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Council Rock North boys cross country set the bar then hit their mark

The Council Rock North boys cross country team captured a PIAA Class AAA championship Saturday, Nov. 5 at the Parkview Cross Country Course in Hershey. The Indians outpaced the favorite Carlisle to win, 76-118. Pictured, from left: CRN head coach Dave Marrington, Bryan Keller, Tim Haas, Ethan Koza, Matt Mullen, Sam Earley, Ryan Campbell and Kevin Ehrgott. (Karen Keller — For 21st-Century Media)
HERSHEY >> While the state title win by the Council Rock North boys team in this year’s PIAA Class AAA championships may have shocked some of the cross country pundits around the Delaware Valley, one person not surprised in the least was head coach Dave Marrington.

“We think we can win it this year,” said Marrington only days before the race which took place Saturday, Nov. 5 at the Parkview Cross Country Course in Hershey. “We won districts by over a hundred points. It was one of the lowest point totals in a long, long time and this is one of the best teams we’ve had.”

Still, when senior Noah Affolder and his kid brother Sam, a sophomore, transferred to Carlisle in the offseason, the Thundering Herd immediately became the predisposed favorite to win the 2016 state meet.

And while Noah was the first runner to hit the tape and Sam took third, all five of the Indians’ top runners earned PIAA medals including junior Ryan Campbell (4th), senior Bryan Keller (14th), junior Sam Earley (16th), senior Tim Haas (17th), junior Ethan Koza (25th).

Junior Kevin Ehrgott (17:22) and sophomore Matt Mullen (17:54) both finished in under 18 minutes.

Carlisle senior took 14th and sophomore Jack Wisner finished 33rd.Senior Max Fiorentino finished all the way back in 151st place.

In the end, Rock North outran the favorite Carlisle to win states, 76-118. The Indians also won districts and SOLs in previous 5K meets held at Lehigh University.

“We had five finishers in the top 21 at districts,” added Marrington. “That’s the best finish we’ve had since the schools split (in 2002).

Of the 22 runners who competed in districts for Rock North, which included some from JV, 20 of them recorded lifetime personal records.

“We were real happy with the results,” said Marrington, at the time. “Things are really coming together for them.”

The mentality of the Rock runners is that quick and steady wins the race.

“The thing I like about this group is they don’t get real emotional – win, lose, good race, bad race,” said Marrington. “They’ve just been very, very consistent – since June, really.”

The effort to win states actually began shortly after the end of spring track. Marrington gives the boys a couple of weeks off to rest and recover from the scholastic season. Then, they meet two nights a week all summer.

August marks the beginning of two-a-days, according to Marrington, and that continues right up until districts. Two days a week, the group lifts weights and but boys rest the week before states.

Rock North has been to states every single season since 1986. They finished fifth last year in states. For this group, winning the state meet has been their goal from the beginning.

The Indians went a perfect 6-0 in winning the regular season title, and Oct. 8, won the Tennent Invitational against 16 other teams.

At SOL National Conference Championships Oct. 21 at Lehigh University, North outpaced Tennent 25-68 with Pennsbury taking third with 74 points. Campbell was the first runner to cross in 15:49. Haas was next at 15:57. Then, Early crossed at 16:10. Keller (6th, 16:11) and Koza (9th, 16:33) made sure the Indians’ top five finished in the top 10.

At districts held the very next Friday back at Lehigh, everybody dropped time and some significantly. Campbell, the first Rock runner to cross and third overall, along with Haas who was seventh, each knocked 16 seconds off their time at SOLs. Keller shaved 27 seconds off his previous week’s time. Early cut his time down by 23 seconds, and Koza finished 33 seconds quicker.

Even Ehrgott, the sixth man for the Indians, managed to save a whopping 35 seconds off the time he registered at SOLs when he crossed the line in 16:19 after posting 16:54 at SOLs.

“That sixth guy is important and Kevin knows his role,” said Marrington. “He knows those five guys are going to beat him nine times out of 10.

“But we’ve had some races this year where one was sick or one of them had a bad race.

“He knows if that happens, he has to be prepared to do something almost superhuman if that happens.

“And he’s done that for us.”

After the win in districts, Marrington looked around at the competition and decided the Indians were right where they wanted to be.

“There’s five teams that have a legitimate shot at winning (states),” said Marrington. “We’re one of them.

“Last Friday (in districts), they just ran really exceptionally well. We’re hoping there’s something left in the tank this week and I think there is.

“I can tell; there’s more there.”

As the longtime skipper of the Rock North program, Marrington spent more time with this group than anyone else. So it should come as no surprise that he knew all along what everyone else was only hoping for. Still, the approach used by the Indians is not something you see every day at the high school level.

“These guys had some pretty lofty goals from the beginning,” the coach said. “And it was very business-like. They knew what they had to do and they went out and did it.”

NOTES: Both Campbell and Haas are looking to take their running game to the next level but as of yet, neither has made any decision as to their college choice. Both have visited Lehigh and Boston College.

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