HERSHEY — Kayla Connelly may have never trekked the hills of the Parkview Cross Country Course in Hershey, but the Lansdale Catholic freshman felt like she did enough to have a good showing in her first experience at PIAA Championships.
The Crusaders worked hills as a team and Connelly spent the entire summer racking up miles to prepare for the season. After 375 miles in the offseason and strong LC campaign, with a time of 19:36, Connelly finished eighth in the Girls Class AA race.
"I had a calendar on the fridge and I wrote my miles down when I came back,' Connelly said. "I started at the end of June, mainly trail running and then some road running. I did not know what to expect today, but all my training really helped.'
Connelly has been running track for three years and this was only her second year on the cross country courses. Her father Matt, and coaches Steve Probert and Keith Spiers new they had some special. She became a natural leader for the Crusaders and on Saturday became the school's first-ever female medal winner.
"All I said to her was to have fun,' Spiers said. "Everything else would take her of herself. Shoot for the top 10 and who knows what could happen. Her father ran for Upper Perk, her uncle ran for Upper Perk, so there are genetics there.'
Connelly and the Crusaders would have been satisfied being anywhere in the top-10 finishers and for the freshman the day in Hershey could not have run any smoother.
"My mind went blank, it was just race strategy,' Connelly said. "I just wanted to pass as many people as possible. I went out on a good pace and went from there.'
Only 41 spots behind Connelly was Gwynedd Mercy's Allie Flint. Looking to lead a team of young Monarchs, the lone senior helped her squad capture ninth place. Flint was hoping for a little better than her 20:39, but still was blessed to have the Hershey experience. The Parkview hills could not be duplicated in practice.
"No doubt about it, this one was the toughest,' Monarchs coach Larry Wilson said. "We try to do a lot of hills during the season.'
"I thought I was going to do better, but I am happy with my time because of the course,' Flint said. "It was a fun course. It really motivates you to work harder.'
Flint also flourished as the elder-statesmen for the Monarchs, who hope the experiences this season allows them to come back next year and improve their times. Freshman Stephanie Szekely finished 11 second behind.
"It is really exciting to run with all the girls,' Flint said. "They are my little sisters and I try to help them along the way. They are going to do really well next year and this upcoming track season.'
In the Class AAA girls race, Central Bucks West sophomore Maddie Villalba snagged a medal. Her time of 19:25 earned her 23rd place while Pennridge junior Marissa Sheva battled through illness to cross the finish line in 44th place.
In the Class A girls race, Christopher Dock had two girls put up times they could be proud of — senior Megan Bishop finishing with a time of 23:50, while sophomore Maddison Landes landed just outside the medal group. Her time of 20:38 was good enough for 28th place. Landes, who double rosters for the Pioneers' girls soccer team is looking forward to taking another crack at the course next season.
"I would probably not go out so fast in the first mile,' Landes said. "On the big hills you cannot get discouraged. The course really pushed me. I am happy with the end of the season.'
Pioneers coach Justin Wikerd was proud of all of his runners, including his lone boy, Michael Gunden. The sophomore's time of 18:32 was good enough for 104th in the Class A boys race.
"I am really impressed,' Wikerd said. "Megan improved her time by a minute from when she ran this course last year. We threw hills in throughout the season to keep the muscles ready. Michael moved himself up. It was nice to see all of them peak properly.'
Other boys to put their best foot forward included the North Penn tandem of Ryan Tung and Ryan Grace. The junior Tung just barely missed out on a medal with his 58th place finish and time of 17:05 while Grace's pace was good for 85th overall. Being it was the Tung's first time at the PIAA meet, he now has a better grasp of what he can do better next season.
"The first mile was just crazy,' Tung said. "I wish I would have gone harder over the hills. This year was just me and my teammate and I am hoping to be back in Hershey next year with my entire team.'
Follow staff writer Andrew Marcus on Twitter @amarcus515.
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