There is a tradition of excellence for the Central Cambria girls cross country team and Saturday was no exception at the District 6 Championships held at Indian Valley Elementary and Intermediate School.
The Red Devils won their eighth consecutive district title, but their first in Class A, which was added this year by the PIAA. Leading the way for Central Cambria was senior Alyssa Brandis, who finished in the top spot with a winning time of 18:57.
“Every year, the pressure grows and these guys have had the pressure on them all year,” Central Cambria coach Randy Wilson said. “Alyssa obviously was really keyed up for this race. She’s been looking forward to this, race all year. I think you could witness that in her run. She really has worked hard and earned it. The thing about her is, she’s so unassuming and is the consummate team leader.”
Wilson said that his team enters the district meet with a single objective – to win.
“If we don’t win, it’s a bad day for us and that’s really hard to run like that,” Wilson said. “If these girls didn’t win, everyone would be asking, ‘What happened?’ We don’t take anything for granted. We expect to win, but we don’t come here expecting someone is going to hand it to us.”
The other Red Devils team members include three freshmen, Hannah Swope (fifth), Jackie Bracken (sixth) and Jordan Hayward (eighth), along with senior Olivia Lipnic (13th), senior Katie Bracken (25th) and junior Laken Mckeel (35th).
Brandis, who is making her fourth trip to states, blew away the field, finishing a minute faster than second-place runner Hannah Fulton of Marion Center.
“I came here today and knew this was what I wanted and it’s a big honor to win this title,” Brandis said. “As soon as the gun goes off, I take off. Everyone kept telling me I was way out in front, but I kept pushing.
“The team worked so hard this summer and obviously this is what we were working for and it paid off.”
Penn Cambria gave the Devils plenty of competition on Saturday and also qualified for the state meet. Central Cambria had 33 points and the Panthers had 48.
“Team was the key for us today,” Penn Cambria coach Todd Niebauer said. “The whole way down through, those seven girls busted their butts and they’ve all worked hard. It was a team effort.”
The Panthers were led by sophomore Arlee Simendinger, who was fourth overall.
“I thought the course seemed easier this year,” Simendinger said. “I kind of knew the nooks and crannies of it.”
The other Penn Cambria runners were: Kaitlyn McGarry , Emily Roberts, Sara Clauto, Danielle Pompa, Sarah Roberts and Shelly Pompa.
Other area Class A qualifiers for the state meet include Allyson Kopera of Northern Cambria along with two Bishop McCort seniors – Mary Karcher and Melissa Winfield.
In the Class AA race, Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference teams finished in the top four spots, but only one, Somerset, earned a berth to the state meet next Saturday in Hershey.
The Golden Eagles finished with 56 points while Westmont Hilltop was second with 61. Bedford had 74 and Forest Hills finished with 92.
“The girls team lived in the shadow of the boys team all year,” said an emotional Somerset coach Tom Minnick. “They hadn’t won any invitationals all year, but just kept training and training and believed in themselves. Today, they ran as good a race as they possibly could. This was the first time we’ve ever won here.”
Golden Eagles freshman Haylee Rohrer was the top finisher overall with a time of 19:54.
“I just went out there and ran the best that I could,” Rohrer said. “The hill at the end was a little difficult, but you try to push yourself. I just ran with my heart and told myself I could do it.”
The other Somerset finishers were freshman Jane Woy (seventh); juniors Lexi Overcash (13th), Caroline Heckman (17th), Anna Chan (18th) and Chloe Battista (21st) along with junior Liz Brunelli (27th).
The other area Class AA qualifiers were Kacie Erb of Forest Hills, Emilee Fierro and Carrie Baker of Bedford, and Hannah Dorian of Westmont Hilltop.
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