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Bombers’ Hibell captures CL title

CENTER VALLEY - Connor Hibell’s run of success has been unmatched.

The Palmerton sophomore rolled through the Colonial League regular season, going unbeaten in each of the Bombers’ six meets.

That dominance carried over into Wednesday’s league meet, where Hibell won the boys race at DeSales University in convincing fashion.

Hibell crossed the line in 17:01.18, over 30 seconds ahead of Notre Dame Green Pond’s Jordan Smith (17:35.13).

“I wanted to get below 17 minutes, but it’s fine,” said Hibell, who made sure to congratulate freshman teammate Ben Cornmesser on his race as he came by.

Hibell, who has taken on a leadership role this year, acknowledged he expected to place first. And he didn’t disappoint.

After placing fifth at leagues a year ago and helping Palmerton win a District 11 title with his brother Owen by his side, Connor has used that experience to prepare him for what the postseason will offer in the coming weeks.

“It helped me a lot,” said Connor, who finished in 17:18.39 at last year’s league meet. “I had a phenomenal team last year, really good senior runners. They pushed me, especially my brother. And I just got to learn about everything last year, like the courses, who my competition will be and all of that.

“I wouldn’t have been prepared if I was a freshman. But last year really got me ready for what I was going to see this season.”

Northwestern also had a pair of runners medal with top-10 finishes on Wednesday.

Juniors Xander Giandomenico and Sophia Cornell each placed ninth for the Tigers in the boys and girls races, respectively.

Giandomenico crossed the line in 17:59.50, while Cornell finished in 21:01.60.

The Northwestern boys and girls also both placed fourth in the team standings.

Another step forward

While Hibell was certainly impressive a year ago, his performances this season have left even Bombers’ coach Mike Horvath in awe at times.

“That freshman year learning curve if you will in cross country – when kids come from the mile-and-a-half races (in junior high) to three – not that he wasn’t capable of competing last year by any means, but he got over that learning curve,” said Horvath. “He’s gotten stronger, he’s grown since last year, and he wants to do it. It’s what he’s born to do. Some kids just run cross country to stay in shape or something else. This guy is running cross country because he loves to run cross county. He’s just a runner. There’s no other way to put it.

“I’ve been coaching him since seventh grade. He went through a learning period in seventh grade, and then in eighth grade won every single race. Last year, he was able to get a top-five here, and then this season he goes undefeated again and wins leagues. Sometimes when we go through our accolades at the end of a race, we go through each kid, and we are so used to Connor doing his thing, we almost take it for granted. So we’re trying to give him the firetrucks tonight, and give him the awards for all the hard work he’s put in. He’s a special talent, and I think he’s going to do great things the next couple of years in the Colonial League.”

Hibell joins his dad, Jamie Hibell, as a Colonial League champion. Jamie won league titles in both 1988 and 1989.

“And I think last year, with us losing the eight seniors, Connor really felt like he wanted to set the bar high this year stepping into that leadership role on the team now,” said Horvath. “We only have one senior and a junior ahead of him, so he knows it’s his team, and he’s just setting the standard. And we have a couple of good young runners following in his shoes. When they come to summer workouts, when they come to practice and they see him, it motivates them and makes everyone better.”

Earning their stripes

Much like Palmerton, Northwestern faced a challenge in replacing several top runners this season.

Gone is two-time league runner-up Matt Santana (Times News Male Cross Country Athlete of the Year) and Samuel Bower, who placed fourth a year ago for a boys team that finished third. The girls lost Angelina Klein (Times News Female Cross Country Athlete of the Year), who was 11th at leagues and helped the squad ultimately capture a district title.

Giandomenico was 21st at leagues a year ago, while Cornell was 20th.

Both have stepped up to keep the programs competing at a high level, with the boys and girls each finishing the year 19-5.

“Everybody wants it,” said Giandomenico. “It started out a bit slow, but as we’ve gone on ... even the workouts, we all push each other and we feed off of that. Everybody has the same goal, to be the best.”

