For first time in 30 years, no NTL medalists at state XC.

By: Chris Manning | Towanda Daily Review | November 5, 2017


HERSHEY — For the first time since 1986, no NTL runner — boy or girl — took home a medal from the PIAA Cross-country Championships Saturday.

Wyalusing's Alex Patton (17:22) came closest out of the nine local runners in the Class A boys' race, taking 30th overall.

He was 11 seconds from 25th, and it was a big improvement on his race last year where he finished 70th.

"I felt pretty good," said Patton. "I did what I wanted to do today and it worked."

Last year, Patton went out too fast and the hills in the middle of the race worked over his legs.

This year the sophomore used a more conservative approach for the first mile.

"I told Kevin (Heeman) last night we have to stay back," explained Patton. "Last year, I got caught right up in the middle and it killed me. My first mile was right where I wanted it to be and I just pushed from there."

Patton and Heeman were running in the back half of the race at the mile mark, but with a little more than 1200 to go, Patton had worked his way into the top 50. This time, the hills worked in his favor.

"That was my plan," he said about using the hills to pass the other runners. "People start off really fast because everybody else does, so they try to do the hills, too, and it just kills them. Coach, Kevin and I were all talking about it, every minute up until the race."

The 40-place improvement left Patton feeling good and in position to make a run for the medals in 2018.

"My time was pretty close to where I wanted it to be so I was happy about that," he said. "This off season I'm going to be training all the way up until track and from track until cross-country. I want to see what that does for me."

His teammate Heeman didn't finish quite as well in his first trip to states. The junior was 70th in 17:55.

"I felt I could have done better honestly," he said, a sentiment echoed by several runners on Saturday. "Coming in around 17:50 — I thought that I would be able to keep it at a 17:10 pace and I was unable to do that."

If he ran that pace, it would have gotten him a state medal.

Like every other race this season, Heeman and Patton ran together at the start.

"He told me ‘don't let the other kids who blast out pull us and get us off pace,'" Heeman explained. "We stayed back at the beginning. We were planning on working up, but he worked up a lot and today I wasn't able to stay with him. He's a heck of a competitor."

Much like Patton, Heeman is treating this as a practice run of sorts for next season.

"I feel that, now that I've run the course, I know how people go off and start," said Heeman.

Next year, the two hope to have some company.

The Rams took second at the district meet last week, so Patton and Heeman are hoping they can find the missing pieces to take first next year and have the whole team compete at Hershey.

"We were really close this year to Mt. Carmel, and I think we get some other kids from schools and kids that really try hard, I think we can have a really good team next year," said Patton.

"I'd love to bring the team down," added Heeman.

NEB's Zak Smith and Wellsboro's Aidan Perry were hoping for better finishes as well.

Smith (17:46) took 55th while Perry (17:51) was 64th.

"I am a little disappointed. My main goal was to just get faster from last year and maybe improve my place from last year," said Smith.

Last year, Smith was 37th in 17:31, a 20-second improvement from districts.

"I thought that that maybe if I got faster from districts to states this year, like I did last year, then maybe I could get closer to a medal," he explained.

Smith was sitting dead center of the race in a thick pack at 1200 meters.

"I went out pretty conservative just to try to get down a good pace for the whole race, not just changing my miles," said Smith.

Smith made up ground over the hills, but was too far away too late in the race to make a final push for a medal.

"It's not exactly what I wanted," he said.

This is the first time Smith has run down here as an individual, having gone with NEB as a team the last two years.

"It was really weird without the team," he said. "I think it would be even better with them, but it was good experience. I would like to bring some of that knowledge next year."

Perry was 55th with a time of 17:45 in 2016.

"I could have done better," he said.

He got stuck at the start and didn't get out like he normally does.

"I got kind of pushed a little bit and my first mile wasn't as fast as I wanted," he said. "I was all the way back at 5:20. I was hoping for low teens, high single digits."

Perry tried to pick it up after that.

"I just knew I had to go faster," he said. "For a little bit I did, and I think I made up some lost time."

Perry's hoping that the third time is the charm next fall.

"I think this is very good experience for next year," he said.

On the girls' side, Wyalusing's Hannah Corson came the closest to the medals and there is a good chance she would have gotten one, except for some bad luck.

Early in the race, Corson fell going down a hill and ultimately finished 38th in 20:48.

"When I fell, I felt my hip pop, but it didn't hurt right then so I just kept running," explained Corson. "But then during the last hill before the flat part by the sewer plant, I felt it pop again and that's when it started to hurt. I was just glad I could make it through the last mile to the finish."

She was running 28th with about 1200 meters to go before falling back.

It was a tough finish for the senior.

"Overall I think my season went quite well," said an emotional Corson. "I had an amazing PR in the beginning. I am disappointed about today, but it was a good season."

NEB's Karli Moyer (21:22) was 67th on the day.

"Tough, but it was a good run," said Moyer.

Moyer finished her career as a 4-time state qualifier.

"It's unbelievable," she said. "That's all I could ever ask for."