HERSHEY — It was a one-two finish for Penns Valley’s Colton Sands and Brendan Colwell in the PIAA state championship cross country race, held Nov. 2 in Hershey.
Sands kicked it into high-gear during the last quarter mile of the course to finish in first place and capture the gold medal with a time of 15:56.
Sands clocked a time of 15:56, which was just nine seconds better than the second-place finisher, which happened to be fellow Rams teammate Brendan Colwell, whose 16:05 finishing time gave him the silver medal.
“It was nice to go 1-2, but the goal was to be number one,” Colwell said. “To lose to a teammate makes it easier.”
Veteran head coach Terry Glunt said he wasn’t surprised of the duo’s accomplishments, even though he wasn’t there to see them cross the finish line. Asked what was the first thing he said to the boys after the race, the coach said, “Nice job. Who won?” Glunt said he was at a part of the track where he couldn’t see the finish line when Sands and Colwell crossed.
But, he said he wasn’t surprised when they told him they finished first and second.
“There was no doubt in my mind that either runner could win the gold at Hershey,” said Glunt. “They went into the race with the best of resumes. They were running off by themselves by the two-mile mark and it wasn’t until the last quarter mile that Colton kicked it in.”
Glunt said the duo finishing first and second was commonplace this season, noting Colwell beat Colton a few times during meets in 2019, and vice versa; but, he said finishing one and two in the state competition is “very rare.”
“I really have to wonder if it’s ever happened before,” he said.
Both boys have competed in Pennsylvania’s most prestigious scholastic meet twice before. As freshmen, Sands placed 10th and Colwell finished in 18th. Last season, Sands earned an 18th-place finish, but was slowed by injuries, and Colwell placed sixth. The juniors will also have the opportunity to race there again next year, as seniors.
Sands and Colwell anchored a very successful Penns Valley cross country program this season. The team put together a 6-0 Mountain League record and finished 7-1 overall. Their only loss came at the hands of State College in a tri-meet with the Little Lions and Altoona.
Glunt credits that success to a history of success and hard work.
“We’ve won six straight Mountain League and District 6 Class A titles,” said Glunt. “We’ve finished first, fourth and fifth the past three years at states. The boys worked to put in the summer miles and worked to become the best team they could be by the end of the season. It has been a successful formula for the guys.
“They dominated the competition all season and it’s because of the work they put in during the summer and during the season,” Glunt continued. “They never let up in their training and it was always more — in miles and intensity — than any other runners I’ve ever coached. They were focused on winning a state title.”
Glunt said Penns Valley has historically been successful in cross country, but never had two athletes accomplish what Sands and Colwell did this season.
“We had a boys’ team champion in 2017 and a girls’ winner in Christine Stamm in 1992,” he said, “but we’ve never had a boys’ individual champion in cross country.”
He said, however, Sands did win a PIAA 3200 meter title in Class AA track and field this past spring.
The Rams placed fifth as a team at the meet in Hershey, scoring 157 points. Other Penns Valley runners who competed included Thaddeus Smith (33rd, 17:47), Daniel Kelly (34th, 17:51), Simon Smith (97th, 19:19) and Max Fiedler (103rd, 19:32).
The team from St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy also competed in the race and finished in 12th place in the Class A division with 264 points. It was the team’s best finish at the PIAA event in school history.
Leading the Wolves’ pack was Josh Hershbine, who place 30th in 17:19. Hershbine was followed by fellow St. Joe’s runners Carter Kauffman (35th, 17:28), Isaac Hyman (92nd, 18:15), Aidan Cross (144th, 18:53), Jonah Clark (151st, 18:56), Asa Reynolds (170th, 19:15) and Josh Hyman (200th, 19:57).
“The boys had a ground-breaking year as it culminated in their highest finish at the state meet,” said Wolves’ coach Jayson Jackson. “Our captains, Carter Kauffman and Isaac Hyman, lead the way for the boys, setting the standard for the group to follow.”