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Downingtown East boys, Rustin girls lead the way at PIAA state XC meet

For both the senior-laden Downingtown East boys squad and the youthful West Chester Rustin girls team, Saturday at the PIAA cross country state championships at the Hershey Parkview course was a particularly memorable day.
D-East finished in third place in the boys’ Class 3A team competition, behind champion North Allegheny (from District 7) and runner-up LaSalle College (District 12), while the Golden Knights placed eighth in the girls’ Class 3A team competition.
“Our team exceeded expectations,” said D-East cross country coach Austin Tobelmann. “Our goal was to make the top five, so to make the top three is just great.”
The Cougar boys were led by a pair of seniors, Caiden Leen (6th place, 16:16.2) and Brendan Flynn (24th, 16:42.0). Leen was the top Chester County finisher in the boys’ 3A race, five places behind winner C J Singleton of Butler (15:52.9).
Leen and Flynn brought home the first individual medals from the PIAA state meet in Downingtown East boys’ cross country history.
Other top D-East runners Saturday were senior Chris Walsh (52nd, 17:08), senior James Smith (129th, 17:48.0), junior Ryan Christman (130th, 17:48.6), senior Owen Hibshman (131th, 17:48.6) and senior Ben Leandri (191st, 18:17.2).
“Our team had a talk last night in which we said, for a lot of our guys, there is not only no next week but no next year to compete for Downingtown East, so give it your all on the course [Saturday],” said Tobelmann. “The guys took that advice to heart, were really focused today, and went for it.”
Tobelman also pointed out that the Cougars’ depth was a key factor – Walsh, Smith, Christman and Hibshman all ran their best race of the fall Saturday – and that Smith came on late in the race Saturday for his strong finish.
The Cougars had run on the Hershey Parkview course earlier this fall at the 15th PIAA Foundation XC Invitational.
“The first half of the course is up-and-down, a lot of hills, so it’s important to be patient on the first half,” said Tobelmann. “You can go for it on the second half, where there are only three hills, and you can catch a lot of people that way.”
Unionville High SChool junior Aryan Abbaraju was the second-best Chester County runner in the boys’ 3A meet, with a 17th-place finish and a clocking of 16:31.1.
Other top Chester County runners in the boys’ 3A race were Avon Grove sophomore Connor Britton (47th, 17:03.7), West Chester Henderson senior Gavin Brophy (55th, 17:09.4), Downingtown West sophomore Richard Planck (67th, 17:19.5), Conestoga senior Michael Baumgardner (78th, 17:22.5), Coatesville junior Joshua Miller (83rd, 17:24.5), Unionville senior Adam Kitay (89th, 17:26.2), Kennett senior Jesse Comada (100th, 17:32.3), Kennett senior Kendal Lanier (147th, 17:56.8) and Conestoga senior Vincent Pena (150th, 17:58.5).
In the PIAA 3A girls race, the Golden Knights finished eighth in the team competition, led by junior Ellie Keefer (10th place, 18:53.3), sophomore Maddie Miller (38th, 19:53), senior Lindsey Volkman (79th, 20:37.2), sophomore Brianna Ambrosine (175th, 21:49.8), junior Hannah Betchyk (192nd, 22:01.7), junior Nadia Kim (224th, 23:16.6) and senior Maeve Bonass (225th, 23:17.6).
“Our runners moved intelligently today, managed their energy and emotions really well,” said Rustin girls cross country head coach Andrew White. “They were focused all day. They were excited to be here, and they felt like they belonged here. Ellie ran faster at States than she did at Districts. For Maddie, in her first cross country season, to break 20 minutes on this course is really impressive.”
On the last fifth of the 5K course, Rustin made a late push to move from 10th in the team standings to 8th. In that final stretch, on an individual basis, Ambrosine moved up 15 spots, Miller 11, Betchyk 8 and Volkman 7.
The Rustin girls finished second at the Ches-Mont championships and fourth at the District 1 3A meet this fall, an impressive feat especially when one considers that none of their top three runners at States – Keefer, Miller and Volkman – competed at Districts last year, although all three girls are talented multi-sport athletes.
“This team has been a joy to coach,” said Rustin girls cross country head coach Andrew White said of his youthful squad. “I’m excited that we’ll be bringing back a good group next fall.”
Keefer and Miller were the top Chester County runners in the girls’ 3A race Saturday, followed by Avon Grove senior Annika Pfaff (60th, 20:18.1), Conestoga junior Julia Harris (68th, 20:25.1), Downingtown West junior Taylor Rochon (75th, 20:32.8), Volkman, Kennett junior Ella Burnham (100th, 20:51.3), Unionville senior Josie Tucker (114th, 20:59.3), Downingtown East freshman Emily Steinberg (121st, 21:02.9), Great Valley freshman Tessa Dietrick (128th, 21:12.1), the Rustin duo of Ambrosine and Betchyk, Bishop Shanahan senior Carlyn Seagrave-Daly (202nd, 22:16.2) and the Golden Knight pair of Kim and Bonass.
NOTES: In the girls’ 2A race at the PIAA state championships Saturday, the top Chester County runner was Villa Maria Academy junior Charlotte Fritz (183rd, 23:08.9). In the boys’ 1A race, Devon Prep finished 15th in the team competition. The Tide was led by sophomore Patrick Rullo (43rd place, 18:11.8), senior Keaton Rush (57th, 18:17.3) and senior Max Mongiello (137th, 18:58.4).

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