Lady Devils look to reclaim top spot

The Central Cambria High School girls cross country team has set a high standard over the last two decades.

The Lady Devils have won District 6 titles in 15 of the last 18 seasons with Randy Wilson as head coach. Ironically, though, they were edged out in last year’s District 6 Class 2A meet by Forest Hills.

They’ll get the chance to knock off the defending champs when the 2018 District 6 Championships will be held beginning at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Indian Valley Elementary Center in Reedsville.

“The district races are always very competitive,” Wilson said.

The Lady Devils recently dominated the Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference Championship Meet in which Forest Hills also competed. The Lady Devils are bolstered by senior Paige Wess and freshman Stella Kuntz but also have a lot of depth with freshmen Faith Wilson and Abigail Walwro, senior Kacy McKeel and sophomore Ella Vrabel.

Only the top team in 2A will advance to the state championships on Nov. 3 in Hershey. The top five individuals who are not members of the winning team will also qualify for states.

The same goes for Class 2A boys and both the Class 3A boys and girls.

In 2A boys, Central Cambria, which has won seven district titles in the last 18 years including last season, will be in the mix for the team title, along with Tyrone, Juniata, Forest Hills and Bellefonte. The Red Devils’ top runners are juniors Ike Haycisak and Nathan Kuntz, and senior Ohm Vyas.

Tyrone senior Zach Kohler, last year’s 2A third-place finisher, should be among the first individuals to cross the finish line. Bedford sophomore Van May, who won the District 5 meet last year, will be competing in District 6 this year and will be a strong contender. Defending champ Garrett Baublitz returns for Juniata.

State College and Mifflin County are expected to do well in Class 3A boys.

“We are hoping to have at least one young man advance (in 3A),” Altoona boys coach Lee Baranik said. “Both freshman Gabe Ebersole and junior Brayden Henninger have a shot, so does Ben Love of Hollidaysburg.”

In 3A girls, Hollidaysburg senior Sierra McClain will be trying to reach states for the first time. She was 17th last year. Altoona’s chance for a state qualifier rests with freshman Mackenzie Kelley.

“As for our team placing, our No. 2 and 3 girls have been an average of 30 seconds or better behind Kelley,” Altoona coach Tabitha Quinn said. “The race is really going to be dependent upon our No. 4 and definitely No. 5 girls to run closer as a pack within their personal bests.”

In Class 1A, two teams and 10 other individuals qualify for states. Area teams will have a tough time securing a spot among the top two, but a few girls figure to be among the top finishers.

Cambria Heights senior Quinn McElhenny qualified for the state meet last year and should be among the top finishers. Bellwood-Antis senior Jenna Bartlett just missed out on qualifying last year and is expected to be in the mix again this year. Portage freshman Lauren Shaffer has stood out during the regular season and could make a big splash in her first district meet.

“Everyone strives to be running their very best at the end of the season,” Portage coach Lance Hudak said. “Lauren is beginning to do so, both physically and mentally. There are a number of excellent returning harriers in Single-A. If Lauren runs her race on Saturday, she can push this strong field and contend for a district title.”

The Class 3A boys will kick things off at 10 a.m., followed by the 3A girls, 2A boys, 2A girls, 1A boys and 1A girls. The event is back in Reedsville after several years of being held at Forest Hills Middle School in Sidman.

“I think both courses are excellent, fan-friendly courses,” Wilson said. “Both are courses that don’t beat our athletes up the week before states. Obviously, it was nice running right down the road at Forest Hills, and Penn State having a home (football) game that same day does present issues for teams travelling in from the west.”