By Brian Holtzapple
For The Daily Item
SUNBURY -- Moments after the start of the boys race at Saturday's 35th Annual Shikellamy Boosters Cross Country Classic, Lewisburg's Sean Walker snuck a quick peak to his right to check the status of his main rival, Southern Columbia's Andrew Steely.
In the end, however, it wasn't Steely who Walker had to be worried about.
The race came down to Walker and South Williamsport's Griffin Molino. And after some jostling for position in the final 200 meters, Walker pulled out a dramatic one-second victory in 16 minutes, 40 seconds -- good for 18th best on the Classic's all-time list.
The girls race was won easily by Shikellamy freshman Treicy Cedeno in a personal-best 19:23, which was good for 17th place all-time. Danville freshman Mackenzie Jones was second in 19:51.
A refusal to lose by Walker, in his final year at Lewisburg, fueled the victory over Molino, who coincidentally claimed a win over the Green Dragon in the 3,200-meter final at last spring's District 4 track and field meet.
"When it comes down to it, Sean doesn't like to lose," said Lewisburg coach Mark Sundberg. "He made me a little nervous waiting that long to make a statement, but I knew the Southside kid was a good runner."
Walker and Molino were neck-and-neck coming into Shikellamy Stadium, and as the two made the final turn for the homestretch the Mountie passed the Green Dragon on the right.
The pass caused Walker to lose his footing a little bit and slip off the track, but he recovered to retake the lead and he fended off Molino's advances in the final few meters for the win.
The first five finishers were all close, as Sullivan County's Kelby Mullen was third in 17:44, Steely ended up fourth in 17:47 and Danville's Tyler Vella was fifth in 17:48.
"We were coming down and I could hear (Molino) behind me and I was trying to push it right then in the last 200 meters," said Walker. "He came up next to me and I kind of lost my footing and stepped off the track, and at that point I (said to myself), 'I can't go out my senior year not winning this race.' So I gave it all I had and came out around for the win.
"Anybody could've won depending on the day they were having," added Walker. "I came in with a strong mentality that I was going to do my best and put it all out there."
Led by Walker, Lewisburg claimed the boys team title with an 84-100 victory over Danville.
Also for the Green Dragons, Nate Martin was 10th in 17:16, while Alden Davidson and Nick Scullin were 17th and 18th in 17:44 and 17:46, respectively.
The rest of Lewisburg's finishers included Glen Knight (39th, 18:22), Phil Merz (47th, 18:34) and Jack Temple (54th, 18:53).
It wasn't the best-looking win according to Sundberg, who said the Green Dragons need to channel some of Walker's energy to get that killer instinct back in time for Thursday's district meet.
"The win wasn't as pretty as we would have liked it, but we'll take it," said the Lewisburg coach. "Across the board we didn't have stellar days. The guys are physically ready to do what they need to do, but we just need to find that fire in the belly.
"We need to focus on (Sean's finish) -- things that we can emphasize that fire in the belly," added Sundberg. "If we can spread that across all seven runners, we'll be in good shape for Thursday."
Running on her home course, Cedeno had a distinct advantage over the rest of the field during Saturday's race.
And despite the course being slick, Cedeno ran with abandon -- even on the downhill portions of the race -- much to the chagrin of coach Jim Bell, who tried to tell his young protege to watch her footing.
"My coach was leading me through the whole race telling me what to do," said Cedeno. "The weather was awesome and I felt good, better than the last race we had (at home) where it was hot and humid.
"In my mind I just kept saying to myself, 'Come on, Treicy, this is your home course and you have to win. You have to do it."
And she did.
The cool and overcast morning helped Cedeno run her best, but neither she nor those close to her expected a personal best that low to be produced on the day.
"Oh my gosh, I was so happy. I worked so hard the past two weeks and I'm so excited right now," said Cedeno. "I didn't think I would get a 19:23. My coached jumped when he saw that, and my mom was crying."
Danville went on to claim the girls team title. In addition to Jones, the Ironmen had their top four runners place among the top 10.
"I was real pleased with our top four. Our grouping was real good," said Danville coach Jeff Brandt. "We have some people coming off injuries and everyone looked good for where we're at. It was a good meet for us."
Emily Haney crossed the finish line in third place in 20:33 for Danville, while Sara Turner was fifth (20:38) and freshman Katelyn Maffei was 8th (20:44). Also for the Ironmen, Hannah Maize was 13th (21:24), Mikayla Plafcan was 15th (21:42) and Kelsey Hess was 28th (22:34).
"(Jones-Haney-Turner) all ran real well, but believe it or not our fourth runner (Maffei) I may be the most impressed with. She's a freshman and she's really getting the idea of how to race a 5K," said Brandt. "So we had two freshmen in the top four, which is really nice. It was a good team effort.
"I think it was a good starting point for districts, and we should go into it pretty confident that we know how to run the course and what we need to do as a group," added Brandt.
Heartland-I champion Selinsgrove finished second to Danville in the team race with 85 points, placing a pair of runners in the top 10. Kelsey Ulrich was seventh in 20:41 with teammate Brianna Carnathan finishing 10th in 21:15.