SOL Boys/Girls Cross Country Notebook (11-9-17)

Rusty Kujdych’s remarkable postseason that was capped with a state title is featured in a notebook that recaps the SOL’s top performances at the PIAA 3A Championships last week.

By DENNY DYROFF

Neshaminy’s Rusty Kujdych has done many impressive things over the course of his four-year scholastic cross country career but none as impressive as what he has done over the last three weeks.

In a period of 15 days, Kujdych won the Pennsylvania scholastic cross country equivalent of the “Triple Crown.”

Last Saturday, He captured the gold medal at the PIAA Class AAA Cross Country Championships at Hershey’s Parkview Course.

One week earlier, Kujdych took first at the District One Class AAA Championships at Lehigh University’s Goodman Campus course – for the second year in a row.

One week prior on the same rolling course in the Lehigh Valley, Kujdych placed first at the Suburban One League National Conference Championships and successfully defended his conference title.

Kujdych sandwiched one close race (a down-to-the-wire win at districts) with two relatively easier finishes. He claimed the top spot at states with a time of 15:47.

When Kujdych closed in on the finish line at the state meet, he was very focused – no time to stop for a beverage (Butler’s Noah Beveridge, who was second at 15:57), or take a break for a gooey Starbucks chocolate latte (North Allegheny’s Daniel McGoey who was third at 15:58), or even stop for a cup of water (Mechanicsburg Area’s Morgan Cupp, who was fourth at 15:58).

At the district meet eight days earlier, Kujdych had to fight to the end to defeat Bishop Shanahan’s Josh Hoey. Kujdych crossed first at 15:11 and narrowly edged Hoey, who clocked a 15:12.

At the state meet, Kujdych was a dominant force. Hoey, who was the second-best state meet finisher from District One, finished back in seventh place with a clocking of 16:01 – followed closely by District One rival Liam Conway from Owen J. Roberts who was eighth at 16:03.

“My race went exactly as planned,” said Kujdych, who went the entire season without losing to a runner from Pennsylvania. “I knew it would be a tough race.

“I went out pretty relaxed. But, with a race like this, there’s no time to play games. I made my move at the two-mile mark. At first, the gap wasn’t that big, but by the time there was 150 to go, it had become a comfortable lead.”

The final hill challenge on the course at Hershey is Poop-Out Hill, which leads into the final 200 meters of the race.

“After Poop-Out Hill, it was all about – I’m wining states,” said Kujdych, who will run for Georgetown University next year. “There was no-one near me. But, I was still pushing. I felt pretty strong near the end -- but it wasn’t easy. I didn’t want to fall apart in the last 150 meters. It took everything out of me. I was dead tired near the end. But, there was a state title on the line so I never let up.”

Kujdych logged an impressive finish – and an impressive time.

“Going into the race, I wasn’t too concerned about time,” said Kujdych. “I expected to be under 15:50 if I was going to win the race. I ran a 16:13 on this course the last two years and was ninth as a sophomore and 10th last year. I’m really happy with a 15:47. I had a good day.”

Council Rock North’s boys’ team returned from the state meet with some impressive hardware – the team runner-up trophy. The Indians arrived for the meet as defending state titlists and came ultra-close to defending their crown.

When the top five Rock North runners came in and the top five runners from La Salle College High School finished, the teams were deadlocked with 130 points apiece. In cross country meets, the equivalent of overtime or extra innings is the placement of each team’s sixth runner.

The Little Explorers’ sixth runner crossed in 44th place, which was better than Rock North’s sixth runner. As a result, the championship trophy headed back east to La Salle’s campus in Erdenheim and the second-place trophy found its way to Newtown.

“It’s obviously a little disappointing to lose that way,” said Council Rock North coach Dave Marrington. “It’s tough to lose a tie-breaker. Still, our kids ran well.”

It might seem hard to imagine two teams finishing with exactly the same score after five runners – especially in a huge championship meet. But, it does happen – and more frequently than you’d expect.

“There have been three ties in the Boys’ Class AAA state meet in the last eight years,” said Marrington. “Cardinal O’Hara finished in a tie twice and lost both times – once to West Chester Henderson and once to North Allegheny.”

Council Rock North headed into the 2017 season knowing that it would be difficult to repeat as state champs – especially since two of its top four runners from last year graduated. Tim Haas and Bryan Keller ran this season at Northeastern University.

“We lost two guys who are running NCAA Division 1 now,” said Marrington. “We knew we had to have runners step up and we had a lot of auditions. We had six guys in a 30-secind fight for five, six and seven. They improved but they didn’t improve enough. They didn’t quite make the jump we hoped they would make. Two of the guys got mono and one of them never came back from it.”

The Indians’ top four runners – Ryan Campbell (10th), Ethan Koza (13th), Sam Earley (16th) and Kevin Ehrgott (46th) – all had good races at states. With four runners in, the Indians had a 56-90 lead over the Little Explorers. But, that’s where the good news ended for Rock North.

“It was disappointing to not win – especially by such a close margin,” said Earley, a senior. “Everyone knew it would be difficult to repeat. We knew our depth would be a question mark all season.

