There is an old saying, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
Tuesday afternoon in Lancaster County Central Park, the Hempfield girls cross country team followed that advice, running as a pack to defeat host McCaskey 25-36 to finish 10-0 and claim the Lancaster-Lebanon League Section One regular-season title.
McCaskey’s sister tandem of Arielle and Milana Breuninger finished 1-2 for the Red Tornado, with Arielle Breuninger finishing in a personal best 20:18, just 10 seconds off the course record. Manheim Township’s Samantha Side set the standard at 20:08 in 2016.
But the next five finishers were from Hempfield, with all five finishing within eight seconds in a textbook example of pack running.
“Our strategy was just to run as a pack and worry about the team,” said Hempfield’s Delaney Minder, whose 21:32 finish was good for third place.
On paper, Minder figured to be right there with the Breuninger sisters. Her best time coming in was just eight seconds behind Arielle Breuninger’s season best. But when the Breuningers took off, Minder held back to pace her teammates.
“When it comes down to it, it’s all about the team. So many teams have one or two fast girls, but they don’t have the numbers and depth we have as a team. We ran as a pack,” Minder said.
Hempfield’s boys also wrapped up a 10-0 dual-meet season, clinching a Section One title of their own with a 25-36 win over McCaskey.
Like the girls, the Knights also used pack tactics to win the meet, though they needed a slightly different approach to overcome McCaskey’s strong first three.
Evan Eshleman used a big kick in the last 200 yards to get past McCaskey’s Stephen Schousen and claim first place in the boys race. Eshleman finished in 16:50, just one second ahead of Schousen. Hempfield’s Jack Mieszkalski (16:55) claimed third, with McCaskey’s Alex Miller (17:08) and Lachlan McLane (17:18) taking fourth and fifth.
At that point, the Tornado were within striking distance. Then came Hempfield’s pack, which took the next seven spots to earn the win.
“(Schousen) was ahead of me for a good part of the race, but I have a pretty decent kick, so I thought if I stayed with him I could kick past him in the last 200 yards,” said Eshleman. “That was definitely important, but it is a team sport. You need everybody to do well. It went good for a lot of people on our team.”
“We knew we could run with them up front, but after our first three runners, their depth was the difference,” said McCaskey coach Mike Craighead.
Hempfield coach Curt Rogers credited the pack mentality as the key to both his teams’ championship seasons. It’s a mentality he said started with summer workouts and carried through the entire season.
“This team worked all summer long. The captains arranged workouts and group runs. They really had team unity. They run in packs. If somebody isn’t feeling it, somebody else steps up. They push each other,” Rogers said.
Both Hempfield teams will look to add overall L-L team titles to their résumés when they compete in the league meet Tuesday at Ephrata Middle School. The girls race will start at 4 p.m., with the boys race to follow.