KUTZTOWN — Virtually all the news was good Saturday as it concerned the Carlisle cross country program.
The Thundering Herd made their first-ever appearance at the PTXC Invitational a successful one, garnering an individual and team championship in the middle school race, an individual championship in the boys varsity race, and a second-place finish in the team standings in the boys varsity division.
All of that gave the green-and-white contingent plenty of reason to celebrate on a brutally hot and humid morning at Kutztown University’s Farm Course, but the last of those also convinced the Herd that there is still ample room to improve during an already outstanding 2016 campaign.
“We were just looking to come compete and try and grab a win,” Carlisle senior Noah Affolder said. “We were four points from that, so we’re a little disappointed, but this early in the season it really allows us time to push forward and have a goal to shoot after. Sometimes it’s better to get second than first. We’re definitely motivated and ready to keep pushing harder.”
Affolder was at the forefront of the Carlisle effort, claiming first among the 208 finishers in the Boys Gold Race. The senior was the pacesetter from the start, and only Loudoun Valley, Virginia, junior Peter Morris hung within striking distance as the race crossed the halfway point. Affolder was all alone by the final 500 meters, and he finished in 15:58.10 to become the only runner of the day to break the 16-minute mark.
The Herd’s standard bearer was followed in short order by teammates Sam Affolder (fifth, 16:07.50) and Isaac Kole (11th, 16:44.10), and Jack Wisner and Tyler Hallman also added top-45 finishes. The overall performance was just barely bested by Loudoun Valley, which placed five runners within the top 30.
“You can never really know how fast you’re going to run,” Noah Affolder said. “It’s all about the pace. I was going to go after the course record today, but when it’s this hot and humid there’s no way. I was just trying to get that win for the team.”
Another strong team finish went to Mechanicsburg, which took sixth after placing a pair of runners in the top 10. Junior Morgan Cupp, who finished an area-best 13th a year ago at PTXC, clocked a 16:34.40 to place eighth. He spent much of the latter portion of the race in the company of teammate Alex Tomasko, who came in ninth with a 16:35.50.
“We didn’t plan on that, but I’m happy it worked that way,” Cupp said. “We pushed each other. It’s going to be beneficial throughout the season to have someone right there with me that I can run with every day.”
Tomasko’s top-10 finish represented a significant improvement for the senior, who placed 20th in 2015. He shaved roughly 16 seconds off his previous best on the Farm Course.
“It’s gratifying, because usually I’m only decent to start the cross country season,” Tomasko said. “To start off like this is a good feeling considering the tough competition that we have ahead.”
The Wildcats finished one spot behind Cumberland Valley, which got top-15 finishes from seniors Yahya Soliman and Josh Higgins. Three other area boys programs — Red Land, Cedar Cliff and Trinity — participated in the Blue Race, where Red Land senior Nate Romberger clocked a 16:56.41 to finish second in the field of 147 runners.
On the girls’ side, Carlisle placed sixth among 20 teams to lead the area contingent in the Gold Race. Sophomore Gracen Cabral’s time of 21:31.70 topped the Herd, whose strength lay in their depth — Carlisle placed five runners between 33rd and 49th. Cumberland Valley was ninth in the team standings and was paced by senior Marie Rulapaugh, who finished in 21:15.97 to place 26th and lead all area finishers. The girls’ Blue Race included a top-10 finish by Cedar Cliff freshman Corinne Firestone, who clocked a 21:28.35.
Carlisle’s Andrew Booth won the 2.5K Middle School Race in a time of 8:46.42. Dylan Young placed third.