The Cougars and Falcons thrived at the Lebanon County Cross Country Meet in prime running conditions as they took first place at South Hills Park on an unusually chilly, overcast September Saturday morning. The Cougar girls beat second-place Cedar Crest 18-41 and the Falcon boys topped runnerup Annville-Cleona 41-51 despite the Dutchmen placing three runners in the top five.
Individually, a pair of Palmyra Cougars won titles. Senior Connor Strynkowski took the boys' varsity race with a time of 16:11, and junior Laura Duquette (19:44) captured the girls' varsity race.
"That was really exciting for both (of them)," said Barb Mellinger, Palmyra's head coach. "(Connor) needed to get that first spot and he earned it."
Strynkowski has finished second at the county meet for four straight years going all the way back to middle school.
"It took five years, but it was worth it," said Strynkowski, who beat out Annville-Cleona's Shawn Wolfe by 21 seconds for the gold.
Duquette paved the way for the Palmyra girls' team, which claimed six of the top seven places on its way to the team title. Cedar Crest sophomore Haleigh Echard (20:17) finished third, breaking up the podium sweep.
The rest of the Cougar contingent at the top included Maria Turkis (second, 20:09), Marian Ricci (fourth, 20:42), Olivia Farabaugh (fifth, 20:53), Ashley Cypher (sixth, 20:57) and Devin Strynkowski (seventh, 21:04).
"Hat's off to Palmyra. They are one of the best teams around," said Cedar Crest head coach Brandon Risser. "They ran an awesome race."
"This is only our second regular-season meet, I honestly didn't know what was gonna happen," Mellinger added. "I'm very proud of their performances."
On the boys' side, the Falcons captured the team title in what may be viewed as somewhat of a surprise. The team lost its key cogs from last season's undefeated campaign and had its top returner, senior
In his team's pre-meet huddle, head coach Brandon Risser made it clear it would take a team effort to win.
"I said this team is a lot more than one runner, and let's go out there and prove that," said Risser. "We had a lot of guys step up and get the job done."
The Falcon boys could be seen running as a pack for practically the entire race. All eight varsity runners finished between sixth and 15th and were led by senior Bryce Ebersole (17:03).
"We are a pack team, and we ran a good solid race today," said Risser. "We have a good blend of seniors in that top eight with sophomores and a freshman."
After Wolfe's second-place finish, Mark Bachman was fourth (16:58) and Ben Mason took fifth (16:59) to give the Little Dutchmen its strong showing at the front of the race.
A 100-meter mascot race kicked off varsity competition. Despite nearly falling at the start, the Cedar Crest Falcon (Zachary Miller) narrowly edged the Northern Lebanon Viking for the prestigious victory.
"Falcons! That started the day off right," said Risser. "The Falcon got the job done."
Notes: The top finishers in the boys' race by school included: Drew Gerberich, Elco (third, 16:51); Carlos Rivera, Lebanon (10th, 17:36); and Tyler McFeaters, Northern Lebanon (29th, 19:25).
On the girls' side, it was Elco's Rachel Baker (10th, 21:15); Shelby Dove, Annville-Cleona (13th, 21:35); Brittany Ulrich, Lebanon (14th, 21:41); and Krissy Reinhardt, Northern Lebanon (18th, 22:18).