A healthy rivalry continued to blossom between Homer-Center’s Heather Paynter and Marion Center’s Hannah Fulton in Thursday’s Indiana County Cross Country Invitational at IUP’s South Campus course.
Paynter, a junior and the Wildcats’ lone girls’ competitor, vindicated a second-place finish to Fulton last year and outlasted the senior by 21 seconds to claim her first county title.
Indiana had six runners place in the top 15 in the girls’ race, including Kacey Raible, who finished third, and the Indians took the team title for the third time in four years.
For the second straight season on the boys’ side, Indiana seniors Adam Lenze and Ryan Louther placed first and second, respectively, although the Indians came up a bit short of winning their fourth straight boys’ team title.
With Ryan Horchar spearheading his team’s workmanlike effort with a fourth-place finish, five Bobcats placed in the top 20, helping Blairsville edge the Indians for the team crown.
The Bobcats finished second to the Indians in 2012 and 2011 and placed third in 2010.
“Our girls always run as a pack from the third runner back, and they’ve done exceptionally well. We were hoping for (personal records) and I think absolutely every one of them got it today,” Indiana coach Lisa Kinter said. “For the boys, it just comes down to the point that you have to have five strong, and Blairsville, they have that little pack that breaks up my number three from my numbers four and five, and that’s all you need to win.”
Blairsville coach Dan Cunkelman agreed with Kinter, saying this about his No. 4 and No. 5 runners, Derek Rocks and Ayrton Lamantia, who placed 12th and 20th, respectively: “It was our fourth and fifth men who made the difference. Our fourth man ran a really good race today to get a real low score, and our fifth man (Ayrton Lamantia), stepped up and surprised a lot of people. That’s what made the difference for us … those two fourth and fifth runners.”
Paynter, who led for roughly the first two miles of last year’s race before succumbing to a strong push from Fulton in the last mile, made sure that a similar lapse didn’t happen late in this year’s event. Instead, Paynter saved her most spirited burst for the last mile, a steady incline up Rose Street that she tackled with confidence, even with Fulton on her heels.
But with Fulton safely in her rearview, Paynter coasted across the finish line to win in 20 minutes, 41 seconds. Paynter shaved 41 seconds off her second-place time from last year.
“I kind of felt her on me at times, but I just kept going and didn’t stop,” Paynter said. “It feels really good. It’s an awesome feeling, and I felt like I needed to do this … not only for me but for my coaches and my school.”
A humble Fulton suitably held her head high, despite finishing 22 seconds behind her winning time of 20:40 from last year.
“Some days she has it and some days I have it,” Fulton said of Paynter. “It’s just nice having someone close enough to really compete with like her.”
Melanie Zolocsik came in 44 seconds behind Raible (21:16) and placed fifth to help guide the Indiana girls’ team. Taylor Thomas (22:25) finished seventh, Bethany Balencic (22:53) took 11th, Jessie Lenze (23:01) placed 12th, and Teresa Roth (23:05) came in 13th.
“They really run in packs,” Kinter said. “In fact, one of my girls caught up to another one of my girls and said, ‘Hey, you’ve got to pick it up. We need to stay on pace.’ My senior Beth (Balencic) did that, and that kind of stuff really keeps them moving.”
Marion Center’s Taya Whitfield (21:51) took fourth, United’s Ryleigh Ludwig (22:16) placed sixth, Blairsville’s Allyson Smathers (22:38) finished eighth, Blairsville’s Taylor Koches (22:45) took ninth, and United’s Eden Bloom (22:51) came in 10th.
Lenze and Louther each shaved seconds off their impressive first- and second-place times from last year. Lenze dashed across the finish line 11 seconds ahead of last year’s winning time at 17:24, and Louther followed with a 17:39, nine seconds better than his mark from 2012.
“I definitely dreamed about this. I really, really wanted to win today,” Lenze said. “I was very much expecting me and Ryan to finish first and second, but I didn’t know what order it would be. But we’ve both been running our hardest for this, and we’re really pleased with how it turned out.”
Louther admitted that the push from Penns Manor’s J.T. Horwat (17:42), who finished third, attributed to his nine-second time trim.
“I imagined it would be us two up front, but I wasn’t necessarily ready for the Penns Manor guy,” Louther said. “He was right on my heels the whole time, until we came out of the woods for the last time with a few hundred yards to go. That’s when I finally started pulling away.”
In addition to Ryan Horchar, Rocks and Lamantia, Blairsville’s remaining top-five runners were seventh- and 11th-place finishers Alex Horchar (18:15) and Austin McLean (18:41).
“It’s nice because we’ve kind of been going back and forth with Indiana year to year,” Cunkelman said. “They’ve beat us the last few years, but our kids were fired up this year, and we really wanted to beat Indiana. That was definitely a big part of their motivation to run well today, and they followed through.”
Indiana’s Sam Lenze (18:05) finished fifth, Kiski School’s Shon Cagungun (18:07) took sixth, Marion Center’s Kyle Anderson (18:21) placed eighth, Kiski School’s Richard Gremillion (18:30) came in ninth, and Purchase Line’s Taylor Antisdel (18:36) finished 10th.