The top two finishers in the boys and girls Lancaster-Lebanon League cross country championship races at Ephrata on Tuesday were the same as a year ago.
But there was a change at the top for the boys, as Lampeter-Strasburg junior Colin Whitaker nabbed the winning time in 15 minutes, 49.9 seconds, finishing about 10 seconds in front of runner-up Aidan Hodge of Hempfield.
“He (Hodge) has beaten me a lot the past few years,” Whitaker said. “It means a lot to come out and compete with him.”
Whitaker is believed to be the first L-S runner, boys or girls, to win the league cross country championship. His time was the fastest league championship-winning performance in seven years - McCaskey’s Nathan Henderson won it in 2015 in 15:47, though the current Ephrata course was altered slightly beginning in 2017.
Meanwhile, the girls race was even more competitive, with the top-three girls finishing within seven seconds of each other: McCaskey junior Isabella Shertzer (first, 19:26), Manheim Township sophomore Elena Barrall (second, 19:29) and McCaskey junior Gabrielle Thiry (third, 19:33).
Shertzer was 21 seconds faster than her league championship performance from a year earlier. She is the first back-to-back league girls winner since Cocalico’s Jamie Zamrin won it three years in a row from 2015 through 2017.
“Recently I’ve been working on the mental part of it,” Shertzer said. “How I think about the race, how I prepare for it. It’s helped me become better this year.”
Boys: Whitaker led Hodge and Hempfield’s Joseph Fahrney (third place, 16:07) for most of the boys race, with Whitaker continuing to add distance throughout.
“I noticed about a mile-and-a-half I put a little distance on them,” Whitaker said. “That was the plan. Then I got to around the second time going around the first flag, I had a gap of about 20 to 30 meters. I knew at that point I can’t let them get close back or it gives them a little bit of hope. I kept going.”
The Black Knights won the L-L boys team crown with 37 points to runner-up Manheim Township’s 59 points. It’s the second year in a row the Black Knights beat the Blue Streaks for both the L-L Section One and league championship crowns.
Hempfield had six runners in the top 20. Three of them are seniors, including Hodge and Fahrney.
“The seniors we have this year, they have been together since they were freshmen,” Hempfield coach Curt Rogers said. “It shows. They pick it up, carry it through, now the younger guys are getting the same attitude.”
Girls: After finishing Nos. 1-2 in the L-L Section One girls standings in the regular season, Manheim Township and Cedar Crest did so again Tuesday, with the Streaks’ 74 points to the runner-up Falcons’ 107 points. Manheim Township has now won back-to-back league crowns. Though, this year’s crown came with a little bit more adversity.
Ava Shirk, a top-two runner for the Blue Streaks, had been out with an injury since competing in the season-opener Sept. 6. Shirk returned Tuesday and was Manheim Township’s sixth finisher. The top five teammates in front of Shirk are all juniors, sophomores or freshmen.
“They were the ones I kept emphasizing for us to get to where we want to be, those girls have to keep developing faster,” Manheim Township coach Kevin Stover said.
For much of the race, a group of seven runners were near the front of the pack. The trio of Shertzer, Barrall and Thiry pulled away over the last mile.
“(Shertzer) has won multiple league (track & field) titles in the 800 run,” McCaskey coach Derek Jennings said. “Now she has won multiple league titles in cross country. It shows her range and how tough she is. When push comes to shove and winning is on the line, it’s hard not to bet on her.”