HERSHEY - In cross country, it's hard to finish well without a good start.
Tyler Stelmack found out at last year's state meet that he has to get out quickly enough to avoid being boxed in. He learned earlier this season that he can't start too fast on Hershey's Park View Course, or he won't have his usual strength on the hills.
Stelmack used what he learned on his two previous trips to Hershey when he returned Saturday for this year's PIAA Championships.
The Northwestern junior ran to a 12th-place finish and a state medal, running the boys Class AA race in 16 minutes and 50 seconds.
"I've been working so hard this whole season," he said. "I've been training harder than I did last year. To come out and end my season with this, I'm so happy with it."
He was one of several area runners to compete at states, but the only one to finish in the top 60.
Last year, in Stelmack's first trip to states, he was outside the top 100 in the first mile. That led to a 35th-place finish.
In an invitational earlier this year on the Hershey course, he started too quickly and he didn't have his usual strength at the finish.
Saturday he was exactly where he wanted to be at the one-mile mark, with the course's steep hills yet to come.
"At the mile mark I think I was 30th," Stelmack said. "That's where I wanted to be because I consider myself a strong hill runner. I love running hills. That's where I was able to gain and pass people."
He set his sites three runners ahead and passed as many as he could until crossing the finish line.
"We were hoping maybe top 20 for him," said Northwestern head coach Chris Stitzel. "I saw him at the three-quarter mile. He was about 30th-35th. He was on the outside. He didn't get boxed in. He ran a really smart race today."
Several area seniors finished off their high school careers at states on Saturday.
Tamaqua's Amber Carroll, who missed out on states as a junior, ran her third state meet in four years. She placed 63rd out of 284 runners at states, running the race in 21:01.
Carroll, the District 11 Class AA girls runner up, ends a career that includes three district medals and two state medals. As a freshman and sophomore Carroll earned top-20 finishes at states. She placed 12th as a sophomore and 18th as a freshman.
Finishing not far behind Carroll in the Class AA girls race was Palmerton senior Andrea Stevko. Stevko placed 72nd in 21:06. A two-time state qualifier, Stevko improved on last year's 136th-place finish.
"I already knew how the course was," she said. "I knew to get out fast and pace myself and push myself up the hills.
"I'm very happy. It was a good way to end my senior year."
Tamaqua senior Kelsey Patrick and Northern Lehigh senior Sam Corcoran both finished their high school careers with their first appearance at states. Patrick ran to 122nd place in 21:45. Corcoran finished 155th in 22:08.
Lehighton freshman Jeni Beers got her first state-meet experience. She finished 129th in Class AA in 21:51.
"It's a super job on her part," said Lehighton head coach Ron Rabenold. "That was our goal this year was for her to get here.
"For a runner to come here, on this very competitive course, and beat 155 of the state's best runners is an accomplishment."
Stelmack was one of nine Northwestern runners to compete at states.
Teammate Joey Duffy ran in the boys Class AA race, placing 194th in 18:43.
The Lady Tiger girls team placed 20th in Class AAA, led by Haley Yost's 70th place finish in a time of 20:52. Northwestern's girls team has earned top-five finishes at states as a Class AA team. This year, after a district runner up finish, the Lady Tigers advanced to states as a team in Class AAA for the first time.
"This 3A level is such a different ball game than double-A," said Stitzel. "We're proud of what they accomplished all year. No one can take away the 26-0 season or the league championship they won."
The rest of the Lady Tigers state-meet team includes senior Emma Kemmerer (171st, 21:11), freshman Carly Pierce (186th, 21:23), senior Natalie Boehm (213th, 21:42), freshman Rachele Cerrone (225th, 21:52), senior Erica Sarnicky (241st, 22:04) and junior Erin Ondush (270th, 22:38).