Mars Area cross country coach Dale Boring had a good feeling about the WPIAL Class AA girls championship meet last Thursday at Cooper's Lake Campground in Butler County.
"I don't want to sound arrogant, but when I saw our girls putting their spikes on, I have never been more confident as a coach or runner that we were going to win," he said.
The Planets backed up his confidence with a stellar showing, winning the WPIAL championship with a team score of 74 points, which was 16 better than second-place Greensburg Salem.
The key to the title was the team's depth. Mars' top five runners -- which are the ones who count in the scoring -- all finished in the top 26 and its top seven runners finished in the top 40.
"We have a lot of depth on this team, even down to our 10th, 11th and 12th runners," Boring said. "We preach that it's the first kid all the way down to the last kid. And I think it's such a battle just to get into our top seven runners that it pushes everyone and it's a benefit to us."
Leading the way for Mars was freshman Natalie Petrini and junior Sydney Cole. Petrini finished second to Cole at the Slippery Rock Invitational and Midwestern Athletic Conference championships, but was the first Planets finisher each of the past two weeks at the Tri-State Coaches Association and WPIAL championships, both of which were run at Cooper's Lake.
Petrini finished eighth at the WPIAL meet despite not being 100 percent.
"She's an extremely talented runner," Boring said. "She was battling a breathing problem Thursday and probably didn't finish as high as we expected, but she was still great. She's a stud."
Cole has improved greatly this season. She finished 101st at the WPIAL meet last season, when the Planets took seventh as a team. This season, she improved her district meet time by 4:11 and took 10th place.
Junior Shannon McChesney (11th), sophomore Jessica Monberg (22nd) and freshman Lindsey Brand (26th) rounded out the five scorers for the Planets.
Mars' win ended Quaker Valley's four-year reign as WPIAL Class AA champion. But Boring said his team wasn't thinking about that. In fact, the Planets aspire to be like the Quakers.
"The Quaker Valley program is what we want to become," he said. "Their athletes and their coaches are outstanding. That's what we have our sights set on becoming."
With no seniors among their top seven runners, it's likely the Planets will be a force again next season.
NA displays dominance
The North Allegheny boys cross country team didn't just win its ninth consecutive WPIAL Class AAA title Thursday at Cooper's Lake -- it annihilated the field.
North Allegheny had four runners finish in the top seven and its score of 38 points was 76 points better than second-place Fox Chapel Area. The 38 points is the best total North Allegheny has had during its WPIAL title run, eclipsing the 46 it scored in 2008.
"I've been here for all nine of [the championships], and this team stacks up with any of them," North Allegheny coach John Neff said.
After Fox Chapel senior twins Colin and Ethan Martin crossed the line in first and second place, respectively, it seemed as if a North Allegheny procession followed. Juniors Matt McGoey (third), Seamus Love (fourth) and Scott Seel (seventh) and senior Cordon Luoco (fifth) all finished among the next five racers after the Martins.
Junior Hunter Wharrey and seniors Michael Becich and Nicholas McClure all finished in the top 24 runners.
The Tigers' depth should give the team a shot to win its second state title over the past four seasons, the other coming in 2010. The favorite will be defending champion West Chester Henderson, whom Neff called the best team he has seen since the 2006 Coatesville team that totaled 26 points in the state final.
Eden Christian runner excels
Eden Christian Academy's boys enrollment total at the last cycle was 49, according to the PIAA. But among its small group of students, Eden Christian has a great runner.
Senior Carter Smith pulled away from South Side Beaver's Colten Trimble over the final mile to win the WPIAL Class A cross country individual championship last Thursday at Cooper's Lake. Smith finished with a time of 16:46, 11 seconds ahead of Trimble and 34 seconds better than Smith's time at the 2012 WPIAL meet, when he finished eighth.
"It means a lot," Smith said. "I worked really hard this offseason and this is a title that's won in June and July."
Eden Christian just started its cross country team in 2010, and joined the WPIAL in 2011. Smith is the program's first district champion.
"Winning the WPIAL title meant a lot to him and it's wonderful, as a coach, to see one of your kids earn back all they've invested," Eden Christian Academy coach Kelly Walburn said.
Antelopes gallop to title
In the first year WPIAL cross country had a Class A division last season, Avonworth finished 12th in the district meet.
In its second year of Class A, the Antelopes did a little bit better.
Avonworth's top five runners scored 124 points, barely edging out defending champion Our Lady of the Sacred Heart (126 points), to win the WPIAL Class A title.
Juniors Adam Joyce and Andrew Domencic led the way for the Antelopes, finishing fifth and eighth, respectively.
Behind the top two finishers were sophomores Colton Fritts (22nd) and Kenny Baurle (45th), junior Kyle Crilley (53rd), and freshmen Alex Domencic (56th) and Michael Noethiger (67th).