BETHLEHEM - Chris Stitzel knew his boys team had a shot. The Tigers had only been beaten twice this season, both losses came against Class AAA Bangor.
Heading into Wednesday's District 11 Championship Meet at Bethlehem Municipal Golf Course, the 14th year Northwestern mentor had the highest of hopes and his team didn't disappoint.
Led by senior Tyler Stelmack in fourth place and followed by a solid pack of runners in 16th through 20th place, the Tigers earned their first district title in the history of the program.
"They ran phenomenal today," said Stitzel. "Nice pack running. Our main concern was Stelmack. He's been under the weather the past week or two. He came through for us and the team just followed in behind him. It was awesome to see them come in one right after another."
Stelmack, the 2010 Colonial League champ who is making his third trip to states, battles a condition called vocal cord dysfunction. His vocals cords tighten, making breathing difficult.
"It was bothering me for the whole race," he said. "I was cramping up and couldn't get full breaths in. It's been happening a lot this entire season. I don't know when it's coming until it actually happens. Then it's really hard to get rid of it when it's there."
In addition to problems breathing, it's also painful. It was so bad he dropped out of a big early-season invitational. It was nearly as bad at districts, but Stelmack didn't consider dropping out.
"Today, it was really painful but I knew I had to finish for my team," he said. "That was my top priority today. We knew we had a shot at winning the district."
Behind Stelmack in the Tigers' top five were Ryan Cerrone (16th), Patrick Strobel (17th), Brayden Heller (18th) and Jarrett White (20th). Northwestern's boys made it a sweep as the girls won the Class AA district title earlier in the day.
"This is the first time in school history we're taking two teams to states in the same year," said Stitzel. "They worked hard. I'm proud of both of them."
Stelmack and the entire Northwestern boys team earns a trip to next week state championship meet in Hershey. A few other are runners also qualified for next week's meet.
Marian's Phil Marzen took second place overall in the Class A boys race, finishing in 19:11 and not far behind winner Wesley Yutko (18:57) of Minersville. As a top-five finisher in Class A, Marzen earns a spot at states.
In Class AA, where the top 10 runners who are not part of state qualifying teams earn a berth to states, Jim Thorpe's Christian Fields ran to eighth place with a time of 17:31. Lehighton's Jeff Ebbert ran to a 12th place finish with a time of 17:47, which was good enough to earn the trip to Hershey.
In Class AAA, where the top 10 runners not on state qualifying teams earn a berth to states, Pleasant Valley's Alex Larkin finished 11th in 17:18 to qualify for states.
North Schuylkill's Brendan Shearn won his second straight Class AA title, running the race in 16:11. In Class AAA, Easton's Colin Albert took this year's title in 16:21. Team titles went to Minersville in Class A and Freedom in Class AAA.