HERSHEY — There is no shame in placing fourth in the state. Regardless of sport. Regardless of expectations.
And when a team maintains that level of sustained success year after year, it should be celebrated.
The Marion Center girls’ team finished fourth in the Class 1A team standings at the PIAA Cross Country Championships on Saturday. With that result, the Stingers finished among the top four Class 1A schools in the state for the fifth time in the past six seasons, a stretch unmatched by any Indiana County school in the history of the state meet.
Although they might have had higher expectations, the Stingers left the Hershey Parkview Course with their heads held high.
“Essentially, our girls’ team has made the final four, if you will, five of the last six years, so we have to enjoy that,” Marion Center coach Chris Peters said. “Now, we didn’t go to finish fourth. We were hoping to get better than that, but the separation between second and fourth was five points.
“There’s a heck of a lot of talent out there, and we faced it, and we ran tight with them. We have to enjoy the accomplishment of being in that final four again in 2021.”
Sophomore Lydia Miller, who had a breakout year in her first varsity season, led Marion Center with a 24th-place finish in a time of 20 minutes and 46.2 seconds. Making her first appearance at the PIAA Championships, Miller returned home with a PIAA medal. The top 25 finishers in each race earn PIAA medalist status.
Meanwhile, in the boys’ Class 1A race, Marion Center junior Dillon Green also finished 24th with a time of 17:30.8 to give the Stingers a pair of state medalists.
“We’re really happy about that,” Peters said. “The night before, the three of us coaches got together and we talked about it. And we said, we could conceivably leave Hershey without anything. Or we could leave Hershey with a whole lot. And we ended up leaving Hershey with two medals for two great kids, so we’re very pleased with that.
“Marion Center has a great history of cross country, but truly, throughout our history, we have not had a whole lot of state medalists. So for Lydia and Dillon, those medals were a big accomplishment.”
Notre Dame Green Pond won the girls’ team title going away, with 117 points. Mohawk was second with 160 points, Montrose third with 161 and Marion Center fourth with 165.
“Second (place) would have put us on the podium, and that was our goal,” Peters said. “Three teams separated by five points — that’s a blink of an eye in a race that was this fast. We’re not looking back. We’re not beating ourselves up, but we certainly would have been happier to be on the podium than off.”
Prior to winning the PIAA title in 2018, the Marion Center girls finished third in 2016 and fourth in 2017. And in 2019, they took second. The only year since 2016 the Stingers didn’t send a full team to the PIAA meet was in 2020, when pandemic regulations cut the number of qualifiers in half.
A week before the PIAA meet, Green won the District 6 1A boys’ individual title on Oct. 30 to supplant Tim Barrett as the Marion Center boys’ No. 1 runner. Although it may have come as a surprise to those outside the Stingers’ program, it wasn’t a shock to the Marion Center coaches.
“Dillon’s been right there all year. He’s been right with Tim all year,” Peters said. “So it’s not really a big change. Dillon in the offseason, he ran the miles and he worked with coach (Nicole)
Dann, who of course is a sports dietitian to dial in his diet, and he is seeing the benefit of that.
“He also is a very patient racer. He doesn’t get overly excited. He stays calm. … He seizes opportunities and makes his moves. And in championship season, when the races are much faster, that really makes a difference.”
Rounding out the Marion Center girls’ top five runners were junior Reagan Ryen, who placed 38th (21:21.2), senior Lilly Ryer, who was 52nd (21:37.6), followed by freshmen Mikayla Gatskie (128th, 23:10.1) and Brynnley Haggerty (132nd, 23:14.0).
Also competing for the Stingers were juniors Maggie Hood (156th, 23:37.2) and Olivia Vehovic (206th, 25:13.6).
Penns Manor junior Savanna Orner, the lone other local runner in the girls’ 1A race, finished 115th (22:44.1) in her first PIAA meet.
Wrapping up the top five runners for the Marion Center boys were junior Tim Barrett (65th, 18:21.3), freshman John Ferraro III (213th, 20:18.9), sophomore Julian Sandoval (231st, 20:59.3) and freshman Rayden Long (250th, 22:38.3).
Freshmen Liam LaVan (255th, 24:31.7) and Ryan Dicken (258th, 28:59.9) also competed for the Stingers.
Other area boys competing in the 1A race were River Valley senior Frankie Benko (147th, 19:06.3), Purchase Line senior Aaron Wright (178th, 19:27.1) and United freshman Colton Henning (187th, 19:31.9).