HERSHEY — He’s the son of a father who ran competitively in college many years ago. Naturally, Lampeter-Strasburg junior Colin Whitaker has become a standout cross country runner. Though, Whitaker only began competing in the sport in eighth grade. Up until then, he had filled the previous five fall seasons playing football.
“Going into eighth grade, I started out practicing in the summer for both (football and cross country),” Whitaker recalled. “I realized I was going to be better at cross country. … I definitely made a better decision switching to cross country.”
Whitaker made that evident by placing fourth in the PIAA Class 2A boys cross country championship race at Hershey’s Parkview course on an unseasonably warm Saturday. It’s an improvement from his sixth-place finish a year ago.
It was also the highest placement by any of the 83 Lancaster-Lebanon League runners who competed across the six races.
Annville-Cleona sophomore Landon Hostetter placed fifth in the 1A boys race Saturday, and Hempfield senior Aidan Hodge placed sixth in the 3A boys race.
Overall, six L-L boys runners picked up medals and 17 placed in the top 100. There were no L-L girls who medaled (the top 25 runners in each race received a medal) but eight of them placed in the top 100.
Last fall during the state 3A boys race, Hodge suffered an avulsion fracture in his hip and gritted through to the end top to place 20th, needing to be carried to the medal stand by his teammates.
Hodge has been dealing with pain in his right calf since the start of the postseason, but said he felt fine Saturday. He looked the part in passing three runners over the last mile en route to his sixth-place finish in 16:20.
“It means so much, especially after last year having a disappointing finish not running to my full ability,” he said.
Manheim Township sophomore Adam Kingston (18th, 16:42) also picked up a medal. Additionally placing in the top 100 were Penn Manor junior Kaleb Kabakjian (34th, 17:09), Hempfield senior Joseph Fahrney (43rd, 17:14), Manheim Township sophomore Cole Stevens (50th, 17:21), Hempfield sophomore Sam Meyer (51st, 17:21), Warwick senior Jake Forgione (83rd, 17:43) and Lebanon senior Ramon Urena Batista (93rd, 17:50).
The Hempfield boys placed fifth, one of only four District Three squads, boys or girls, to place in the top five Saturday.
Whitaker, the L-L and District Three Class 2A champ, was in fourth place by the one-mile marker of the state race and remained there the rest of the way. Although he came within a fraction of a second of a bronze medal when a last-gasp effort came up short, with Whitaker finishing in 16 minutes, 18.9 seconds, just behind third-place runner Logan Strawser of Juniata (16:18.5).
“We went out 4:42 in the first mile, which on this course is really fast,” Whitaker said. “The middle mile I paid for it. I was feeling pretty bad. Coming out of the back mile up the hill I still felt pretty bad. I saw the third-place guy and tried to give it a try.”
Meanwhile, L-S placed four runners in the top 89 to claim fourth place as a team in the 2A race for the second year in a row. It was the best team performance by an L-L squad.
L-S senior Ben Devine (17th, 16:57) also picked up a medal. Four additional L-L runners placed in the top 100: L-S teammates Parker Stoner (43rd, 17:45) and Luke Smith (89th, 18:27.0), Elco sophomore Chad Keller (90th, 18.27.8) and Columbia sophomore Matt McNair (100th, 18:35).
Hostetter, who also plays soccer and performs in the marching band during the fall, went from 11th at the one-mile marker to sixth my the midpoint and passed a runner in the final mile to claim fifth place in 17:19.
“I’m just excited for next year,” he said. “I want to hit the offseason pretty hard and do some longer runs.” “I felt like I left it all out there. I’m just excited for what I can do next year.”
Sophomore Henry Friedrichs of Veritas Academy, based in Leola, placed 17th in 17:46 to pick up a medal. A-C sophomore Matt Clemson placed 51st in 18:35.
McCaskey junior Gabrielle Thiry was the highest L-L girls finisher Saturday, placing 32nd in 20:19 in the Class 3A race. Teammate Isabella Shertzer, the back-to-back L-L champion, was unable to finish the race for the second year in a row. However, after getting a ride from medical staff, Shertzer walked on her own into the medical tent by the finish line.
Placing in the top 100 were Elizabethtown senior Jordan Dirisio (56th, 20:45), Hempfield junior Ella Wolfe (66th, 20:53) and Manheim Township freshman Lexie Kauffman (86th, 21:11).
L-L and District Three team champ Manheim Township placed 17th.
Two L-L runners finished in the top 100 in the Class 2A girls race: Pequea Valley freshman Aubrey Ressler (21:32) and Donegal sophomore Kathryn Fernald (22:07). In the team standings, District Three champ Annville-Cleona placed 13th and Donegal finished 17th.
Just two L-L runners competed in the Class 1A girls race, and both had a good showing, as Lancaster Mennonite junior Claire Thomas finished 34th (21:56) and Lancaster Catholic sophomore Eden Lin finished 53rd in 22:18.