“At states, we all knew what to expect. Since we all had a lot of experience with states, we were familiar with the course and the competition. We all knew what to expect – and that we had to do our best. Getting second was a good consolation. It showed that we did everything we possibly could.”

Marrington said, “Our top four had a really good season. Kevin Ehrgott has the best improvement. He dropped 35 seconds this season. He really improved at the end. And, so did Koza. He became a beast.”

The Indians came back home with runner-up medals. The only other SOL runner to win a state medal this year was North Penn’s Brendan O’Toole. Individual state medals are awarded to the top 25 finishers. O’Toole got in just before the door slammed shut – finishing 25th at 16:30…two seconds ahead of Lower Dauphin’s Jared Giannascoli.

“Going into states, one of my goals was to get a medal, so I was successful,” said O’Toole. “I was kind of hoping to be able to compete a little more. I was hoping Top 20 – maybe even Top 5. I didn’t think the hills would affect me as much as they did.

“The race was mentally hard for me. I knew the hills would be tough but I might have underestimated them a little. Around the second hill, I started to second-guess myself – that today wasn’t going to be my day -- and that’s when things went wrong.

“I was around 25 at the two-mile and then dropped back to around 32. With 800 left, my teammate Noah Bemis came up next to me, and that sparked my kick. I attacked Poop-Out Hill and passed three or four people.

“After that, I was pretty sure I was in 25th. On the last stretch, I just gave it everything I had. After I finished, I went back to our tent not knowing if I was 25 or 26. When I started my cool-down, I ran into my coaches and they said I got 25th. It’s a great feeling to know you succeeded at attaining your goals.”

North Penn also claimed a state meet medal in the Girls’ Class AAA meet when Ariana Gardizy finished 14th.

The Knights’ talented senior finished with a time of 19:12 – the same time as 15th-place Hannah Schupansky from Oakland Catholic and two seconds behind State College’s Kileigh Kane and North Allegheny’s Hannah Lindgren. Last year, Gardizy placed ninth at states.

“This year’s race didn’t go as I expected,” said Gardizy, a senior. “I wanted to do better than last year but it didn’t happen.

“I thought I was fine before the race. But, then during the race, I could tell it just wasn’t my day. I really felt it after the first mile. It was probably a combination of physical and mental.

“I was around eighth place at the mile. The second mile was a struggle and that’s when I dropped back. I was 13th at the mile. In the third mile, I was pretty much just maintaining. I was able to lock in. Then, I passed a few people on the last straightaway. I don’t like the course at Hershey because the hills take a lot out of you.”

At least Gardizy didn’t return home from Chocolate Town empty-handed.

“It’s nice to get a medal at states,” said Gardizy, who will run for the University of Pennsylvania. “I’m still in training for Regionals. I’m not sure which regional meet I’ll run in – Foot Locker or Nike. Last year, I ran at the Nike meet and was the top runner that didn’t qualify for Nationals. Even though I’m disappointed with my race at states, it helps knowing that I’ll have more meets this season.”

North Penn would probably have finished in the Top 10 in team rankings rather than 14th had another of its top runners not suffered a bad day. Olivia Dyer, who was second at the SOL National meet at 19:09 and 15th at districts at 19:06, placed 209th at states at 24:03.

“I’m not really sure what happened,” said Dyer. “I was getting over a cold and I felt a little off the whole week. I had a lot of congestion.

“As the race progressed, I could tell things weren’t right. I wasn’t as far up in the pack as I’d like to be. All the hills definitely didn’t help. When I was running the hills, it got harder to breathe.

“When I was running the third mile, I just wanted to finish. Making it to the finish line was a concern but it was my last high school cross country race ever so there was no way I wasn’t going to finish.”

Running in this year’s state meet was a learning experience for the Central Bucks West girls.

One week earlier, they used a strong pack to finish first at the District One Championships at Lehigh.

In the state meet at Hershey, they learned that it takes more than a solid and speedy pack to challenge for the state title. The Bucks placed their top five in a pack that ranged from 29th to 53rd in the team scoring. But, without one or two runners in the top 10 or top 20, they were only able to finish ninth overall.

Julia Flood finished 29th in team scoring (52nd overall) followed by Piper Wilson (35th/66th), Emmi Simon (42nd/81st), Darby Roth (49th/98th), Kate Jenkinson (53rd/107th), Erin Chinnici (60th/118th) and Grace Kolbe (65th/125th).

“They were disappointed,” said assistant coach/team spokesperson Kevin Munnelly. “Still, everyone improved over their times they ran here at Hershey in the Foundation meet back in September.

“I don’t think they ran the race they ran at districts. A pack like we have worked well all season -- until we got to states. Actually, we were closer together than we were at districts.

“Piper fell in the first 50-60 meters and the group stalled at her falling. We were still third or fourth as a team after the first mile. We were at 140 (points) at the mile and then drifted back to 208.

“They are all excited that six of the seven girls who ran here are coming back next year. They left the meet with the determination that they will be back at Hershey next year.”