Huffman Wins Girls' AA Race; Sutton Qualifies for States
Erika Huffman made her first appearance at the District Four Cross Country Championships look easy as the Wyalusing Valley junior cruised to a Class AA girls’ title on Oct. 27.
In the Class AA boys’ race, Tyler Sutton punched his own ticket to the PIAA championship meet with a gritty late-race performance.
Coming five days after what she considered a “bad race” in the NTL Coaches’ Invitational where she finished third after dominating the league’s regular season, Huffman left little doubt that she was the class of the District Four field.
“My goal was to win to make up for it,” Huffman said of the previous week’s tune-up race.
On a cold, overcast day at Bloomsburg University’s muddy course, Huffman spent the first half of the race running with Troy’s Casey Norton and the defending district champion, Mansfield’s Violet Learn.
On the final loop around the course, Huffman made her move in the downhill section toward the Bloomsburg Hospital.
By the time she crossed the finish line, Norton and Learn weren’t even on the final straight.
Huffman’s time of 20:01 was 11 seconds faster than Learn’s winning time under considerably better conditions in the 2010 race.
“The pace was a little slow for me because I knew I could get out and go faster,” Huffman said. “The second time going down the big hill, I said I’ve got to go for it.”
“Since Saturday, we went over the strategy we wanted her to do going over this course and she did it to perfection,” Wyalusing head coach Jim Schools said.
Norton, who along with Towanda’s Destiny Foster, finished ahead of Huffman at the Coaches’ Invitational, was second in 20:14, while Learn finished third in 20:21. Foster was fourth in 21:01.
Huffman’s finish helped pace the Lady Rams to a fourth-place finish in the team standings.
Lewisburg won the team title with 80 points. Northeast Bradford finished second with 120 to earn the other automatic qualifying spot in the PIAA championships. Wellsboro edged out Wyalusing for third, 142-146.
Pam Kelley was 22nd, overall, for the Lady Rams. Other Wyalusing runners, with overall finishes and times, were Mackenzie Martin (47, 24:18), Arielle Kneller (49, 24:36), Savannah Schools (52, 24:55) and Carlyn Edsell (87, 27:35).
“The girls had a shot at qualifying for states,” Schools said of the team, which still had to battle through injuries. “At some point of the season, the girls had run good enough to do it, but never all at the same time.”
For Sutton, his state-qualifying effort lifted a heavy burden.
The Ram senior missed qualifying for Hershey as a sophomore by two spots and was only one position short last year as a junior.
In his final chance at Pennsylvania harriers’ Holy Grail—a place in the field at Hershey on the first Saturday in November—Sutton had to reach deep within himself in the final half-mile of the 3.1-mile course.
There was a slight difference of opinion between Sutton and his coach, he either passed five or four runners before hitting the finish line in 12th-place, safely in the top 11 of runners who weren’t on qualifying teams.
Sutton thought he had passed five runners in the final quarter-mile, while Schools believed he moved up four spots in the final half-mile.
Either way, Sutton’s time of 17:39, although it was 10 seconds off the previous year’s time, was good enough.
“I’m so excited,” Sutton said. “I can’t describe it in words.
“I knew this was my senior year and this could be my last race so I had to push it,” he added about that final dash to the finish where he collapsed in the chute and had to be helped out.
“That was pure guts,” Schools said. “He was hurting at the end, but that’s because he put it all on the line.”
Wyalusing finished eighth in the team standings with 183 points.
Wellsboro and Canton finished first and second, respectively, in the race that was dominated by the Northern Tier League. Wellsboro finished with 97 points, edging out the Warriors, who had 104. Northeast Bradford finished third with 130 points, five ahead of Sullivan County. Sayre was fifth with 149.
Northeast Bradford’s Curt Jewett ran away with the overall race win, finishing in 16:32, ahead of his teammate Sam Williams, who finished in 16:50. Towanda’s Aaron Valoroso was third in 16:53, followed by Sullivan County’s Kelby Mullen in 17:19.
Wyalusing’s other overall finishes and times included Aaron Woodruff (32, 18:30), Brenten Gerould (37, 18:35), Mark Kusmierz (49, 19:07), Matt Woodruff (53, 19:12), Mitchell Pickett (90, 20:07) and Cody Pickett (104, 20:41).
Schools couldn’t be disappointed with the team results.
“The boys were eighth with the top five teams either from the NTL or the area (Sullivan County),” he said. “That’s what we deal with week in, week out.”