NEB boys win sixth straight NTL Invite title.

By: Chris Manning | Towanda Daily Review | October 15, 2017


ROME — Last year, the Northeast Bradford boys' cross-country team took five of the top six spots at the NTL Coaches' Invitational.

On Saturday, the Panthers still came out on top, but much like the dual meet season, it was much closer.

Thanks to a strong pack in the middle teens, NEB (72) won their sixth straight invitational crown. Wyalusing (79) and Cowanesque Valley (80) were right behind, followed by Troy (107) in fourth, Wellsboro (115), in fifth, NP-Mansfield (118) in sixth, Canton (130) in seventh, Sullivan County (198) was eighth and Towanda (219) took ninth.

"It is nice to go home here on our home course as team champions," said NEB coach Michael Murphy. "But they're knocking on the door here."

Despite the win, Murphy knows his team has work to do to get ready for districts.

"Just because we won this week doesn't mean that we're going to beat the NTL schools (in two) weeks," he remarked. "Wyalusing is looking faster, CV is looking faster. We're going to need a tighter pack if we're going to get it done at districts."

It was Wyalusing going 1-2 with Alex Patton (17:05) and Kevin Heeman (17:08).

"It felt pretty good," Patton said about winning the invite. "Last year I just kind of tried, but I had an injury on my heel so I didn't do that well so this year I wanted to make up for it. I beat my time by about a minute so I'm happy about it."

"That felt amazing," added Heeman. "We've talked about it for quite a while if we could do it and we put our heads into it today to try to do it."

Patton and Heeman looked connected at the hip the whole way as they ran the first mile behind the leaders then picked them off during the second. From there they rolled to take the top two spots.

"We wanted to stay back a little bit and let some of the other faster kids go out and run the race a little bit," explained Heeman. "We set a pace with them. When they backed down a little bit we decided to take charge."

They credit each other for their success this season, both as a team and individually.

"I'm very thankful for Kevin," said Patton. "I probably wouldn't be able to do half of what I did this year without him. We push off each other all season."

Not only does it help to have a partner in races to pace with, but it's especially good in practices to have someone pushing you.

"It helps for motivation," explained Patton. "In practice we try to beat one another out. I guess that makes both of us better at the same time."

"If he isn't on the team I don't feel I would be where I am today," said Heeman.

The battle for third came down to a sprint between two rivals and this year's top freshman.

Wellsboro's Aidan Perry (17:24) held off NEB's Zak Smith (17:25) and Troy's Owen Williams (17:27) for the bronze.

Perry led at the mile, but slowly began to fade while Williams and Smith began the race further back, pacing themselves to catch Perry.

All three met on the track for the final 300 meters and Smith, who was running fifth, was able to pass to Williams, but couldn't catch Perry, who held him off with a final burst.

"It felt really good, especially in the beginning," said Perry. "But when I went through the second mile, it just started lagging and I let the two kids from Wyalusing pass me."

The junior Hornet didn't want to be first at the mile, it just happened out that way.

"I wanted to stay behind another pack or something," he explained. "But I don't think anybody else wanted to go out fast, so I just took it."

The last mile was a long one for Perry, but he fought through it well.

"I was just thinking about controlling my breathing," he remarked.

And he had enough left in him to hold off fellow junior Smith.

"Me and Zak, we've kind of been winning on and off since eighth grade actually," said Perry. "And I figured it was my turn to win."

Smith enjoyed the final sprint as well.

"That was just all me trying to get my all just to beat him," he said. "But he got me and I have a lot of respect for him."

Smith knew he needed to have a good day if the Panthers were going to retain the title.

"I actually felt pretty good today," said Smith. "I knew I had some big competition today so it really pushed me. I think I felt good."

He was listening to coach's game plan at the start when he came through the mile outside the top five.

"Murph always says to run a smart race," explained Smith. "And a smart race is really just starting off slower and accelerating through the race."

Smith's final push actually began with three quarters of a mile to go.

"Moving up the hill, I was really starting to push it there just to get a little closer," he said. "Then I eased it down there. I really just picked up the pace to try and push it and get on them."

Williams had the same mindset, start off at a controlled pace and finish strong.

"I know that I start off slower than others," he said. "Normally it's my plan to start off behind and then take them one by one."

