By Brian Holtzapple
For The Daily Item
BLOOMSBURG -- Danville senior Tyler Vella found himself in an all too familiar position in Thursday's District 4 Championship Meet at Bloomsburg University.
Vella was vying for his first Class AA individual district crown, but just like in last year's race, he was up against a tough competitor from Towanda.
This time around that opponent turned out to be Simon Smith, who led the race almost from the get-go for the Black Knights.
Vella, however, still managed to finish second for the Ironmen in 17 minutes flat to earn his second consecutive trip to the PIAA Championships.
Smith, who finished one spot and 12 seconds behind Vella in last year's race, won with a time of 16:50.
"I feel really happy with how I ran today. The weather was great, even though it was really windy," said Vella. "I was trying to stick with Simon, but he had a great surge in the middle of his race. He's an amazing runner for a junior."
Vella and the rest of his teammates helped Danville fend off Towanda to finish second in the team standings behind Mount Carmel, 72-81. The Black Knights were third with 112 points.
"It's a great feeling (to qualify for states as a team)," said Vella. "Last year when I went to states it was just me and Joe (Malafronte), and it's great we can bring the whole team along with us this year."
The district title is the first championship in quite some time for the Red Tornadoes. At the very least it is the first major title won under fifth-year head coach Ben McConnell, who was a standout runner and athlete during his years at Danville.
"Being called district champion feels great and it sounds great," said McConnell. "I'm just so happy for the kids. When they got the news (they had won), you never see kids that happy."
Juniors Nate Bartos (6th, 17:10) and Tommy Moser (7th, 17:18), plus senior Cory Hoffman (8th, 17:19) were the first runners to cross the finish line for Mount Carmel.
"That was definitely not an easy race to win with the competition this year," McConnell said. "It was so hard to tell which team was winning or who was second or third because it was so tight, but our kids ran great and they all did their jobs and now they are district champs."
Other state qualifiers from the area were Mifflinburg sophomore Quincy Amabile (3rd, 17:02) and junior Levi Ebersole (11th, 17:37), plus Selinsgrove sophomore Brody Beiler (5th, 17:09) and Lewisburg senior Nick Scullin (10th, 17:34) and freshman Anthony Bach (14th, 17:50).
"I was happy with how things went today, and I thank the coaches and my teammates for pushing me along the way," said Amabile, who will be making his second trip to the state meet. "(Simon and Tyler) are great. They definitely helped me along a lot just trying to stay with them."
In the Class A race, Northeast Bradford repeated as champions by beating Southern Columbia, 22-67. However, only the Panthers advance to states.
Individually for the Tigers, both senior Andrew Steely and junior Colin Dudanowicz move on to the state meet after finishing sixth and seventh in 17:44 and 17:57, respectively.
South Williamsport's Griffin Molino ran away for the title in 16:03.
"It was hard to watch (Griffin) go," said Steely, who earned his third trip to states. "It was either go after him, blow up and not make states, or hang back and suffer through it and make states."