Clarion Area Boys Varsity Cross Country Team Qualifies for PIAA State Championships for the First Time in School History, Katie Craig Makes Third Trip (11/02/17)

(Editor’s note: we have received two articles on the Bobcat Cross Country Team heading to States, one by Matt Lerch and the other by Coach Keith Murtha. Both follow in their entirety.)

(By Matt Lerch)

(Photo by Matt Lerch) The Clarion Area Varsity Boys Cross Country Team qualified for the first time in school history for the PIAA State Championships to be held at Hershey, PA Saturday November 4th. The Clarion Bobcat’s PIAA qualifying group was led by Nathaniel Lerch, who finished ninth in a time of 17:45 followed by Noah Schill, Nick Schill, Daniel Ketner, Frank Weber, Donnie Cunningham and Jacob Smith with Nate Datko as alternate. In addition, Katie Craig will be the lone Clarion Bobcat varsity girl in State competition, her third consecutive qualification. Representing Clarion, Head Coach Keith Murtha and assistant coaches Bill Grove and Tammy Lerch will lead the harriers to Hershey.

The Clarion Area Boys Varsity Cross Country team qualified for the PIAA State Championships for the first time in school history on October 28th in Ridgway, PA.  The District 9 Championships were held at the Ridgway Elementary School in spitting rain with overcast skies in the mid 40’s.  The top two teams in the District 9 qualify for States and Clarion was ranked third going into the competition after winning the Keystone Shortway Athletic Conference for the first time in school history.  Top seeded Elk County Catholic easily ran away with first place. Second seed Smethport High School was primed and ready to compete.  Clarion truncated Smethport’s season with a winning score of 68, one point better than Smethport.

Head Clarion Cross Country Coach Keith Murtha led his team onto the Ridgway turf into a sea of cross country tents, 13 of which represented teams in the Class 1A of District 9, the others belonging to Class 2A teams.  In the past, Clarion has sent multiple runners to States but never the whole team.  The pack runners in Clarion’s youthful squad completed a tremendous season with many personal bests in sub-19 minute 5ks.  Two of the Bobcats went sub-18 minutes helping propel the team to shutout scores in the regular season.

The team battled various injuries and adversity during the season but was able to overcome the obstacles due to the depth of the team.  Assistant coaches Bill Grove and Tammy Lerch helped Coach Murtha in developing training regimens that helped build on the previous year’s successes.  The dedication of running in the extreme heat to freezing rain and everything in between paid off as the varsity showed no mercy in an undefeated KSAC season.

The Clarion scoring was elevated by the top five striders running in pack formation with close finshes.  The places were Nathaniel Lerch 11th place, Noah Schill 15th place, Nick Schill 17th place,  Daniel Ketner 19th place, Frank Weber 23rd place,  Donnie Cunningham 38th place and Jacob Smith 46th.   Nate Datko also will be attending the competition as an alternate runner.

Clarion’s Katie Craig, a junior, will also be attending the PIAA State Championship as well, running as the sole Bobcat Varsity girl.  Craig is making her third appearance at States, she was also the first Clarion freshman to ever qualify for States.

Congratulations to the training staff and all who sacrificed to make this dream a reality as this team of runners puts Clarion on the map for the first time in PIAA State Championship Team competition.

(By Coach Keith Murtha)

Boys Cross Country Team Qualifies For States For First Time In School History

It was a cold, wet day in Ridgway for the District IX Championship but that didn’t stop the Bobcats from making history!  First off was the girls race and veteran Katie Craig ran a solid, strategic race following the race plan to a tee to a run a season best 21: 57 and finish as the 10th individual qualifier on a wet but fast course.  Teammate Gabby Fleming also ran a great race running a season best 26:01.

Next it was the boys turn Clarion in Black with orange facing off against the talented and favored Smethport in Orange with black for the D9 runners up spot with no one expected to touch the ultra-talented Elk County Catholic, ranked second in the state!

At the mile, Nathaniel Lerch was in top five and serving everyone notice that he was a force to be reckon with today!  The pack was following the race plan to a tee.  By  2 miles, Nathaniel had a bit after drawing out some of the runners to a really quick start, but now worries, Noah Schill and Daniel Kettner were up stepping taking valuable spots between Smethport runners.

Coming in to the final stretch, it was too close to call, Smethport had the first two runners but then the Clarion’s pack went to work like never before Clarion took places 9,12,13,15,19,34&41 in comparison with Smethport’s 2,4,14,22,27,48,49!

The theme of our meeting the night before had been “running with the pack” and that is exactly what happened, it came down everyman, including the number 6 and 7. “Nick Schill and Smitty ran incredibly well today, They were difference makers” Coaches and nervous parents staring at their smart phones, we somewhat patiently waited for the results… and then they appeared, we were in red, we had done it!  68-69, a 1 point, to qualify for states as a team first time in school history!  Following the results and true elation, a lot of screaming and hugging, I was congratulated by Smethport Coach Stephen, a true Sportsmen and he said and “I knew when Weber ran so well, we were in trouble!  You’re pack just ran better than ours today” He was absolutely right, our pack was absolutely amazing and our only senior, Frankie Weber, our Rocky was at the core of it!’

Our quote for districts was from the great Steve Prefontaine “Some people run races to see who is the fastest, I run them to see who has the most guts”, and that is exactly what happen today. The last thing we said in the huddle at the starting line was “Give up something Good to chase some GREAT!” Mission Accomplished-Hershey Bound!


(Thanks to Matt Lerch and Coach Murtha for these articles and to Matt for the photo. Let’s go Cats!!!!)