NEWVILLE — Morgan Cupp crossed in 15:58.7, more than 14 seconds better than State College’s Mitchell Etter.
And while the Mechanicsburg senior was certainly proud of his first Mid-Penn Cross Country Championship title, Cupp has bigger fish to fry: District 3 Class 3A gold and another trip for the Wildcats to Hershey for the PIAA championships.
“It feels good,” Cupp said of his gold Saturday at Big Spring High School. “My priority’s still districts, so I didn’t want to get too worked up about it. But, yeah, it felt good and I felt pretty strong today.”
Cupp hung inside the Top 8 a few hundred meters into the race. Somewhere in the woods he finished off the last pass of his competition. And by the time he got back out on the open field over the last few hundred meters he had forged a big enough gap over the rest of the field that he could simply focus on staying with his quick pace.
“I run my best races when I’m just going hard the whole time,” said Cupp, who also tried to keep some mental notes on the course ahead of the District 3 championships, back at Big Spring on Oct. 28. “So I purposefully put myself in a position where I really had to go fast at the end.”
Cupp’s performance paced a strong performance from the top of the Wildcats’ roster. Junior Brandan Knepper finished third in 16:18.8 and Michael Vigliano was seventh in 16:38.1.
There were some struggles among the back half of the starting seven, which didn’t place another runner inside the top 50. Mechanicsburg finished third with 126 points, behind Carlisle’s 76 and State College’s 101.
The Thundering Herd got a much better distribution of their top five scores. Junior Jack Wisner finished ninth (16:40.4) on an admittedly off day, while sophomore Casey Padgett’s 16:45 was good for 11th. Seniors Cade Rush (16:51.1) and Drew Barefield (16:52.1) came in 13th and 14th, with Trent Balestri 29th (17:14).
“My performance personally wasn’t the greatest, but I was really happy with everyone else, seeing that they were coming up on me and stuff,” Wisner said after his cool-down lap. “I was kind of hoping they would catch me, just knowing I can do better later on.”
The Herd were in the midst of a busy weekend. Friday featured a small ceremony at halftime of the football game honoring the 2017 PIAA Class 3A Boys Track & Field champions.
Sam Affolder, now at Loudoun Valley (Virginia) made the 100-mile trek north to be there with his former teammates, then stayed the night at Wisner’s house. The two became fast friends — Wisner said he misses the weekly Nerf gun battles the team had last year — and used the night to catch up about their seasons, school and whatever else high school underclassmen are wont to talk and laugh about.
Saturday night was also the Carlisle Homecoming dance. Many on the cross country team were looking to hustle back home to get ready, including the girls, who disappeared in a flash after the medal ceremony for crucial hair appointments.
That group was led by junior Meg Lebo, whose 19:11.1 was good for fourth. Teammates Gracen Cabral (19:31.9) and Sophia Toti (19:33.3) finished 7-8, sparking a third-place team finish (96 points). State College won with 75 points, followed by Hershey’s 91.
A notable absence from the girls race was the prohibitive favorite, Northern’s Marlee Starliper. The sophomore, two weeks removed from an electrifying 16:50 at Carlisle, which became the fastest time in the country, said she had some discomfort in her legs.
She was confident she would feel 100 percent in a few days and felt she could’ve run if necessary. But the coaching staff preferred to play it cautious ahead of more important objectives: District 3 and PIAA gold.
In her stead, Greencastle-Antrim’s Taryn Parks overcame approximately a 200-meter gap on the back stretch to beat Chambersburg senior Abby Yourkavitch by half a second. The sophomore out-kicked the Trojan in the last few feet with a 18:26.97.
Other locals in the Top 25 in the boys race were Cumberland Valley’s Andrew Brown (10th, 16:44.0), East Pennsboro’s Caeden Smith (19th, 17:01.4) and Big Spring’s Ishmael Kirkwood (20th, 17:01.5.
In the girls race: Big Spring’s Samantha Crouse (11th, 19:49.7), Boiling Springs’ Elaina Clancy (13th, 19:57.4), Cedar Cliff’s Corrine Firestone (15th, 20:05.6), Big Spring’s Gabrielle Reifsnyder (16th, 20:09.8) and Red Land’s Emily Neff (23rd, 20:28.3).