A Return to Hershey: The 2021 PIAA Cross Country Championships

By Ed Bosch

Hershey, PA, November 6, 2021—What is it about cross-country we runners and coaches find so addictive and love so much? I first heard of this sport called cross country growing up in rural Warren, Pennsylvania, where by chance, we had a couple of teachers/coaches (Jack Shaw, Andy Randas) who instilled in us a belief we could do well as runners. Our first exposure to their training philosophy was the 1964 track season at Beaty Junior High School. They would send us out to Hatch Run Road and back, a seven-mile run. This was in the day when interval training dominated track. A key moment triggering my love of XC and track was learning my friends from Warren had won the 1966 PIAA state cross country title over powerhouse North Allegheny, led by future All American and sub-4-minute miler Jerry Richey.

When asked recently what made North Allegheny’s coach, the legend Russ Cerny, so successful, Jerry wrote back to me, “The key to his success was as motivator. We did intervals. No distance work. Loved him then, love him now.” So, no matter the approach, I was learning the key to success as a coach was love of the sport and your runners.

My interest in running, especially cross country, really took off during my stint as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Latin America. I was fortunate to meet a number of great coaches like Arthur Lydiard, who was coaching in Venezuela, coaches from Mexico and Cuba, speaking to the running legend Victor Mora of Colombia, and the running community of Coamo, Puerto Rico. A couple of my runners from Santiago, DR and I were invited to run in the Maraton San Blas (13.5 miles) in Coamo in 1974 where we met and shared stories with the likes of Lasse Viren, Bill Rodgers, Tom Fleming, Neal Cusack, and many of the world’s best distance runners.

This was followed by a grad assistant track and cross-country job for Coach Dick Deschriver at East Stroudsburg University. Training with the likes of Mark Will-Weber, Pete Heesen, and many others, I became a serious runner myself and was hooked for life.

Nevertheless my priorities were focused for the next four decades on helping to raise our three children and making a living in corporate America. So, it was with much anticipation, I headed to Hershey on November 6th with long time friend, successful coach, and author Mark Will-Weber.

Mark Will-Weber (left) with Ed Bosch

The 2021 PIAA state cross-country championships races did not disappoint.

The AA girls 5,000-meter final matched the winner of the 2021 Paul Short meet, Olivia Haas from District 11’s Blue Mountain High School, against Brownsville junior Jolena Quarzo. Quarzo had run a super fast 17:17 in early October at the Great American XC meet in Cary, North Carolina. For her part, Haas, the North Carolina State signee, ran 17:34 to win at Lehigh.

These two broke away from the field of 252 after less than 800 meters. Just before two miles, after going through a series of roller-coaster hills, Haas forged a lead on Quarzo. That was it. Haas won easily in 18:20 to Quarzo’s 18:50.

Olivia Haas (right) and Jolena Quarzo during the AA race

What might have been an exciting showdown in this AAA girls race between two-time defending AAA state champion Mia Cochran of Moon Area and Jenna Mulhern of West Chester Henderson High School, who had won this race over Cochran in 2018 as a 9th grader, was not to be. Unfortunately for the PIAA, Mulhern decided to run as an independent in 2021. They would meet, however, in the East Bay regional championships at Van Cortland Park and again at the national championships in San Diego in December.

Nevertheless on November 6th, Cochran ran away from the AAA competition in Hershey with the fastest time (18:08) of the day to claim the title for the third straight year. Mulhern for her part, defeated Cochran both at the regional East Bay qualifying meet at VCP and at Nationals in Balboa Park. Remarkably, Pennsylvania placed two girls in the top eight at the national championships with Mulhern 3rd in 17:20 and Cochran 8th in 17:35 on this famous XC course in San Diego. Not sure if Pennsylvania girls have ever done so well at this meet, which used to be called the Kinney XC championships, and then Foot Locker.

All in all, a great year for the Pennsylvania school girls with remarkably fast times:

• 16:29.5 for Mulhern at the Garmin Running Lane meet in Huntsville, Alabama. 
• 17:17 for Quarzo at the Great American meet in Cary, North Carolina. 
• 17:18 for Cochran at Great American.
• 17:34.8 for Haas at Paul Short.

Hopefully, they will all meet this Spring at the Penn Relays or another of the many national invitational meets in May or June. Otherwise, next Fall, Haas will be with defending NCAA champions, North Carolina State, Mulhern at South Carolina powerhouse, Furman and Cochran at Arkansas. Quarzo is just a Junior.

AA Boys Championship race: Gary Martin of Archbishop Wood ran away with this race as expected in 15:46.7. Weber Long of Greencastle-Antrim hung tough the whole way to finish 2nd in 15:59. Jacob Hess of team-champion Lewisburg was 3rd in 16:05.

Martin followed his PIAA win in Hershey with another Pennsylvania all-time best at the Garmin Running Lane meet in Alabama of 14:24.1. One wonders if he can break four minutes for the mile this Spring before he heads to the University of Virginia. 

Gary Martin, Archbishop Wood, on his way to winning the AA boys race. He is the fastest miler and XC runner in Pennsylvania history.

AAA Boys Championship: The question with the last race of the day was not whether North Allegheny would win for the 3rd time in the last 4 years, but by how much. The Tigers won the team title with 63 points over LaSalle of Philadelphia’s 125 points, 16:35 average team time over LaSalle’s 16:55.

Team Titles: 

• A Girls: Notre Dame of Green Pond—117 points; 21:44 average team time
• AA Girls: Montour—84 points; 20:19 average team time
• AAA Girls: North Allegheny—62 points; 19:19 average team time—4th straight team title
• A Boys: Hughesville—97 points; 17:52 average team time 
• AA Boys: Lewisburg—87 points;17:0—3rd straight team title
• AAA Boys: North Allegheny—63 points; 16:35—3rd title in last four years

Jacob Hess, Lewisburg, in second, approaching the two-mile mark at the Paul Short Meet. Lewisburg was team champ at PIAAs.

Overall, impressive races and times on a very challenging hilly course. This old follower of high school cross country was extremely impressed by the quality of all these high school runners in Hershey.  If fast times were the criteria of selecting a state meet XC course, you would not select Parkview in Hershey. But if the criteria is identifying who are the toughest and strongest runners, this course is perfect.

This is Pennsylvania after all, where coal was king and steel was forged.

Slick hills in the morning added to the XC adventure.

Categories: Race Coverage

Tags: , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: