West Xtra: Chargers running to school history

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In 2012, the Our Lady of the Sacred Heart boys cross country team made history, becoming the first boys team ever at the school to qualify for the PIAA championships after winning the WPIAL Class A title.

Last Thursday, the Chargers' cross country program made school history again.

For the first time, both the girls and boys cross country teams at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart qualified for the PIAA Class A meet after the boys finished second and the girls placed third at the WPIAL Class A meet at Cooper's Lake Campground in Butler County.

"It's a great achievement for both teams to go to states," said Bob Berg, coach of the Chargers boys and girls cross country teams. "The boys made it for the first time last season, and the girls have made it three or four times, but this is the first time both have made it [in the same season].

"The boys are pretty disappointed they didn't win back-to-back titles -- I don't think they'll ever get over that -- but at least they still are going to states."

The Chargers boys team returned five of their top seven runners from last season, led by Nick Kocent (seventh at the 2012 WPIAL Class A meet) and Ryder Ballou (19th).

"At the start of the season, I was 95 percent sure, unless injuries happened to our top runners, that we would be able to finish in the top three and make it to states," Berg said.

The Chargers did that, finishing second with 126 points. They were just two points away from their second consecutive title, finishing just behind champion Avonworth.

The difference may have been Kocent and Ballou not performing as well as expected. Kocent finished in 18th place, with his time 46 seconds slower than it was in 2012. Ballou finished 19th again with a time one second slower than last season.

"Nick and Ryder both didn't have their best race that day," Berg said. "It's just not what we're used to seeing from them. But I think both are going to come back strong at states. It'll be their third time there."

Both Kocent and Ballou made it to states individually in 2011, in addition to making it with the team last season.

Only one runner on Our Lady of the Sacred Heart's girls cross country team, junior Autumn Cejer, has been to the state meet before. Cejer placed 11th in the WPIAL Class A meet last season to qualify for states, but the Chargers' team fell short with a fifth-place finish.

With Cejer leading the way this season, however, to go along with a strong group of freshmen, the Chargers placed third in the WPIAL meet Thursday.

"Back when we started training in June, I didn't think we'd have a great chance to make states," Berg said. "But some of the freshman girls stepped up as the season went along."

The Chargers had three ninth-graders -- Maria Lohmann, Tara Richardson and Jessica Boy -- among their top seven runners Thursday. Lohmann led the way with a 25th-place finish, while Richardson crossed the line in 32nd place and Boy finished in the 66th position.

They are part of a youthful Chargers team that doesn't have a senior among their top seven runners. Cejer, who finished in 13th at the WPIAL meet, is the most experienced and leads the young team by example.

"She doesn't say a lot, but she's very smart and willing to do whatever we ask of her," Berg said. "The other girls see how she works and how she runs races and they pick up on that."

The girls team's future should be very bright no matter what occurs in Hershey this weekend. But for Kocent and senior Ian Schrenk, Saturday's PIAA meet will be the final cross country race they will run for the Chargers.

Berg is expecting the boys to do very well.

"I think we have an outside shot at the top five," Berg said. "It's going to be tough and we'll have to have a pretty good race from all of our runners, but I think we can do it."

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