HERSHEY – Last year Haley Yost got a taste of what running in a PIAA Championship cross country race is like. This year, she used what she learned last year to earn her first state medal.
The Northwestern junior ran to a 25th-place finish in the girls Class AA race Saturday on Hershey's Parkview Course. She finished in 19:59, nearly a minute better than her time from last season.
"I wanted to come out and get top 10 or top 15," Yost said. "That last 100 I was completely shot. I got passed in the last 100 and ended up at 25th. It was a little disappointing, but at the same time I knew I gave it all I had today."
Yost was the only medal winner out of a large contingent of area runners that made it to states. Four others from the area finished in the top 100 in their respective races, all of which were Yost's Tiger teammates.
Tyler Stelmack placed 27th in the boys Class AA race, missing a medal by two places, while teammate Ryan Cerrone took 98th. Northwestern's girls team placed three in the top 100 en route to a ninth-place finish as a team. Sophomores Carly Pierce and Rachele Cerrone finished back to back in 45th and 46th, respectively.
Yost, who finished 144th in last year's Class AAA PIAA Championship race, drastically improved on that performance. She learned a lot by getting to Hershey as a sophomore and it benefitted her in this year's race.
"It definitely helps," she said. "You don't get the nervous energy as much. You know what you're expecting. You know everyone is going out as fast as they can so you have to try to stay conservative that first mile."
Stelmack was running in his third state championship race in three years. He medaled last year and came close this year, capping a cross country career that included a 2010 Colonial League title and three district medals.
"I was happy with it," he said. "It is bittersweet. I'm not sad that I didn't medal. I'm sad that it's over now."
Stelmack's been battling a vocal cord dysfunction that hinders his breathing during races. He dropped out of an early-season invitational in Hershey and remembered the exact place where he had to stop.
"I've had a rough few weeks with my vocal cord dysfunction," he said. "I was just happy that it wasn't bothering me so much [Saturday].
"I was focusing a lot to make sure it wouldn't happen. I was doing a lot of breathing exercises. I got past the spot where I dropped out and I was like 'Yes! I made it.'"
Stelmack ran the state championship meet in 17:02.
He was happy that for the first time in his career the entire Northwestern boys team made the trip to Hershey. The Tigers won their first district title in school history to earn the trip to states.
After running mostly with individual goals his first two seasons, he enjoyed the team aspect this year brought.
"I wasn't really worrying about me any more this year," Stelmack said. "I was focusing on the team the entire time. I didn't care about my place. I just wanted to get my team where we wanted to be."
The Tiger boys finished 10th as a team. Behind Stelmack was Cerrone (17:51), Brayden Heller (149th, 18:14), Joey Duffy (161st, 18:28), Patrick Strobel (167th, 18:28), Jarrett White (173rd, 18:37) and Mitchell Evans (185th, 18:47).
Northwestern's girls team took ninth place. After Yost, Pierce (20:27) and Rachele Cerrone (20:27) were Zoe Strickland (185th, 22:31), Erin Ondush (183rd, 22:31), Katrina Hartman (186th, 22:33) and Lauren Alden (198th, 23:04).
Several other area seniors got to states to finish their careers on the biggest stage in Pennsylvania high school cross country.
Lehighton's Emily Oldt placed 153rd (21:45) in Class AA girls. Pleasant Valley's Kristen Eberhardt (157th, 21:16) and Alex Larkin (160th, 17:49) capped their careers in the Class AAA state championship girls and boys races, respectively.
Lehighton's Jeff Ebbert got 129th (18:04) in the boys Class AA race.
Marian senior Philip Marzen ran to 146th place in the boys Class A race.
"I'm very pleased with myself," said Marzen. "Last year I was really close to [making states]. To finally get the chance to be here is amazing. I never ran with this many people at one time. At the start there were like 250 people.
The season wasn't as good as I wanted to be. I never progressed throughout the season, but in my league race I PRed by 10 seconds and I finally made it to states. To make it to states is all I really needed."
A pair of Jim Thorpe juniors also ran at states. Courtney Capper placed 178th in the Class AA girls race in 22:23. Christian Fields took 104th in 17:55 in the boys Class AAA race.
This year's state championship runners and teams were: Class A boys – Luke Jones (Elk Lake) 16:00 and Northwestern Bradford (District 4); Class AA boys – Daniel Jaskowak (Grove City) 16:12 and Pottsgrove (Dist. 1); Class AAA boys – Tony Russell (West Chester Henderson) 15:45 and West Chester Henderson (Dist. 1); A girls – Kennedy Weisner (Elk Catholic) 18:29 and Elk Lake (Dist. 2); Class AA girls – Regan Rome (Dallas) 19:14 and Palmyra (Dist. 3); AAA girls – Courtney Smith (Unionville) 18:16 and Pennsbury (Dist. 1).