Clarion Bobcats Cross Country Enters District 9 Championships With Possibility Of Another Team Trip To States (10/23/19)
(Photo and article by Matt Lerch)
The Clarion Varsity Boys and Girls Cross Country team will arrive Saturday morning at Ridgway, for the District 9 showdown in the most competitive Single-A cross country district in the state. The Clarion boys took the team to the PIAA State Championships, in Hershey in 2017, edging Smethport by one point to take second place behind Elk County Catholic (ECC). The top two teams enter state competition, as well as some single runners.
The Clarion boys have fielded an extremely strong team this fall, replenishing the loss of graduates Nick and Noah Schill and Dan Ketner. The seemingly impossible task of filling this void, left by the graduating Bobcats, was overcome with the recruiting of senior Nick Frederick and underclassmen stepping into the more venerable positions of the pack.
Captain and senior Nathaniel Lerch is currently ranked second in District 9, with his blistering 2019 5K time of 16:38, only behind ECC senior Ben Hoffman by two seconds. However in 2018, Lerch beat Hoffman at the line during a torrential downpour in 38 degree weather at the District 9 Championships in the perennial showdown when it counted most.
Sophomore Gavin Hoover has stepped into the role of second runner on the squad. Hoover has been consistently been reducing his 5K times all season and will be a factor, especially with his new personal record of 18:07 set at Ridgway several weeks ago. Junior Don Cunningham, sophomore Keagan Phillips and Frederick have been a tight knit pack all season long, providing the core scoring cluster that can make or break a team score. Their performance will be critical.
Senior Nate Datko has also had a stellar season, peaking at the right time going into the Championships. In addition, senior Alex Cussins fills the important role of seventh man on the squad and can participate in displacement during scoring procedures. Philip Bartley, Milton McElravy and Daniel Griebel will also be racing for the Bobcats on Saturday.
Any given day can produce different results in this grueling and often underappreciated sport. District 9 will have a very close meet between the top teams in the region and Clarion Bobcat Boys can have an impact and a chance to take the team to Hershey again, as they did in 2017.
The Bobcats have been the beneficiaries of an injection of alumni support this season. Thanks to Bobcat Cross Country royalty, one of the founding mothers of Clarion girls Cross Country and 1981 Clarion graduate Angela Zaeske Rudy helped organize a drive to purchase warm-ups for the Bobcat varsity and junior high cross country squads. The donations from dozens of Bobcat alumni of matching warm-ups will help the Bobcats keep their competitive edge, physically and mentally.
The Clarion Bobcat Girls varsity will also be competing on the big stage Saturday at District 9 Championships.
Last year was a stellar year, with Evelyn Lerch winning the District 9 Championship and the stout girls team qualifying for States. Again, the loss of graduates Phylicia Hockman, Katie Craig and Gabriella Fleming, and Lerch taking a year off to play her first love of soccer, have taken a toll on this state team.
However, the Bobcat girls have remained a threat all season with District 9 seventh seed sophomore Bella Scott leading the charge for the Bobcat girls. Scott has been a force all season, winning many of the dual meets. Two more returning runners from last year’s state team, sophomores Grace Adams and Aaliyah Dittman, provide Scott some pack scoring support.
New cross country recruit junior Allie Stivanson and sophomores Abi Frederick and Grace Schmader also help with the Bobcat scoring, with Stivanson achieving a new personal record at the Keystone Shortway Athletic Conference Championship last week. Freshman Grace Troese rounds out the Bobcat squad as a new comer on the team.
The Bobcats are coached by Head Coach Keith Murtha, Assistant Coach Tammy Lerch and volunteer Bill Grove. The team fields 46 Senior High and Junior High runners.
(Thanks to Matt Lerch for this article and photo. Have a great District 9 Meet, Bobcats and Lady Cats!!!!)