Once you identify the pack of favorites in a big cross country race, especially if they haven't raced against each other before, it's a tough task to handicap who the winner might be.
The course layout or the weather might favor one over the others. A runner could take a fall. Somebody could have their best day. Or a top runner could have a bad day.
But Greencastle-Antrim girls coach Rich Secrest is pretty sure his freshman dynamo, Taryn Parks, will be in the hunt for a state title Saturday.
The PIAA Championships are being held at the Hershey Parkview course and Parks will be one of the contenders for the Class 2A crown. She'll be joined by her teammate, Lauren Hirneisen.
At least one area representative will be entered in each of the six races. Teams who qualified are Chambersburg's girls (3A) and Southern Fulton's girls and boys (1A). In addition, Chambersburg's Andrew Feldman will run in the boys 3A race, and Dalton Leab of James Buchanan is competing in the boys 2A race.
"She runs to win every time," Secrest said of Parks, who captured a District 3 title last week. "Her goal is a top-three finish and I wouldn't count her out. She's a tough kid and she just lives for this kind of race."
What has impressed Secrest is that Parks has won in different ways.
"She's done everything this year, like you'd expect of a junior or senior," Secrest said. "She's trailed at a mile and come back, she's gone out fast, and she's come from behind at the end. It's fun to watch her gain experience in these races, because, really, she's just a kid. We just don't want to overthink the race and overload her thinking."
Compared to other contenders, Parks' winning time at districts was at or near the best time in the state in 2A. But it's not easy to compare times, because they came on different courses. The Parkview course has two long hills that can take their toll.
Secrest said, "I don't like to compare times in cross country. Some of the girls she beat in District 3 last week had their best times. This time of year, a lot of girls are chomping off big chunks of time."
While Parks is a rookie, Chambersburg's girls team is loaded with veterans. Abby Yourkavitch, Kaylee Mowery and Cadie Kiser have all raced at states twice, and Yourkavitch and Mowery are just juniors.
"We have experienced kids at the top of the heap, and they know the course," Trojan coach Chris Monheim said.
Last year, Yourkavitch placed 14th, Mowery 32nd and Kiser 94th, and Chambersburg finished in ninth place as a team.
Monheim said, "Kaylee missed a medal by seven places last year, so that's her goal this time. Cadie hopes to move up a lot this year. Abby learned a lot last year, when she went out fast. She'll go out hard again, but maybe a little more cautious. Her goal is a top-five finish. There is a girl from Downingtown West who is favored, but after her it looks wide-open."
If everything falls into place, Monheim believes the Trojans have a chance to finish in the top five.
"We run a tough schedule, so I don't think the pressure will be all that different for them," he said. "The kids should feel confident. We'll need to have a great day, but a top five (which hasn't happened since 2003) is not out of the question."
Mowery said, “The Hershey course is supposed to be running faster this year so hopefully we can use that to our advantage and hopefully be top five.”
PIAA cross country
9:30 a.m. - Class 1A girls (Southern Fulton team)
10:15 a.m. - Class 2A girls (Greencastle's Taryn Parks, Lauren Hirneisen)
11:00 a.m. - Class 3A girls (Chambersburg team)
11:45 a.m. - Class 1A boys (Southern Fulton team)
12:30 p.m. - Class 2A boys (James Buchanan's Dalton Leab)
1:15 p.m. - Class 3A boys (Chambersburg's Andrew Feldman)