SOUTH ABINGTON TWP. — Abington Heights head cross country coach Mike Ludka believes the camaraderie between the team members creates a positive atmosphere that is conducive to success.
“They get along well and they’re very supportive,” Ludka said. “After every interval we do in practice, they’re cheering for each other and trying to push each other. Cross country is special in that way, they all kind of bond together.”
The boys and girls cross country teams will open their seasons with a cluster meet at 4:45 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 7, along with North Pocono and Valley View at Lackawanna Trail.
The girls team finished last season with a 17-2 Lackawanna League record, won the District 2 Class 2A championship and placed fourth out of 18 teams at the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) Class 2A Championship.
The group returns three runners who finished in the top 23 places in last year’s district championship. Junior Katie Dammer placed third in the district meet and seventh in the state championship. Senior Alex Scheuermann finished ninth in the district meet and 50th in the state meet. Junior Emma Marion placed 23rd at districts and 161st out of 213 runners at states.
“We’re experienced in the top couple girls and they’re hard workers,” Ludka said. “They are also a very determined group. They aren’t afraid to do everything it takes to try and get better.”
Senior Annie Wesolowski, junior Erika Beahan and sophomores Sarah Bath and Blanca Calvo are expected to move into the starting lineup this season, replacing Carly Danoski, Claire Traweek and Meghan Beahan, who all graduated, and Maddie Show, who moved out of the district.
“Despite the losses of athletes to graduation, we’re really looking to win our league and district,” Ludka said. “We move up to Class 3A this year, so that will be a little different experience for them, but the goals are still the same.”
Ludka expects Holy Cross, Scranton Prep and Western Wayne to provide the toughest competition in the Lackawanna League, but feels it could be a wide open race.
“There are a lot of teams that have some losses, but there are also a lot of teams that gained some great talent from their junior high programs,” he said. “There are a lot of contenders, I don’t think one team really jumps out.”
The boys team finished last season with a 17-3 Lackawanna League record and placed third in the District 2 Class 3A championships.
With five runners who finished in the top 35 places at last’s year district meet returning, Ludka believes they can surpass last year’s result.
Junior Kyle Burke finished eighth, senior Nathan Kizer placed 21st, junior Adam Traweek finished 22nd, sophomore Ryan Siebecker placed 28th and junior Dan Uhranowsky finished 35th.
“We always go into each meet with our focus on winning, so the league is something we talked about as well as districts,” Ludka said. “Last year, we had a nice showing but it wasn’t our best day. We’d like to have a little better finish this year. There are some really tough teams there, Hazleton Area in particular returns a lot, but I think we have the talent to contend.”
According to Ludka, there is an open competition for the final two starting spot to replace Jack Malone and Chase Yarns, who graduated.
Ludka feels the ambition of the boys team is one of its best traits.
“They’re not afraid to compete and put themselves on the line during a race,” he said.
The third-year coach expects Montrose and Wallenpaupack to provide the toughest competition in the Lackawanna League.
Reach Robert Tomkavage at 570-704-3941 or on Twitter @rtomkavage.