When he woke up Saturday morning, Josh Hamilton didn’t see a top-five finish in his future at the IUP Crimson Hawk Cross Country Invitational.
Much to his surprise, that’s exactly what the United senior achieved to lead the Lions to a second-place team finish at the 11th annual running of the event at the IUP South Campus Course.
Hamilton posted a time of 18 minutes, 40 seconds to place fourth, teammate Gavin Cameron took sixth with a time of 19:05.70, and the United boys’ team claimed second place on the strength of its top four runners finishing in the top 18.
“Not at the start of today, no, I didn’t think top five,” Hamilton said. “I was just hoping to get top 10. And coming in No. 4, I was just really surprised. I was really happy with how I finished, too. ... It was mostly nerves, but then when I went out there, my legs felt good. I kept telling myself to keep going. I just felt good all around.”
“As they were calling the teams (during the awards ceremony), we thought we were gonna be third, and then they called us second,” Cameron said. “It was awesome.”
Also finishing in the top 10 in the boys’ competition were Purchase Line’s Sam Kauffman (seventh, 19:09.80) and Gabriel Crawford (19:23.40), pacing the Red Dragons to a third-place finish. Harrison Central won the team title.
Unlike Hamilton, Purchase Line’s Addaleia Beer wasn’t surprised with her finish.
The Red Dragons’ senior entered the girls’ race with high hopes, and even though she battled cramps throughout the race, Beer met her goal and finished third with a time of 22:03.20. She was the top finisher from Indiana County in either varsity race.
“It was definitely a goal I had today, and I accomplished that,” Beer said of her top-three finish. “Definitely wasn’t my best race, but it wasn’t a bad race. It felt tough today. I was cramping really bad in my calves through this race. ... It’s definitely a tough course, especially all the hills. They’re not big hills, but the slight inclines are what gets you.”
The Penns Manor girls’ team also earned a second-place team trophy despite missing one of its top runners. Joining Beer in the top 10, Allyson Ghiardi placed seventh (23:07.20) and Savanna Orner was ninth (23:14.80) for the Comets, who competed without the injured Kaitlynn Ghiardi.
“It feels pretty good,” Allyson Ghiardi said. “We came into this hoping that we would do good, and we didn’t know what the outcome would be because my sister got hurt, so we weren’t sure. She usually runs with me and pushes me, but it’s a good feeling.”
Rounding out Penns Manor’s top five runners were Alaina Grondin (21st, 24:27.90), Megan Schwartz (27th, 25:32.20) and Allison Antonio (40th, 28:09.90).
“We were very strong,” Orner said. “I knew we were going to do good. We were hoping to get that trophy, and we did, and it’s a good feeling. We’re very proud.”
Other area runners who finished in the top 20 on the girls’ side were Homer-Center freshman Molly Kosmack (14th, 23:49.50), United’s Laura Susick (18th, 23:57.90) and Purchase Line’s Tara Leamer (20th, 24:10.90).
On the boys’ side, not only did United claim second place, but the Lions also enjoyed their best meet of the season in Hamilton’s estimation.
“It was a good race today. I feel like my whole team, we just went out there and ran one of our best races this season so far,” Hamilton said. “I know me and my friend Gavin were just pushing each other the whole way, and that’s really what got us our places today.”
With the Heritage Conference Championships less than three weeks away, Saturday’s performance gives the United boys’ team confidence that the Lions can dethrone Marion Center as conference champions. The Stingers have claimed the conference title the past two seasons.
“We really want it this year,” Hamilton said. “We really just want to knock Marion Center off the top pedastal, and we want to be there at Heritage, so really, we’re just all pushing each other just to get to where we need to get to.”
Rounding out United’s top five runners were Jared Bloom (15th, 19:52.90), Jonathan Aloi (20:24.80) and Richard Plowman (37th, 21:54.80).
Other local runners who finished in the top 20 in the boys’ race were Purchase Line’s Aaron Wright (11th, 19:32.90), Homer-Center’s Wyatt McElheny (19th, 20:28.90), and Penns Manor’s Jared Bowman (20th, 20:32.40).