Quaker Valley cross country teams out to defend WPIAL titles

Quaker Valley's Hannah Bablak (center) competes at the 2012 PIAA Class AA cross country state championships in Hershey.
Quaker Valley's Hannah Bablak (center) competes at the 2012 PIAA Class AA cross country state championships in Hershey.
Photo by PAUL CHAPLIN I The *Harrisburg Patriot-News
Nathan Smith
| Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

While some teams may crack under the pressure of trying to repeat the success of past teams, Quaker Valley cross country teams embrace it.

The Quakers are coming off banner years in 2012 as the boys team captured its fifth straight WPIAL Class AA title while the girls captured their fourth. It was the ninth title for the boys and eighth for the girls since 2000.

While each team needs to fill voids created by graduation, they have been working hard during the summer in hopes of adding another WPIAL title to the trophy case.

“The kids don't want to be the group that drops the ball,” Quaker Valley coach David Noyes said. “Their not running for themselves but for the teammates in the past seasons who have gone though all the hard work to be successful.”

The boys team lost two runners to graduation but return plenty of talent and have several freshmen looking to push the upperclassmen.

Seniors Luke Kropf and Rob Veltre will be the leaders of the squad.

Kropf finished ninth at the WPIAL Class AA championship race last season with a time of 17:28 while Veltre finished 24th with a time of 18:05.

“They are two different types of leaders,” Noyes said. “(Veltre) is all business while (Kropf) is a little more relaxed and has a calming influence. They work well together. They should both challenge for the WPIAL championship depending on how things go.”

Three juniors also return after gaining WPIAL experience last year. Xavier Lang finished in 16th (17:35), Charlie Kristo in 34th (18:29) and Alex Comerci in 78th (19:35) at the championship race in 2012.

The team well welcome in a group of freshmen looking for a varsity position. Zach Skolnekovich in particular has been pushing the returning starters from last season.

“Usually you don't see freshman boys at the top challenging for a spot,” Noyes said. “But he is super talented. His sister Rachel was our No. 1 girls runner last year.”

The girls lost three runners to graduation but return four runners who gained WPIAL championship experience a season ago.

Sophomore Hannah Bablak will look to repeat the strong season she had in 2012. She finished sixth at the WPIAL Class AA championships with a time of 20:27, second only to then-senior Rachel Skolnekovich's 20:06 for Quaker Valley.

“It took her most of the season for her to get in shape,” Noyes said. “She didn't run at all last summer. But with her strong finish in cross country and a good season in track, she realized how good she can be. We are expecting a big year from her.”

Senior Ashley McKendry finished in 15th at WPIALs last season with a time of 21:18 and will provide leadership to the team, as will senior Mary Grace Beson, who finished in 43rd at the WPIAL race with a time of 22:34.

Junior Caroline Westwood also returns after taking 51st at WPIALs with a time of 22:57.

The girls team will also welcome in a large group of freshmen to fill out the roster. The group of ninth-graders is particularly large for the teams, welcoming in 13 new faces.

“We don't usually get those kind of numbers,” Noyes said. “We often pick up kids after their freshmen season. They will try out another sport or do nothing at all and hear about the team and come out as sophomores or juniors.

“To have runners coming out as freshmen is ideal for us. It bodes well for the future.”

The Quakers will get the season under way on Sept. 7 at the Red, White and Blue Invitational at Schenley Park. The race starters at 8:30 a.m.

Nathan Smith is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at nsmith@tribweb.com or via Twitter @NSmith_Trib.

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