2020 PIAA Cross Country Championships

Graham Thomas of Penn Manor runs to the finish line in a Class 3A boys heat race in the PIAA cross country championships at the Parkview cross country course in Hershey on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020.

HERSHEY — As Graham Thomas has been making a name for himself on the cross country scene the last two years, the Penn Manor runner has been hearing about Dave Henry. Until this fall, Henry was considered the best Penn Manor boys runner in program history.

Then Thomas won this year’s Lancaster-Lebanon League boys championship race, matching a feat Henry had accomplished in 1980. A week ago, Thomas won the District 3-3A championship race, becoming the first Comets’ boys runner to do so since Henry in 1981.

On Saturday at Hershey’s Parkview course, Thomas finally surpassed Henry by placing third at the PIAA Class 3A race. As a result, Thomas now holds the new program-best finish at states, topping the fourth-place finish by Henry in 1981.

“I always felt I was second to Dave Henry in just about everything,” Thomas said afterward. “So to come in and finally beat him. ...nothing against him. It’s nice to have that competition. ...I got an email from him this past week just encouraging me. I never met him in person. But to get that encouragement from a guy like that was really cool.”

Thomas was also the top finisher among 21 Lancaster-Lebanon League runners that competed in Saturday’s PIAA championship events. In all, nine L-L runners earned a top-25 medal on a sunny and unseasonably warm November day, with temperatures in the upper-60s.

The conditions led to many runners being unable finish, including McCaskey senior Arielle Breuninger, who was the L-L’s top finisher a week ago in the District 3-3A girls race. It also contributed to Lampeter-Strasburg freshman Colin Whitaker collapsing three times in the home-stretch.

Additionally, the day’s format was a bit different than years as the Class 3A, 2A and 1A boys and girls classifications were each separated into four separate heats, a setup purposely put forth by the PIAA to mitigate the potential spread of the coronavirus.

Here’s a recap of the day’s events for L-L runners...

Class 3A boys: Penn Manor coach Bob Ulmer said earlier this season that Thomas’ speciality isn’t in speed but endurance. As a result, Thomas has often won races by pulling ahead of everyone else around the two-mile mark, avoiding any sprint-to-the-end finishes. For the first time all season, Thomas found himself with a runner on his heels an entire race. Hatboro-Horsham senior Devon Comber finally passed Thomas with about 800 meters to go and pulled away to finish about four seconds ahead. Thomas crossed the end-line in 16 minutes, 14 seconds. It turned out to be the third-fastest time, behind the winning time of 16:07 put up by State College’s Brady Bigger.

“I could feel him (Comber) on my heels,” Thomas said. “I haven’t had a guy stick on my heels for awhile. It was good. I sort of ran scared and knew he was coming. I could prepare for what was coming. He got me to run faster. He pushed me hard.”

Also receiving 3A boys medals were McCaskey senior Stephen Schousen (ninth, 16:40), Manheim Township junior Tyler Stevens (20th, 16:50), Hempfield sophomore Aidan Hodge (21st, 16:50) and senior Evan Eshleman (23rd, 16:55).

The Hempfield boys team, which won the L-L and District 3-3A team titles earlier this season, placed fourth as a team.

Class 3A girls: Ephrata senior Alyssa Fedorshak, this year’s L-L girls champ who placed fifth at districts, had the best time among L-L runners in the PIAA Class 3A girls race, placing 13th in 19:49. She placed fourth in her heat, partially a result of the 3A girls races going out a bit slow after having heard about how previous girls races were going out too fast and leading to runners being exhausted by the end. As a result, Fedorshak hung back at the start and then picked off runners ahead of her one-by-one.

“I remember the last mile, this medal was flashing through my head 24/7,” Fedorshak said while holding her state medal. “One step quicker will get you closer to that medal. I’ve desired this medal since I was a freshman. I finally got it.”

Warwick senior Anna Martin also picked up a medal by placing 21st with a time of 20:02.

Class 2A boys: Whitaker, the L-S freshman who placed third at last week’s District 3-2A boys race, had the 12th-fastest time (17:18) at Saturday’s state 2A boys classification to pick up his first state medal. Whitaker collapsed twice in the final 50 meters, but got back on his feet and eventually fell again as he crossed the finish line. He was finally recovered by the time of the 2A boys medal ceremony about an hour later.

“I feel better now,” Whitaker said. “I was just trying to hold on (at the finish). I felt myself leaning through. I just had to keep going. I was just trying to finish to get across the line."

Class 1A girls: Annville-Cleona senior Braetan Peters, the District 3-1A girls champion, earned a state medal by placing 21st in the PIAA 1A girls classification, with a time of 21:35.

“It went OK,” Peters said. “I wasn’t feeling quite my best. In the beginning I felt like I went out strong. I got a little boxed in so I had to cut around a bit. …just wasn’t as good as I was hoping for. ...I’m just glad we were able to get here. From the beginning of the season, I didn’t know if they’d have districts or states so I’m just grateful to be here.”

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