catch people, but that's tough to do in a race like this."
A third Northwestern runner, junior Emma Kemmerer, competed in Girls AAA. Kemmerer, who placed 10th at Districts, was clocked at 21:10 in her State race, which dropped 21 seconds from the Invitational, where she came in 21st. At States, she crossed the finish line in 163rd place.
"I'm definitely happy with that (time), said Kemmerer. "It was really hectic here. There were so many people running (282 in Girls AAA). I think running here before helped. I was used to the hills more than someone who didn't run it."
"Emma's time was decent, but AAA is a tough race," said Stitzel.
Pottsville freshman phenom Paige Stoner, the District 11 AAA runner-up, was leading the race at the two-mile mark before being passed by Council Rock North senior Lindsay Rheiner, who took the gold at 18:42. Stoner settled for silver at 18:48.
"It was so exciting," said Stoner. "I wasn't expecting a PR (personal record) because of how the course was, but I just couldn't believe it (when she was leading). It was awesome."
In Girls AA, Palmerton junior Andrea Stevko placed 136th, just missing sub-22 minutes at 22:01. Homer-Center junior Angel Piccirillo was the winner in 18:44. Moravian Academy junior Rebecca Askins-Gast, the D-11 champ, placed 37th at 20:45.
"I liked the course," said Stevko. "I think it's kind of like DeSales. It's pretty challenging in spots. I tried to go out fast, but there are so many people. I just focused on the runners in front of me, and at the end, I just pushed it."
"She saved her best race for last," said Palmerton coach Jeff Minnich. "I told her that once you get past the hype and hoopla, it's just another race, and she did a nice job with it."
Northern Lehigh junior Samantha Corcoran placed 167th in Girls AA with a time of 22:26.
"Sam ran a solid race," said Northern Lehigh coach Dave Oertner. "She came out here and competed. She went out quicker than normal and held on. I was pleased with her."
In Boys AAA, Pleasant Valley senior Dan Rose placed 160th in 17:46. The AAA winner was North Allegheny senior Ryan Gil at 15:52. Whitehall senior Matt Kacyon, the D-11 champ, earned a medal with an eighth place finish at 16:09.
"The hills and the breaks in between make this tough, so I think my time was good for this kind of course," said Rose, who related he plans to run cross country at Penn Tech next year.