PAHS cross country 2008 preview

Lori Chase
Port Allegany Reporter Argus
September 4, 2008

A week before her runners stepped to the starting line for their first meet, Port Allegany head coach Fran Reilly’s enthusiasm was evident, and with good cause. Not only will the Gators officially be able to field full teams for both boys’ and girls’ competitions this season, they’ll also have a “home-course” advantage again.

After last year’s Vo-Tech expansion wiped out the first track Reilly devised, and forced the teams to run all their meets on the road, she decided to take advantage of the woodlands across Edison Bates Drive from the school to build a decent course.

“Our challenge was, we have a beautiful hillside up there,” she said. “But it was a mess, and it was going to take a lot of work.” Fortunately, one of her students, Jordan Stehle, decided to take on the course as his Eagle Scout project. After an offseason of hard work by Stehle, Reilly, and her athletes, the program now has a brand new 3.08-mile layout – shortened to 1.6 miles for the junior high runners – “that can be maintained, that won’t fall apart after using it one time.”

Senior Justin Lewis, who finished third in the North Tier League championship and also ran well at districts, is the only returning varsity letterman for the boys’ team. However, he’ll be joined by a strong trio of freshmen – Elliott Binder, Jacob Stehle, and Adam Johnson – moving up from the junior high squad that won its league meet. Junior soccer fullback/midfielder Josh Fox, taking advantage of a new dual-enrollment rule which allows students to participate in more than one sport at the same time, will also run with the team, as will freshman James Coxen.

Reilly is optimistic about their prospects. “Every one of those guys is a fairly good athlete,” she said. “I think we’re going to be in the competition.”

Three of the four girls who competed in the district meet – senior Desi Tanner, junior Melissa Haggard, and sophomore Jackie Lewis – return for another season, and freshman Hannah Wise joins the varsity. Jessica French, a member of the team in 2006, is back for her senior year after concentrating on soccer last fall. (Like Fox, she’ll compete in both sports.) Reilly also sees potential in this group, with French and Tanner expected to set the pace.

But while she’s pleased at the thought of finally being able to field full rosters and officially keep score in dual meets, Reilly – herself an avid runner – doesn’t list team accomplishments among her expectations.

“The first thing, the first day, they all know that their goal is to beat themselves,” she said. “I’m not worried about anything else. Yes, if we get trophies or whatever, that’s great … but every time they get on the line, their biggest competition is themselves. ‘What did I get last time’? That’s what I want them to do. That’s why I like cross country. You’re competing against yourself.”

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