Williams closed strong on Perry, who was running third, with around 600 meters to go and ran with him once they got to the track and had 300 to go.

"I knew in a past race I had beaten him before and so I was really just, 'I've got him,'" explained Williams. "But at the end, he had me."

The freshman felt Smith coming up behind him.

"At the end, I started to kick but I could feel his power," remarked Williams. "And I knew I wasn't going to keep up."

This was a little different than last year when Williams cruised to the junior high title.

"That's some good competition I'm running with," he said.

Rounding out the top five were Wellsboro's Connor Brought (17:47), CV's Madden Doud (17:48), NP-Mansfield's Blake Nelson (17:53), Wyalusing's Logan Newton (17:59) and Canton's Mak Gleckner (18:01).

CV's George Reynolds (18:03) was 11th followed by Troy's Kale Weidner (18:05) in 12th. Rounding out the invitational medalists were NEB's Nate Mosier (18;13), Dale Brown (18:26) and Destin Moore (18:37).

The Panther's fifth runner was Aaron Boss (19:18) in 27th.

Wyalusing's fourth and fifth — Luke Auer (19:25.97) and Matt McClelland (19:42) — were 32nd and 38th.

For CV their third and fourth — Seth Neal (18:47) and Christopher Harris (18:48) — were just outside the medals in 16th and 17th while fifth runner Joseph Easton (19:22) was 30th.

Rounding out Troy's top five were Robert Rogers (19:12) in 24th, Jacob Brown (19:26) in 33rd and Zane Longwell (19:30) in 35th.

For Wellsboro Bergen Weiner (18:50) was 18th, Zack Busch (19:28) was 34th and Lucas Citrino (21:14) took 63rd to round out their top five.

After Nelson for NP-Mansfield was Jacob Green (18:54) in 19th, Sam Shedden (19:02) in 20th, Roger Learn (19:25.02) in 31st and Seth Nelson (20:25) in 50th.

For Canton, after Mak Gleckner, was Josiah Gleckner (19:06) in 21st, Connor Hess (19:08) in 22nd, Kyle Davis (19:40) in 36th and Joel Schoonover (20:00) in 44th.

Sullivan County's top five were Jake Doyle (19:11) in 23rd, Omar Rubio (19:14) in 25th, Nathan Higley (20:05) in 45th, Herm Harney (20:59) in 60th and Christopher Walsh (21:02) in 61st.

Towanda's top five were Eric Lauber (19:19) in 28th, Zachary Johnson (19:55) in 42nd, Chase Dibble (20:45) in 54th, Jacob Simmons (20:56) in 56th and Hunter Johnson (20:57) in 57th.

Josh McClelland (19:16) led Sayre in taking 26th with teammates Caleb McClelland (20:58.58) 59th and Logan Goudreau (22:40) in 75th.

North Rome Christian School's Noah Hurst (19:41) was 37th.

In the junior boys' race, Troy (31) won the team title followed by Wyalusing (45), NP-Mansfield (62) and NEB (80).

NP-Mansfield's Noah Shedden (10:30) held off Troy's Jackson Simpson (10:32) for the win while Troy's Ty Barrett (10:56) was third.

NEB's Jack Shumway (11:09) was fourth while Wyalusing's Clayton Petlock (11:14) took fifth.

As the runners get ready for districts, Patton and Heeman hope their teamwork can carry through to states.

"My goal is to get top five instead of just making it by default, basically because of the Northeast guys," said Patton.

"That's what I'm out here to do."

Heeman believes if they run their best they can go even higher.

"That's our goal, is to stay in the top three," he said. "Maybe even go 1-2 down there."

Both Perry and Smith had rough starts to the season, but they've managed to shake that off and look prime as they head into districts.

"I'm definitely peaking going into districts," said Perry. "The beginning was really bad, but as it's progressed I've gotten a lot faster."

Smith not only has to worry about his individual performance, but the Panthers have a shot to win their sixth straight district title as well.

"I think it's going to be tough," he said. "Wyalusing is still tough for us in our NTLs, but I think districts, we're really going to just have to focus."

Williams is looking forward to the rematch at districts.

"It's in 13 days or somewhere around there," he said. "It should be great."