By Brian Holtzapple
For The Daily Item
HERSHEY -- Out of the Valley's 35 representatives who have qualified to run at the PIAA Cross Country Championships on Saturday, nine are freshmen.
Traditionally, first-year runners don't fare too well at the state meet, which is once again held on the Parkview Course located behind the Giant Center. With almost 300 runners in each race, freshmen tend to get swallowed up in the back of the pack where they are neither seen nor heard from again.
Shikellamy coach Jim Bell has seen the worse that can happen to a runner at states, but he doesn't expect his freshman competitor, Treicy Cedeno, to suffer the same fate.
Cedeno enters the Class AA girls race with the fastest qualifying time of 18 minutes, 42 seconds.
"The biggest problem at states is getting caught in the back of the pack. I've actually seen runners stand and wait to get around a corner," said Bell. "We hope Treicy can get out from the back. I've been coaching her to pace herself out of her start."
The top 25 runners in each race receive medals, and Bell thinks Cedeno has what it takes to come back to Sunbury with some shiny neckwear -- especially if she breaks 20 minutes on a tough course that has been made even more challenging thanks to all the rain brought by Hurricane Sandy.
"We think Treicy has a genuine chance to medal. Her training has gone well with the hurricane and everything, and we have a hopeful outlook," said Bell. "She was extremely confident and withdrawn at the starting line at (the District 4 meet). If she can bring that same kind of concentration at states, it'll be a good day."
It could also be a good day for the district champion Danville's girls team, which features three freshmen -- Mackenzie Jones, Katelyn Maffei, Maddy Messa -- among the seven who will run in the race for the Ironmen.
Including a freshman from the boys team -- Joe Malafronte -- Danville coach Jeff Brandt will send the most first-year runners he's ever sent to the state meet.
"We definitely want to be a top-10 (girls) team, and I think we can be in the top five. There are 10 Class AA teams out there who are real strong, and I think we are one of them," said Brandt. "We have to put together a strong race and see what we do."
Brandt isn't too concerned with the lack of experience he brings to the meet, saying that aspect can be a positive for his team.
"We only have three girls with state experience, which can be a positive and a negative. You won't be overwhelmed with things, but you won't have the experience to fall back on," said Brandt. "The girls will go in there with a lot of enthusiasm and hopefully they won't get overwhelmed."
Lewisburg and Milton will both have a freshman running in Saturday's girls AA race, Allison Graham and Kaylee Long, respectively.
"Allison approaches each day of the season with a quiet determination to succeed. She has grown tremendously throughout the season, and it has been fun to watch that growth in her," said Lewisburg coach Mark Sundberg. "It is helpful to have a tradition of success, so freshmen coming into our high school program recognize that and bring with them a desire to excel and compliment that tradition.
"It is extremely satisfying whenever a coach gets even one athlete to advance to states, so to have a full team (boys) and four individuals (girls) advance from a school our size is a wonderful validation of our training and the athletes' dedication to it," added Sundberg.
For Black Panthers coach Scott Shuck, his goal is for Long to finish in the top 100 of the race.
"Since it is Kaylee's first time there, we just want her to have a good experience," he said. "She is very nervous but excited for the race. I am concerned that she will go out too fast and then be too tired for the hills.
"But if Kaylee just runs her race, she will be fine," Shuck added.
On the boys side, joining Malafronte in the state meet are fellow freshmen Quincy Amabile of Mifflinburg and Ryan Kelleher of Lewisburg, although the latter will be an alternate for the Green Dragons now that Glen Knight has recovered from an illness that kept him out of the district meet.
Malafronte is the first Danville freshman to individually qualify for the boys state meet under Brandt's watch.
"Joe is an exceptional runner for us. If he can get in the top half of the race that will be an accomplishment," said Brandt. "We've been telling him to run his race, and I think he'll do real well."
When it comes to Amabile, coach Jeremiah Allen is looking for a little icing on the cake in the final race of the year.
"I want him to go out and run the best race he can. I am sure that the start will be very fast, which is fine, but Quincy needs to know that he has to settle down after the fast start so that he can be as successful as possible that day," said Allen.
"Quincy is young, so a strong finish would be great. Any more would just be icing on the cake."