By Brian Holtzapple
For The Daily Item
BLOOMSBURG -- For the 29 boys and girls teams competing in today's District 4 Championships at Bloomsburg University, the ultimate goal is to claim one of the six berths for next week's state championship meet.
That might be easier said than done, especially for those squads running in the day's boys and girls Class AA races.
The schedule for today's district meet is as follows: Class A girls, 9:30 a.m.; Class AA girls, 10:15; Class A boys, 11; and Class AA boys, 11:45.
Only the top two teams in Class AA (and top 10 individuals not on those teams) will qualify for the PIAA Championships, held Saturday, Nov. 2, at Hershey's Parkview Course (located behind the Giant Center).
In Class A, only the top team and top five individuals advance.
In last year's district meet the Lewisburg girls were on the outside looking in as they finished in third place, just six points behind runner-up Selinsgrove, 77-83.
Danville won the title with 29 points.
It was the first time the Green Dragons failed to qualify for states since 2005, when the team also finished third. In between, the squad has captured five District 4 titles (2006-08, 2010-11).
Bolstered by his team's recent runner-up finish to Danville at the Shikellamy H.S. Classic, 34-53, Lewisburg coach Mark Sundberg expects his girls to run a good, if not better, race today.
"We are very positive going into the district championships -- hoping to use this past weekend as a springboard to another good showing," said the Green Dragons' coach. "The bottom line is, we have already done what we need to do. We just need to do it again.
"The girls' success is building on itself, and as they individually grow in confidence, they are finding they can tap into each of their teammates' energy and channel that into a strong group effort."
Sophomore Allison Graham was Lewisburg's top performer in last year's district meet. She finished sixth in 20:11.
But for a team built around one senior (Katie Edwards) and a bunch of underclassmen, a return trip to states would be huge for the Green Dragons, according to Sundberg.
"The girls are very motivated and excited for the opportunity (to get back to states)," he said. "It would be a huge feather in their caps, as well as a tremendous validation of their commitment, hard work and training."
Individually in AA girls, Shikellamy sophomore Treicy Cedeno is the defending champion in 18:42. But with the way Danville sophomore Mackenzie Jones is running, the race could belong to either of them.
That is why Jones, last year's district runner-up in 19:24, wanted so badly to win the Shik Classic.
"I needed to win to get prepared for districts because (Treicy) is going to be there and I needed to know how she was going to run," said Jones following her Classic triumph. "At districts (Danville's girls) just have to run the same race and we'll win again."
In Class A girls, the team title should come down to a pair of Northern Tier League schools -- Mansfield and Wellsboro, which tied for first place in the NTL Coaches Invite two weeks ago.
The Class AA boys race will have as many as five teams battling it out for the two coveted spots for states.
Coming off its 63-76 win over Danville at the Shik Classic, Mount Carmel has to be considered the strong favorite today, although last year's district champ, Lewisburg, will also be in the mix along with Towanda and Mifflinburg.
The Black Knights, who were the NTL Coaches Invite runners-up, edged out the Ironmen for second place in the District 4 meet a year ago, 89-90. The Green Dragons won with 88 points.
"Going to states is the goal. That's been the goal since we've been training this summer. And our new goal is to win districts," said Mount Carmel coach Ben McConnell following the Shik Classic. "So we're right in it with Danville. We still have to race just like we did (on Saturday). The District 4 title is not going to be handed to us, and the guys know that."
Danville senior Tyler Vella is one of the runners to watch in today's district meet. Last year he finished 5th in 16:33. Jersey Shore's Cody Allen (3rd, 16:31), Sayre's Nick Sweet (4th, 16:33) and Towanda's Simon Smith (6th, 16:45) are the other top contenders for the title.
Aiding Smith today is the fact he won the NTL Invite in 16:17.
Vella, and fellow top-20 finishers from a year ago in teammates Joe Malafronte and Alex Mettler, will be looking to get Danville into states after last year's heartbreaking finish.
"Hopefully we can finish first or second at districts, that's the big goal. I think the fact that we ran a good solid race (on Saturday) gives us confidence we can step up for the district race," said Danville coach Jeff Brandt after the Shik Classic.
"It's not like we can show up and say, we were second (at the Classic) and we can be second again. We need to have a good effort again and be in the top two at districts."
In Class A boys, defending champ Northeast Bradford looks to be the favorite again this year, especially after the Panthers claimed the NTL Invite two weeks ago.