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Urban, Shields advance to State Championships
BRUCE MORGAN Record Express Sports Editor
, Staff Writer
Two years in a row, Warwick’s Michael Urban was left heartbroken at the District 3 Triple-A Cross Country Championships.
Both times, he missed qualifying for States by just two places. By a combined six seconds.
Urban wasn’t going to let it happen thrice.
Last Wednesday, Oct. 23 at Hershey’s Parkview Course in perfect 50-degree conditions, the Warwick senior finally got over the hump, taking 13th place out of 260 runners in 16:39 to punch his ticket to the PIAA Championships, set for this Saturday, Nov. 2 back in Chocolatetown. The top 29 finishers advanced.
"Going into the race, I really wanted to qualify for States. That was my top goal," Urban said. "I wanted to get top-10, but there were lots of fast times. I got 13th and had an awesome time, so I’m happy with that."
"He’s been so much more serious about races this year," Warwick coach Jenny Sassaman said. "Not that he hasn’t been in the past – he is serious. But he gets his game face on pretty early and when the other guys are still laughing and joking and talking, he’s already like, ‘I’m getting my head together for this race.’"
In the Triple-A girls race, Warwick senior Rachel Mueller and juniors Amanda Graber and Samantha Shields also had their game face on. In fact, all three were sitting in position to qualify for States for much of the race. In the end, Shields moved on by finishing the challenging, hilly course in 25th place in 20:23, while Mueller (48th, 20:53) and Graber (58th, 21:01) fell just a little bit short. The cut-off to advance was the top 29 finishers.
"It’s really exciting (to qualify)," Shields said. "I didn’t know if I was going to make it or not, but I’m happy about it."
In the team races, the Warwick girls took 3rd among L-L teams, and 11th overall, with 356 points, while the Warrior boys were 4th among L-L teams, 17th overall, with 433 points.
Urban, meanwhile, was the third fastest boys finisher among L-L runners, behind Manheim Township’s Brian Delany (7th, 16:29) and Cedar Crest’s Willy Bragg (12th, 16:39).
The Warwick senior got a fast start, clocking in at the first-mile split in 4:52 in roughly 20th to 25th place. But then he slowly started improving his position as the race progressed.
"I told myself to just keep smooth and don’t kill the hills," Urban said, "so I kept every hill smooth and I had something left."
In the last half-mile or so, Urban had enough left in the tank to give a strong final kick, hoping to pass as many others as possible.
"There were maybe six or seven of us at the end and I was giving it my all," he said. "We were all sprinting our guts out, so it was a pretty good finish … At that point, I knew I was top-20, so I knew I had States. But I knew coming into the final stretch that that last sprint would determine if I got top 10 or not."
The fact that Urban did have something left at the end was a credit a new training program that the Warriors had this fall.
"We didn’t go hard for every meet," he said, "and I think that had a lot to do with it. I was a lot more fresh on Wednesday than I’ve felt in past years."
It showed in his time, as Urban shaved 46 seconds off his District time from a year ago, when he placed 27th in 17:25.
"That’s amazing," Sassaman said. "At his level? That’s awesome. The faster you get, the harder it is to shave."
"I definitely was happy that (time)," Urban said. "Plus, that’s my new PR for the season. On that course, that’s pretty good."
A year ago, Urban’s time of 16:39 would have placed him second overall, so the Triple-A boys race as a whole was much faster.
Ditto for the Triple-A girls race.
Graber, who qualified for States last year by taking 31st at Districts in 21:03, actually improved her time by two seconds last Wednesday en route to a 58th-place finish. Mueller’s time of 20:53 also would have been good enough to get her to States in 2012.
"That’s incredible – the field was very fast this year," Sassaman said. "The weather cooperated, that was part of the equation. The course was dry, so that helped with the times."
Remarkably, Shields shaved more than two minutes off her time from a year, when she finished 112th in 22:45. Having the experience of running Parkview’s course as a sophomore, the Warwick junior was aware of the need to not get boxed in with the pack at the start of the race, but also conscious of not getting out too fast.
"I knew where the hills were and how to run up them and not waste all my energy at the start and just save it for the end," Shields said.
She passed the 2K marker in 9:43 and felt strong enough at the end to pass several runners before the finish line.
"Everyone was calling out a place and a lot of people kept saying, like, 36th, but we were in a group so I didn’t know which person they were yelling to," Shields said. "I knew Amanda got 31st last year and she got to States with that, so I knew if I wanted to go, I’d only have to pass a couple of people. I just stayed with Rachel because she was right there the whole time. She kept pulling me along the last mile."
"That is a lot, a lot," Sassaman said of Shields’ time improvement. She did a little more summer running – not as much as I’d like – but more summer running, that helped. She’s a natural athlete and she’s gifted. I’m so proud of her. She’s just plugging away. She’s been right behind Rachel all year long and she just popped it."
Looking ahead to States, Shields will looking to get a PR back on the Parkview course.
"I’m excited to go and I hope I get a faster time, but I just kinda want to go for experience and see how it is," Shields said.
Sassaman would have loved to see both Mueller and Graber advance to States as well, but it wasn’t quite meant to be.
"My heart hurts for Rachel Mueller," Sassaman said. "Track is definitely her strength. She has such a huge stride and that Hershey course is just so tough for runners of her build and with her stride. And she’s so powerful on the track. Her goal was to get to States. That was her main goal this year. But she did everything that she could, she did everything that we asked of her."
Graber was battling a cold at Districts last week, but she will be back for her senior year with another chance to return to States
"She has a lot of potential," Sassaman said.
Rounding out the Warwick girls finishers were sophomore Malon Bailey (126th, 22:12), senior Monika Roschel (160th, 22:43) and sophomore Alli Stauffer (197th, 23:11).
Completing the Warrior boys finishers were sophomore Matt Polonus (71st, 17:45), junior Will Howland (97th, 18:00), senior Jordan Garner (114th, 18:14), senior Banner Samuelson (141st, 18:31), sophomore James Latanishen (148th, 18:34) and senior Ryan Williams (197th, 19:07).
More DISTRICTS, page B-3