Last Thursday, the Midwestern Athletic Conference Cross Country Championship meet took place on the switchback-laden trails of Brush Creek.
The boys' race was a mixed stampede with ramifications for the WPIAL championship meet.
Mars Area was the overall team winner, staving off Moon by two points, 96-98. But the race was suspenseful for several teams.
Beaver Area's Marshall Bruce had been instructed by coach Steve Goldcamp to stay close to the favored competitors: Moon's Chris Culley, Quaker Valley's Roy Hadfield, Laurel's Ethan Wilson and Freedom Area's Jake De-Weese. So Bruce stayed close to the front pack.
After 2 miles, the stalemate began to break. Culley had given up much of his strength in a stretch known as "the Desert," and DeWeese began to pull away. Bruce had stayed close as instructed, but he knew he was capable of more. With about 600 meters to go, the battle began.
Bruce, DeWeese and Wilson left it all in the kick as coaches and spectators cheered them on. But in the end it was Bruce with the win.
"Marshall was right with [DeWeese and Wilson] and got them at the end," said Goldcamp. "It was a massive kick, really -- in the last 40 yards."
Bruce's time was 16:56.
DeWeese (16:57) came in second and Wilson (17:05) was third but the team competition was still highly intense.
Moon's Culley came in fourth, but his team pack was broken. Some 35-40 places behind, Moon sophomore Matt Peters was regaining lost ground. He'd lost the chip timer in his shoe about 2 miles in.
"I told him the team needed him, so he refocused," recalled Moon assistant coach Larry Covelli.
Peters managed to catch approximately six runners before crossing the line.
But the only team with more than one runner in the top 10 was Mars. The Planets' Christopher Georgiadis and Scott Slaney had run solidly at the seventh and eighth overall spots. Frankie Petrini and Nathan Mrdjenovich finished 20th and 21st, but they'd overcome roughly 18 spots in 2 miles to get there. The Mars team won like a sleeper in a drag race.
"We were actually shocked that we won it, because our third guy, Brendan Knox, did not run well at all and finished as our sixth guy," said Mars coach Dale Boring.
Boring noted that if Knox had finished where he normally finishes in relation to his teammates, the Planets' would have had about a 52-second gap between their No.1 and No.4 runners.
"I think the MAC meet was a very good representation of the WPIAL meet," Boring added. "There were a lot of good runners but there were not a lot of front runners."
In other words, the mixed nature of the leading pack made for good competition.
Furthermore, the schools from which many MAC runners hailed will be competing head-to-head for the WPIAL Class AA title. The MAC comprises schools from the western and to some degree northern reaches of the WPIAL area. Due to enrollment numbers at those schools, many will compete in Class AA at next week's WPIAL championship meet. Although, some have only been added to Class AA this year in light of the PIAA's implementation of a three-class (AAA, AA and A) system.
"The MAC meet has a lot of bearing on WPIALs because our main competition has moved down," explained Beaver's Goldcamp.
He noted that Mars and West Allegheny were MAC competitors with his team last season, but they will be Class AA foes in this year's WPIAL meet.
"We had lost to Moon and Mars on the boys' side [of the MAC meet]," added Goldcamp. "Fortunately, Moon has a split category so their boys are Triple-A. Still, we will be running against Mars and West Allegheny [at the WPIAL meet]."
Beaver came in third, beating West Allegheny by two spots. Goldcamp noted that this was a first for the Bobcats.
"Mars is way ahead of us at this point," Goldcamp commented. "It was great to have that competition."