HERSHEY — There are not many like Marlee Starliper.
Runners like her don’t come around often.
The Northern senior and freshly minted North Carolina State pledge carved her name in PIAA history, becoming just the fourth runner ever, boys or girls, to win three straight championships.
The others: Vincentian Academy’s Marianna Abdalah from 2013-15, Southmoreland’s Chris Dugan from 1994-96 and Manheim Township’s Craig Miller from 2003-05.
Starliper is only the sixth in PIAA history to win three state titles — Upper Dublin’s Kim Gallagher and Liberty’s Janelle Thomas won three in four years.
And Starliper did it in seemingly the only way she knows how — breaking the Hersheypark Parkview Cross Country course record with a mesmerizing 17:10.9. It also happens to be the new PIAA record, smashing State College’s Lynn Strauss’s mark of 17:19 set at faster Lehigh University course 39 years ago.
“I’m just so thankful,” she said minutes after her race. “I think about it not even so much as if I won this race or ran this time, but just how people knew me as a person. So I think it’s just so much fun getting a platform like this to meet new people and have an impact, so that’s what means the most to me.”
Two years ago, Starliper surprised herself with a 17:50 to win her first state championship, which came weeks after a brilliant race at Carlisle that was the nation’s top time for a stretch.
A year ago, she successfully defended that title with a 17:53 to conclude a trying junior season on the best note possible. It cemented her status as Pennsylvania’s top runner.
And this season felt more like a coronation. Barring injury, it wasn’t a matter of if she would win one last time but by how much.
The answer: 54.3 seconds over longtime rival and fellow senior Taryn Parks (Greencastle-Antrim).
“I was really overwhelmed with emotion when I crossed, which just surprised me,” Starliper said. “I took this race so easy, I just felt amazing today. I’ve never quite had a race like this, I don’t think, on let alone such a hard course.”
The race started unlike last year — when she and Parks flew out to an early lead right away — with Starliper third in a cluster of about five runners in the opening 500 meters. But by the time she reached her third mile, Starliper was comfortably ahead and looked strong.
“I knew that I wanted to go out easier the first mile, just so that then I could really work the second to try to even-split the race,” she said. “But then I think I had a pretty big negative split the last mile. … I just tried to really stay relaxed and focus on my form and have good posture all the way through to keep myself together.”
The Polar Bears were a PIAA Class 2A team championship contender this year, but missed by 15 points to South Fayette (62-77). It was the only minor blemish on a crisp fall morning.
Katie Anthony finished 17th in 19:40.2, Madison Saltzburg ran a 20:32.5 for 44th, followed two seconds later by Allie Engle in 47th, and Anslee Depasqua wrapped up the scoring with a 21:00.1 for 81st.
Starliper said she believed it was the second time the program claimed a state medal, this one silver. It’s her first team state medal in four years.
“It definitely hurts because it’s one of those things where it’s so close,” she said. “[But] I’m just glad that we’re at least up on that podium and coming away with some hardware.”
Starliper will run regional and national races in the coming weeks before turning her attention to the indoor track and field season. After that she’ll have one more crack at 3200 or 1600 state gold, or perhaps both if she attempts the distance double again.
But for now, none of that matters.
“I’m just so thankful,” she said, “‘cause this was I think the best end to running for Northern, the best end to a senior year I could have.”
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