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NEWVILLE — Sophia Toti likes the district course laid out at Big Spring High School.

It’s got a more scenic run on the back half, winding back through the woods one more time. Whether it put her in a better state of mind is up to her to decide, but Carlisle’s top runner enjoyed the pleasant views and a pleasant run, finishing fourth in the Mid-Penn Girls Cross Country Championships on Saturday afternoon.

“I like this one better because it’s downhill through the woods,” Toti said after her 19:17.6 time. “Change of scenery.”

She was pleased with her run and placed where she had hoped to finish entering the weekend.

While Northern’s Marlee Starliper put her stamp on yet another race with a dominant 26-second win over rival Taryn Parks of Greencastle-Antrim, Toti duked it out with the remaining field for podium spots.

She was in the Top 10 throughout most of the first mile and came out of the woods at Big Spring just the same.

It was more affirmation of a turnaround for the breakout local runner.

Last year it was Meg Lebo, who has battled a myriad of injuries and illnesses this season, running little, that led the Thundering Herd all season. And Toti suffered a late-season injury that zapped any potential postseason success.

It has been a near 180 this year. Toti has consistently hung in the Top 10 of weekend invitationals and feels healthy and confident. She dedicated her summer to a proper training regime for the first time in her career and is feeling the benefits.

“I’m feeling a lot more confident this season than last season,” she said.

“Before last year I didn’t really run over the summer ‘cause I wasn’t as seriously. I just moved here. And then it got more serious, so I trained over the summer this time.”

While she led the way, Carlisle’s depth behind her had a solid afternoon. Gretal Shank (20:43.7) and Sophie Salmone (20:46.5) finished 28th and 29th, respectively. The Herd’s pack of five runners were to run together for the first mile, Toti said, and then take off.

The result: all seven runners finished in the Top 70, including the five scoring runners finishing no worse than 33rd. Carlisle claimed third (122 points) behind dominant performances from State College (72) and Northern (86).

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Starliper back on track

Northern’s junior sensation has not been around much of the local running scene this summer. The Polar Bears have split up its team on a few occasions, so Saturday’s Mid-Penns was the first time seeing Starliper, the reigning District 3 and PIAA Class 3A champion, against her typical competition.

It was a textbook performance from the highly touted runner. Starliper and Parks, the 2016 PIAA champion, took a near-immediate lead and simply flew by the competition within the first mile.

But eventually Starliper even put significant distance on her closest competition. She finished in 17:37.1 to Parks’ 18:03.3.

It was an important run for Starliper, who said she has not felt herself for much of the season.

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She said she had an excellent summer of training and was in the “best shape of my life” as she upped her distances more than prior years. But when the school year started, she never scaled back her training.

It wound up leaving her tired for nearly every race and feeling doubtful.

“In these past two weeks or so since my last race [at the Paul Short Invitational], I was just talking with my parents a lot because I was just having a little bit of trouble with my confidence,” said Starliper, who realized during those talks it was time to pull back on her distance so she had enough energy left after school to run. “These past two days I’ve just felt a lot more at peace about it all.

“This morning, I woke up a little bit before my alarm and was kinda visualizing the race and just believing that I was gonna feel good and just really trusting in God that I was gonna feel like myself again.”

The P-Bears, who had all seven runners in the Top 50, are thinking state gold, Starliper said.

“Yeah, we are,” she said. “Again, it’s just so hard to know because the state’s so great, team-wise. But we’re just hoping that if everyone stays healthy, that yeah, we’re just hoping that we can have a shot at it.”

Firestone also Top 10

Cedar Cliff doesn’t have a full girls team this year, but Corinne Firestone is giving the Colts plenty to hope for.

She again had an impressive showing in a big meet, placing sixth in 19:30.4, less than a second behind fifth-place Olivia Wilson (Hershey). It was an improvement on Firestone’s eighth-place seeding, so the finish is what she wanted.

“I know that all of [my competitors in the Top 10] PRs are better than mine, but I think in the season I’ve beat a few of them, and I just knew that I just needed to stay near them to get where I wanted to be.”

She said she’s hoping to finish around 15th at the District 3 Class 3A championships in two weeks and make states.

Other top finishes

Cumberland Valley placed three in the Top 16: Jacqueline Reninger (13th, 20:03.1), Kate Vonah (14th, 20:03.6) and Brianna Wagner (16th, 20:05.8). The Eagles finished fifth with 154 points, well ahead of sixth-place Mechanicsburg.

Teammates that joined Starliper in the Top 30 included Katie Anthony (11th, 19:48.3), Allie Engle (21st, 20:24.3) and Madison Saltsburg (22nd, 20:26.9).

Hope McKenney led the Wildcats with an 18th-place finish when she crossed in 20:12.7.

The other local top finishers were Camp Hill’s Laura Sakol (20th, 20:22.4), Big Spring’s Gabrielle Reifsnyder (27th, 20:36.4) and Shippensburg’s Teddi Powell (30th, 20:47.2).

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Email Jake Adams at jadams@cumberlink.com or follow him on Twitter @jakeadams520

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