The outcome may have been different, but the attitude remained the same for members of the Sewickley Academy boys cross country team following the PIAA championships.
After winning the school’s first WPIAL cross country championship in the Class A boys race Oct. 23 at Cooper’s Lake Campground in Slippery Rock, the Panthers finished second to Winchester Thurston on Saturday at the state meet held at Parkview Cross Country Course in Hershey.
Despite it being the program’s first trip to the PIAA championship as a team, the pressure the boys were facing was nothing compared to what they felt leading up to the WPIAL championship, coach Derek Chimner said.
“They just went out and ran with as much freedom as they could,” he said. “It was nice to see them just relax and be able to enjoy themselves at Hershey. There wasn’t anyone saying they were nervous. Everyone understood that we’ve had three months of preparation and all the training from the week-and-a-half leading up to the race.”
The Panthers finished ahead of Winchester Thurston at the WPIAL championship, but the Bears were able to flip the script at the state meet thanks to the return of sophomore Shaun Hay from an injury that prevented him from racing for most of the season. Hay finished 19th in team scoring to help Winchester Thurston to a score of 65, ahead of the Panthers’ total of 111.
Chimner knew his team would have a tougher time of out-racing the Bears’ full squad, he said.
“We can only run the race that we can with the kids that we have,” Chimner said. “I was still pretty happy with the outcome. If it was a two-point loss or a five-point loss, we probably would have been more upset, but we lost by 50. There wasn’t anything we could have really done.”
The boys showed improvement between the two championships.
The top five runners combined for a time of 1 hour, 27 minutes and 11 seconds Saturday after a time of 1:28:24 at the WPIAL meet. Each of the Panthers’ top-five finishers improved on his time from the WPIAL meet, with sophomores Griffin Mackey (16:09) and Ben Clouse (17:46 and senior Reils O’Neill (17:50) all finishing in a personal record time.
Mackey’s race was especially impressive, as he cut 41 seconds off his previous time to finish as the top runner from the WPIAL and third overall among Class A boys.
“He had a fantastic race,” Chimner said. “He trusted himself. He trusted his body. We had a strategy for him going in, but he said, ‘I think i can do this. I think I can hang with the big guys and keep my pace all three miles.’ ”
After meddling for the first time at the WPIAL championship, senior Pieter Hansen finished 27th overall, just shy of the medal stand.
“Pieter didn’t realize where he was in the placing, that he was two out from being a medalist,” Chimner said. “We tried to convey to him as he was running, but there was too much noise for him to hear. He was still very content with it being his first time at Hershey.”
While a state championship would have cemented the boys as one of the best teams in Sewickley Academy sports history, they’re excited enough to be able to hang a WPIAL championship banner in the school’s gymnasium, Chimner said.
“It’s going to be tough at our banquet,” Chimner said. “It didn’t hit me as a coach until right before we were having our talk in the huddle five minutes before the race that this was the last time I’d be able to be with this group of kids.”