Local teams should again be a major factor in Lackawanna League cross country this season with a dozen runners back who gained experience at the state championships in Hershey a year ago.
The Scranton Prep boys and Abington Heights girls are defending champions after perfect regular seasons in 2012 and strong threats to repeat because of their returning talent.
Scranton Prep brings back six of its top eight runners from a District 2 championship squad that went on to finish fifth in the state in Class AA.
The other three local boys teams all return individual state qualifiers – Jacob Ross at Abington Heights, Mark Arzie and Nathan Morgan at Lakeland and Devon Clarke at Lackawanna Trail.
Erin Jaeger of Abington Heights and Emily Carr and Kate Reilly of Scranton Prep made the state girls championship last year. Tessa Barrett, who has had health issues hold her back in past cross country seasons, is coming off a second-place finish in state Class AAA 3200-meter run during track season in the spring for Abington Heights.
North Pocono and Abington Heights, which were fourth and fifth out of 21 teams a year ago, are the other likely contenders.
Abington Heights edged state Class A champion Elk Lake for the league girls title last year. Scranton Prep lost only to those two. The same teams could contend again.
A closer look at each of the local teams:
Kyle Perry, Pat Feeney, Ben Evans and Ben Sullivan all contributed to the scoring in the district championship and ran in the state meet for the Cavaliers. Ryan Burke, who broke his leg following the district title, and Anthony Nardone, who replaced Burke at the state meet, also return.
Perry, a junior, finished seventh in the district and led Prep’s runners in Hershey with a 39th-place finish. Feeney, a senior, and Evans, a junior, followed Perry for the Cavaliers at the state meet.
Burke, Sullivan and Nardone are all juniors.
“We had an excellent track season and hopefully that carries over a bit,” coach Jeff Dorunda said.
The Classics return seven of their top eight runners from a team that went 15-2 in the league and finished third of 12 teams in the District 2 meet that featured two of the state’s three-best Class AA girls teams.
Junior Emily Carr, sophomores Kate Reilly and Erin Feeney and junior Clare Schoen led Scranton Prep at the district meet. Juniors Mary Lundeen and seniors Samantha Youngfelt and Kathleen Healey are also back.
“We’re still pretty young, but we definitely have some experience this year,” Dorunda said.
Ross, a junior, is the returning state Class AAA qualifier but the Comets also have back many talented runners after losing just one boy to graduation from a 16-4 team.
“We only really lost one out of our top seven and last year there were a bunch of guys who were really switching in and out of our top seven,” coach Rob Ahrens said. “I think it’s good for us, because we do have a good amount of depth.
“There’s a lot of guys who didn’t contribute much last year that may be able to contribute this year.”
Senior Ryan Gilbert and junior Matt Molinaro join Ross to lead the returnees. Brad Eckersley, a junior, was the team’s fifth-place runner by the end of the season when the Comets fell one point short of a District 2 Class AAA title.
Kyle Ouellette also returns along with Nick Rose, who was slowed by health problems last year.
Ahrens said senior Dalton LaCoe, who has been concentrating on powerlifting this summer, may be able to help the team later in the season.
The Lady Comets return about half of their scoring lineup, including a three-runner combination – seniors Jaeger, Barrett and Jenn Burke – that make the team a threat against any opponent. In a dual meet competition, a sweep of the top three assures the team of victory as long as five runners finish.
“I expect them to lead the way for us,” Ahrens said. “I think there are some good teams out there, but up front we can run with anybody in the league and that can win you a lot of meets.”
Jaeger was second in the district Class AAA meet to teammate Taylor Ross, who has since graduated.
Senior Sarah Walsh is also back after joining Ross, Jaeger and Burke in the top 18 at the district meet.
Sophomores Claire Traweek, Catherine Simakaski and Carly Danoski lead the group coming up from junior high.
Juniors Mark Arzie and Morgan lead a deep team. Coach Jason Tochelli hopes they can bring their teammates with them to the state meet by aiming for one of District 2’s state team berths in Class A.
“We have a lot of young guys coming up and I’m hoping we can put it together to make it as the second team or take a run at Elk Lake,” Tochelli said.
Senior Koda Smith and juniors Derek Daigis, Brian Swatt and Mike Nally are also back from a team that went 9-11.
Sophomores Mike Arzie and Joe Wanat are the most promising of the new additions coming up from the junior high team.
The Lady Chiefs did not have enough runners for a full team last year.
Junior Lauren Holt is back and will be joined by a group of first-year runners but there should be enough to compete as a team.
Clarke, a senior who finished sixth in District 2 Class A last year and placed in the top half of the field at the state meet, returns to lead what will be a rebuilding effort for the Lions after going 14-6 in the boys schedule last year.
“We don’t have that much coming back,” coach Keith Youtz said. “Seven of the top nine boys were seniors last year.”
Junior Nathanial Barbolish also has some experience.
Youtz said senior Katie Seigle and freshman Ashleigh Clarke have the potential to contend for state spots.
Seigle leads the way as the Lady Lions look to improve with the return of eight of their top 10 from a 4-13 season.
Seniors Olivia Cooper, Janine Strauch and Amanda Madans, juniors Taryn Matti, Grace Wetzel and Morgan Wiesel and sophomore Amanda Kinback are all back.
Barrett opened her senior season at Abington Heights in style Saturday by setting a meet record and destroying a competitive field with a 2:34 margin of victory at the Cliff Robbins Invitational.
Barrett covered the 3.1-mile course at Letterkenney Field in Dallas in 17:26.
Abington Heights was fourth and Scranton Prep sixth out of 16 teams.
Council Rock North beat out Dallas for the team title, 68-85.
Burke was 14th for the Lady Comets.
Freshman Brooke Estadt was 16th to lead Lakeland, which did not have enough runners for a team score.
Feeney and Schoen finished 28th and 29th for Scranton Prep.
Scranton Prep lost out on the boys team title by a single point to Dallas, 70-71.
Abington Heights was fifth and Lakeland ninth out of 20 teams.
Lakeland’s Morgan was third, Scranton Prep’s Perry and Feeney were fourth and sixth, and Abington Heights’ Ross was 16th.
Scranton Prep won both junior varsity titles with Abington Heights finishing second in JV boys.