The girls on the Elizabethtown Area High School cross country team have put high expectations on themselves in recent years. Despite achieving times most other runners would only dream of getting, the Lady Bears continually push for more and tend to be disappointed when they come up just short of their own lofty standards.
No more was that evident than at the PIAA Cross Country Championships, which took place at the Parkview Cross Country Course in Hershey on Saturday, Nov. 2. Senior Katie Locker and junior Madeline Quinn represented Elizabethtown in the girls Class 3A race, looking to improve on their respective finishes from 2018 (26th for the former, 34th for the latter) and earn top-25 medals.
Unfortunately for them, that didn’t happen. Up against a stacked field of runners and arguably the most difficult course in the state at Parkview, the duo ultimately missed out of medaling. Locker was among the top 20 through the first half of the race but ended up falling back down the stretch. She took 31st with a time of 19:33. Quinn, meanwhile, was in the middle pack for the majority of the race, finishing 85th in 20:12.
“I don’t know if it was as much the course as it was myself,” Locker said. “I just felt really weak today. The hills kind of played into that, and the course has changed a lot, but I felt much better ahead of the races the last two years.”
“The course is pretty challenging,” Quinn said. “There are a lot of hills at the beginning, but it flattens out after that. The competition was just super tough this year. There’s a lot of good young girls that weren’t here last season. People in our league have gotten a lot better too.”
“When it’s all said and done, we didn’t accomplish place-wise what we were looking for,” head coach Mark Gallagher said. “Time-wise, we did, but you got to hang with that competition. Katie was there for the first 2K. It’s a fast pace, and at some point, you got to go with everyone else.”
Gallagher was correct in his assessment of their times. Locker dropped 36 seconds from her 2018 time; her 2019 time was her second-best state meet time in her high school career, behind her 19:07 time in 2017 that put her in ninth place. Quinn’s time was also a career high; she finished in 20:16 in 2017 and 20:21 in 2018.
But this year’s competitors simply took a larger leap forward. For comparison’s sake, 2018 Elizabethtown graduate Cat Shontz medaled last season with a 25-place time of 20:04. The winner, West Chester Henderson’s Jenna Mulhern, had a time of 18:42.
This time around, the winning time belonged to Moon sophomore Mia Cochran, who crossed the finish line in 17:53. Mulhern, now a sophomore, was third in 18:18. West Chester Rustin senior Marcella Krautzel got the last medal, placing 25th in 19:19.
On the bright side, Locker and Quinn had the third and fifth-best placements, respectively, among all Lancaster-Lebanon League runners. Cedar Crest junior Gwyneth Young (seventh, 18:51) and Warwick junior Anna Martin (16th, 19:08) were the only two medalists, while McCaskey/Lancaster Country Day junior Arielle Breuninger was right behind Locker in 32nd.
“If you think in terms of the state of Pennsylvania, it’s great for the sport,” Gallagher said. “If you think in terms of how we did today, I would’ve rather have seen them get medals. If the competition’s going fast, you just have to try and go faster. Still, there were only a few girls from our area that were better than us. You can’t even call today a bad race, but there’s something symbolic about getting that medal.”
The meet marks the last high school cross country meet for Locker, who had nearly unparalleled achievements during her four-year tenure. She won the L-L League title in 2018 and finished second in each of her other four seasons, where she also earned All-Star honors. She was named the Section One Girls MVP last year as well, where she finished fourth at districts. That adds to a pair of eighth-place finishes as well (one this year, one as a freshman in 2016).
Not to mention perhaps the biggest and most challenging: qualifying for states four straight times. When Locker graduates in June, with several Division I colleges vying for her to join their cross country/track and field programs, the Lady Bears will immediately feel her absence.
“It’s sad,” Locker admitted. “I don’t really know what else to say about it. I’m probably gonna miss them. We do our workouts together, so I’m gonna miss training and just being with them every day. It’ll tough not to see them regularly anymore.”
“She’s always calm and relaxed about races, so that’s helped me a lot,” Quinn said. “And I always laugh a lot when I’m with her. It’s gonna be tough to lose her.”
“These girls are the best,” Gallagher said while holding back tears. “Part of the tears are thinking what I could’ve done differently to help her get that medal. For what’s it worth, I don’t know who deserves to medal more than her. You have a lot of kids that go through the motions and don’t put forth the effort. Katie has just grown and matured as a person and as a runner. She’s been amazing from day one. To have gotten to the state meet all four years … how many kids can say they did that? I’m sure she’ll do the same in track. She’s got a level of consistency that most people don’t have. Her times are just gonna keep dropping.”
Still, Elizabethtown has plenty of hope for the next couple of years. That starts with Quinn, who was able to make states this year despite missing half the season due to a foot injury she sustained over the summer. Her resume isn’t quite as stacked as Locker’s, but she’s also competed at states in her first three seasons and has an equally impressive set of postseason accolades. Quinn has finished in the top 10 at leagues three times and actually holds a higher district placement than Locker (third last season). The one thing she’s missing? A top-25 finish at states.
“It’ll definitely motivate me considering I haven’t medaled yet,” Quinn said. “Hopefully, I won’t be injured next year and I can pull one out for my senior year.”
“She’ll be coming back to states to go for that medal,” Gallagher said. “She’s still looking for her first one here. With Katie being gone, the team’s gonna look to her a lot more for senior leadership as the front runner of the team. Maddie’s not replacing her; she’s her own person and has a different approach to training and racing.”
However, there’s only one Lady Bear currently on the roster that has consistently competed at a high level: sophomore Sierra Kapcsos, who placed sixth at leagues and was a first-team All-Star alongside Locker this season, though she did miss out on states with a 49th-place finish at districts.
But there are pieces for Elizabethtown to try and build on. Aside from Quinn, four other juniors (Hannah Kline, Maggie McCoy, Maggie Mink and Kira Spigelmeyer) are set to return in 2020. Kapcsos’ fellow sophomores have a lot of potential as well. In her first year with the sport, Olivia Shenk helped the Lady Bears pick up numerous close victories during the regular season, nabbing 49th at leagues and 99th at districts as well. Katrina Hook and Emily Bonsall also were regular point-scorers.
The hope is that Elizabethtown remains competitive with Quinn and Kapcsos leading the way next season before making a serious run in 2022 with this year’s group of sophomores. There will always be rising runners from junior high and cross country newcomers that can be thrown into the mix too. In any case, the Lady Bears will have to focus heavily on their training during the offseason. After all, they have a lot to live up to.
“It’s been nice the last couple of years to have kids come in with a lot of natural ability,” Gallagher said. “You could pretty quickly figure out that you had a core group with Cat, Katie and Maddie. Sierra’s already made great strides, so we’ll have two who are already there. Olivia, coming from a soccer background, did great for her first year, and Katrina and Emily had their moments. The nucleus will definitely be there, but it’ll just be about putting that work in during the offseason. It’d be nice to have more than three runners who consistently run at an elite level. Hopefully, the guys can look to the girls’ situation and feed off of that too.”