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Clarion Area Bobcat Cross Country Team Does Great At PIAA Foundation Invitational, Boys Finish 5th, Girls Take 6th (09/21/18)

(By Matt Lerch)

The Clarion Area Bobcat Boys and Girls Varsity squads competed September 22nd against Pennsylvania’s top runners at the PIAA Foundation Invitational in Hershey, PA.  The Clarion Area boys went toe to toe against a preview of the State Cross Country meet later this fall, but also ran against the second fastest runner in the state.  The Bobcat girls hadn’t even been recognized on a state level in the cross country articles before this meet.  The Clarion paradigm shift within the state happened today.

(Photos by Matt Lerch) Lady Cats Cross Country Team

The Bobcat Girls Varsity kicked off the races Saturday morning with a 9:00 start in a field of 19 teams in a sunny, buggy and muggy start to the day.  But these girls have been training in these conditions while performing hill work and mile repeats, all part of the glory of the grueling but gratifying sport of cross country.  Unsure of who these girls were, the nascent Clarion girls team didn’t even register on the Pennsylvania cross country radar…..until today.  For the first time in several years, there are enough girls to field a Clarion team, and one with depth.

The Clarion girls finished 6th out of 19 teams, and second in the public schools.  Freshman Evelyn Lerch, fresh off of an injury and running her fourth race in a week, came in 12th place overall in a field of 146 runners. Lerch advanced from 17th place at the 2.5 mile marker to 12th at the finish of the 3.1 mile race, primarily making up the distance in the final 200 yard stretch.  The Bobcats had another top 20 medalist with another freshman, Bella Scott, finishing in 18th place while running with a cold.

Captain and senior Phylicia Hockman, also an 800m State Track and Field speedster, turned in a third place finish for Clarion Area in 26th place under the scorching sun.  Senior Gabby Fleming placed fourth on the Bobcat squad with a late kick taking 71st place and senior and Co-Captain Katie Craig rounded out the top 5 with an 80th place finish.  Freshman Grace Adams, recovering from a dormant summer due to injury, ran in 83rd place.

Bobcat Boys with Assert The Murt Banner, in honor of Coach Keith Murtha

Uncharacteristically, the weather started to cool and the skies became overcast as the day progressed.  At the Clarion Cross Country tent, the varsity boys began to prepare a repeat performance on the course in which they raced last year representing District 9 at the Pennsylvania State Championships.

The Clarion boys finished 5th in a sea of 27 teams from all corners of the state.  Clarion Captain and junior Nathaniel Lerch finished in 10th place overall out of 189 runners with a crushing third mile advancing from 18th to 10th place in an uphill battle with the state’s best.  His time of 17:10 on the state course was only 9 seconds off his personal record.  Three seniors, and the glue of the team, brought in a tight pack with Co-Captain Nick Schill (18:59), Daniel Ketner (19:05) and Noah Schill (19:06).  The top 5 runners score on the team and sophomore Don Cunningham brought in a fifth place time of 19:35.  Freshman Gavin Hoover ran the state course for the first time with his ascent on the varsity squad in 19:41.  Senior Jacob Smith ran for Clarion in 7th place on the team in 20:11.

The Clarion boys also had representation in the Junior Varsity race with juniors Nate Datko, coming in 152nd place out of a crowded field of 279 runners, and Alex Cussins coming in 159th place.  Nate Datko (20:44) and Alex Cussins (20:59) continue to add to the depth of the Clarion boys cross country squad throughout the season.

Combined Clarion Area Squad, with Coach Tammy Lerch (Front Left) and Coach Keith Murtha (Front Right)

With the cross country team entering mid-season, Clarion travels to AC Valley to compete against AC Valley/Union and Clarion Limestone on Tuesday, September 25th on their march to a hopeful return win of the Keystone Shortway Athletic Conference for the boys and, a possible entry into the same category for the girls.  One thing is for sure, today’s performance for the Bobcats re-surfaced the boys to statewide attention and the Bobcat girls sneak attack with their first feather in a their hat proving that attention needs to be paid to Clarion County, once again.

(Thanks To Matt Lerch for this article and photos. GREAT JOB, BOBCAT HARRIERS!!!!