HERSHEY – There was no warning for Katie Dammer.
As the Abington Heights senior moved past the two-mile mark carrying the lead in the Class 3A race that wrapped up the girls portion of Saturday’s Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association Cross Country Championships, she thought her race was going according to plan.
While struggling up the final hill in second place, Dammer still believed in her chances to add a state title to her stellar high school cross country career.
By the time she made her last few strides on the 3.1-mile Parkview Cross Country Course, dropping from third to fourth place, just finishing was a challenge.
“It really just hit me like a wall,” said Dammer, a four-time state medalist in cross country, who is headed to Georgetown University to continue her distance running career in track and cross country. “I was heading up that last hill, poop-out hill, and I was in second. The thought was in my head, ‘OK, I can still win this. I just need to find it here. I know everyone is hurting, too.’
“Then, up that hill, I felt like I was walking. I’ve raced that course seven times and that (last) straightaway has never felt longer to me.”
It was a feeling Dammer has never experienced before while pushing herself to a lengthy series of running accomplishments.
“It was just a lot of things that were discouraging coming into the final stretch, but it just came on really quickly,” Dammer said. “I didn’t really think that in the middle I was over-exerting myself. I felt like I was in control and feel like that was what I had planned out, but it just wasn’t my day.”
Dammer finished 20th in the state as a freshman and seventh as a sophomore in 2015 when the Lady Comets still competed in Class 2A. She has been sixth and fourth in Class 3A, which encompasses the state’s largest schools. She tempered any disappointment with being “grateful” that her career had reached the point where pursuing a state title was a goal as she made her way through the course.
“I feel like I could race the same field on any given day and there might be a different result, but I can’t make excuses about it,” she said. “It’s about who has the best day on the right day. That’s unfortunate, but I’m just going to have to live with it and move on.”
Dammer ran the first mile in 5:38, less than a second off the lead and one second ahead of eventual champion Elizabeth Mancini from Cardinal O’Hara in Philadelphia.
“I had my race plan to go out in the front pack; I didn’t necessarily want to attack it too much,” Dammer said. “I was really happy with how I went through the first mile. I was exactly where I wanted to be.”
Dammer ran the difficult second mile in 6:03 with Mancini and second-place finisher Savannah Shaw from Upper St. Clair right behind her and the rest of the pack falling 15 seconds back.
“We hit the middle mile, which is notorious for its big hills,” Dammer said. “I was a little concerned about that going into it, but I also knew I was prepared for it because of my training and because I’ve raced on hills so many times.”
Dammer still led through four kilometers – nearly the 2 ½-mile mark – but things were becoming decidedly more difficult.
“I hit the last section of the race – the last two-kilometers or so – it was then that the wheels started to come off,” she said. “That was something that I had never really experienced before so it was discouraging, but I think it was just really physical in that I had expended too much energy in the middle part of the race to stay in that lead.”
When it was over, even Dammer didn’t know if she had gone too fast or if her body had betrayed her in some other way.
“I think there was something else going on too, because I was sick after the race and felt like I was going to pass out,” she said. “And, I’ve never experienced that before, so I can tell that what I did was not representative of my fitness and the season I’ve had and the work I put in.”
Dammer’s time of 18:35 led an Abington Heights team that finished 16th out of 18.
Hannah Hughes was the team’s second finisher, placing 148th in the 212-runner field.
Emma Marion, Sarah Bath and Erika Beahan finished in succession in 180th through 182nd place to complete the team score.
Abby Marion came in 195th and Modupe Osuntokun 204th.
Dammer plans to run in the regional qualifier for Nike Cross Country Nationals Nov. 25 in Wappinger Falls, N.Y.
Kyle Burke and Dan Uhranowsky, the two Abington Heights qualifiers for the Class 3A boys race, ran together in a fight with other medal contenders, staying on the edge of the top 25 for more than two miles.
Burke eventually settled for a 48th-place finish in the 236-runner field in 16:49. Uhranowsky faded and placed 164th.
Lackawanna Trail’s Victoria James also finished 48th in the Class A girls race with a time of 20:56. Fellow sophomore Madison Swanchak was 128th out of 227 runners.