Like Giandomenico, Cornell has worked to improve throughout the season, and the results are evident in both her place and time.

“Last year was a little tough mentally, and I had to really work this season to kind of get out of that,” said Cornell, who ran a 21:56.34 at leagues last year. “Just told myself that it’s a new season, and I think I’ve benefited from it a lot. Times are improving, my place is improving. Today is probably one of my biggest accomplishments. I wasn’t expecting that at all.”


... Moravian Academy sophomore Virginia Kraus won her second straight league title, crossing the line in 18:05.27. She won last year’s race with a time of 18:54.56.


... Hibell’s win in the boys races comes after Palisades’ standout Thomas Smigo had won four consecutive league titles.


... Wilson won the boys title with 44 points ahead of Notre Dame Green Pond (54), Southern Lehigh (80), Northwestern (100) and Moravian (179). NDGP won the girls crown with 35 points to top Southern Lehigh (76), Saucon Valley (106), Northwestern (108) and Moravian (146).


... Runners will descend on DeSales University once again next Wednesday for the District 11 Cross Country Championships in hopes of continuing their seasons the following week at the state meet in Hershey.



Team Standings and legend

1. Wilson (W) 44, 2. Notre Dame GP (NDGP) 54, 3. Southern Lehigh (SL) 80, 4. Northwestern (NW) 100, 5. Moravian Academy (MA) 179, 6. Bangor (B) 194, 7. Palmerton (Palm) 210, 8. Saucon Valley (SV) 213, 9. Palisades (Pali) 233, 10. Salisbury (S) 242, 11. Catasauqua (C) 287.


(top 5 plus

other locals in the top 50)

1. Connor Hibell (Palm) 17:03.18, 2. Jordan Smith (NDGP) 17:35.13, 3. Jake Mattes (NDGP) 17:39.82, 4. Aiden Twist (B) 17:40.20, 5. Jeffrey Sunderlin (W) 17:43.08, 9. Xander Giandomenico (NW) 17:59.50, 16. Greyson Wellings (NW) 18:28.53, 20. Sean Kershner (NW) 18:55.90, 23. Brady Furman (NW) 19:10.84, 31. Alex Saas (Palm) 19:44.20, 33. Jonathan Fornauf (NW) 19:48.16, 36. Tyler Lehr (NW) 19:55.25, 40. Bryce Thrash (NW) 20:10.31, 41. Luke Thrash (NW) 20:10.69.


Team Standings and legend

1. Notre Dame GP (NDGP) 35, 2. Southern Lehigh (SL) 76, 3. Saucon Valley (SV) 106, 4. Northwestern (NW) 108, 5. Moravian Academy (MA) 146, 6. Wilson (W) 175, 7. Bangor (B) 190, 8. Catasauqua (C) 230, 9. Palisades (Pali) 238, 10. Palmerton (Palm) 242, 11. Pen Argyl (PA) 300.


(top 5 plus other locals in the top 50)

1. Virginia Kraus (MA) 18:05.27, 2. Avery Errico (W) 20:04.85, 3. Katherine Koons (NDGP) 20:06.09, 4. Ella Schweitzer (NDGP) 20:28.23, 5. Olivia Bortz (SV) 20:38.94, 9. Sophia Cornell (NW) 21:01.60, 18. Haley DuBois (NW) 21:55.66, 20. Kellcey Pedron (NW) 21:57.57, 23. Emma Rex (Palm) 22:03.28, 31. Megan Fornwalt (NW) 22:46.91, 36. Delaney Szwast (NL) 23:08.02, 37. Cora Wentz (Palm) 23:14.06, 38. Devon Heinly (NW) 23:16.20, 44. Katy Griffith (NW) 24:08.17, 45. Amber Carl (NW) 24:19.25, 46. Emily Gad (NL) 24:29.13, 47. Ava Smedstad (NW) 24:31.04.

Palmerton's Connor Hibell captured the Colonial League boys cross country championship on Wednesday. NANCY SCHOLZ/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS