By Brian Holtzapple
For The Daily Item
HERSHEY -- The anticipation of running in the PIAA Championship meet can make even the most seasoned runner anxious and nervous. But not Sean Walker.
The Lewisburg senior ran the Parkview Course without restraint in what turned out to be an "easy" race for the Green Dragon.
Walker posted the Valley's best finish on Saturday when he completed the 3.1-mile course in 16 minutes and 39 seconds, which was good for ninth place and a medal in Class AA.
Two additional medals were claimed in the girls Class AA race. Shikellamy freshman Treicy Cedeno finished 14th in 19:50, while Danville freshman Mackenzie Jones was 17th in 19:51.
The top 25 finishers in each race receive medals.
Paving the way for Walker's finish on the afternoon was his mental approach to the race.
"I knew coming in there were no expectations, so I really just came out and did whatever I could, and I guess it worked out for me," said the Green Dragon. "Mentally, it really helped. I came in calm and not stressed out. In some of the other races I ran in this season I was expected to win or get second -- and those were more stressful.
"(Saturday) was kind of easy. I felt relaxed and not tense at all."
Walker entered the meet with a goal of placing in the top 10. A mile and a half into the race Walker had an idea that he might be in for a good finish after he tackled the first hill with relative ease.
"Coming down (that hill) I was like, 'Oh, I really have a lot more left than I usually do at this point, so I knew I was in for something good," Walker said.
Then with less than a mile to go Walker heard he was in 13th place, and it gave him a much-needed boost to help himself move up a few spots near the end.
"I heard people yelling out places, and they were like 11th, 12th and right there I was in 13th," said Walker. "I was like, 'Okay, I have a little more left and I can push a little bit more.
"At the end when you come up the hill, you really have nothing left in your legs," added Walker. "It's all about what you have left mentally and it's more of a guts race, so I gave it all I had."
"Sean had a very good finish and a very good race. He seemed to embrace the race the further he got into it," said Lewisburg coach Mark Sundberg. "We were hoping for a top-10 finish. We knew he was capable of doing it, and he found it in his body that he was more than capable -- both mentally and physically."
Sundberg was also hoping for a good showing from his entire boys team, and he got one.
The Green Dragons finished 8th with 234 points. Pottsgrove totaled 96 points to place first.
"I'm very happy with our team's performance. I thought the team ran a really nice race," said Sundberg.
Nate Martin crossed the line in 58th place for Lewisburg in 17:31, while Nick Scullin and Alden Davidson were 116th and 118th, respectively, in 18 minutes, flat. Glen Knight was also 181st in 18:43.
"I'm really happy with Nate's race. He looked strong all through the race and the most composed he's looked all season," said Sundberg. "Nick had his best time on this course, and Alden keeps getting better and better. Glen, coming back from being sick last week, he had a strong finish."
Other top finishers from the Valley included Danville junior Tyler Vella and freshman Joe Malafronte. Vella placed 64th (17:33) and Malafronte was 71st (17:38).
Although she didn't come out and say it, Cedeno was a little disappointed with how her race turned out Saturday morning.
"I'm really happy with what I got, but I thought I could do better," Cedeno said. "It's my first year, and I went to states and I got a medal. That gives me a lot of confidence for next year because I can do better.
"I can't wait until next year."
Cedeno began her race a little on the slow side, but after the first mile she was among the leaders.
"I was scared when she went out. Treicy was in 70th place or so and she was back a little," said Shikellamy coach Jim Bell. "At the halfway point she was in seventh place and I said, 'Oh boy, this is great. She did fall back to 14th from there, and it was definitely due to the hills."
At the end, the late hill took a toll on Cedeno, and it made the final sprint to the finish a challenge for the freshman.
"Having a hill and then having to sprint was really hard on me," she said. "I just wanted to make it up the hill and see what happens, and then I tried sprinting."
"Treicy is not very happy with the finish -- she wanted to be in the top-10. She doesn't know how well she did and she doesn't understand the preciousness of a state medal," said Bell.
"I've been coaching since 1973 and I can count on two hands how many medals we've won. When you hold onto 14th place you've got to be extremely happy, and I am."
Danville coach Jeff Brandt was also a happy man following the AA race.
Powered by Jones, the Ironmen placed sixth in the team standings with 191 points. Palmyra took first with 91 points.
"It was a good race for us," said the Ironmen coach. "Mackenzie put it all together, but our other girls ran much better than we did here in the (PIAA Foundation) invitational, and our grouping was good -- so we had a good race."
Jones tried to keep pace with Cedeno for much of the race. Even though the Brave pulled away at the end, Jones still came away with a medal.
"I just wanted to be in the top-25. That was my goal and it was my motivation to keep going faster and faster," Jones said. "(Cedeno) passed me in the beginning, so I knew right around where I should be.
"It was my goal to finish as close to (Cedeno) as possible. I did that, so I'm happy."
And by doing that, the rest of Danville's runners went out strong.
"We got out well, which in the past we haven't done well at states," said Brandt. "Mackenzie was important for that. She's not afraid to go out (fast), and that pulls everybody else out."
Sara Turner added a 51st-place finish for Danville in 20:31, while Emily Haney was 58th (20:41), Katelyn Maffei was 89th (21:02), Mikayla Plafcan was 105th (21:14) and Maddy Messa was 109th (21:16).
For district runner-up Selinsgrove, the race wasn't as kind.
The Seals finished 19th, with Bri Carnathan placing 86th (21:01) and Kelsey Ulrich finishing 99th (21:08) to lead the way.