Ringgold sophomore overcomes fall to win WPIAL cross country title

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Thursday, October 28, 2021 | 8:57 PM


Ringgold sophomore Ryan Pajak overcame a fall to claim his first WPIAL Class 2A cross country title Thursday at Cal (Pa.).

Pajak, who won the race by 35 seconds, stumbled going down the hill near the one-mile mark.

“I went face first,” Pajak said. “I just got up and continued to run. There is nothing you can do about it. You can’t cry about it. You just get back up. I gave up the lead, so that was disappointing.”

But Pajak bounced back and sprinted past the competition. His winning time was 16:58.9.

“I’m looking forward to the state meet,” Pajak said. “The competition will be a lot stronger and my times will be a lot faster.”

Pajak was followed by Hopewell junior Dom Flitcraft (17:33.2), Quaker Valley sophomore Matt Otto (17:36.3), Deer Lakes senior Carson McCoy (17:39.7) and Blackhawk junior Ethan Papa (17:40.8).

“I didn’t feel to great at the start, but I just kind of tucked it in and made sure I got to states,” McCoy said. “We came up fast, but it was tough running down the hill because it was muddy.

“To have success in cross country is cool. The most success I’ve had came in track when I won 1,600 at states. Being able to come out and compete well in cross country too is definitely motivating.”

Greensburg Salem didn’t repeat as team champions — the Golden Lions have won three titles in the past five years — but it has three runners advancing to Hershey: junior Aaron Tressler and juniors Charlie Johnson and Jacob Smith.

Tressler finished eighth overall, Johnson 11th and Smith 21st.

“It feels good to qualify for states,” Tressler said. “I knew it would be tough to qualify as a team. I just did anything I could to make it individually.”

Johnson said it’s a great feeling to qualify for states.

“Coming into the season, I had a little bit of a rough start because of an injury and being sick,” Johnson said. “It limited my training. So making it felt good. I wanted to get top 10, but making it was a big deal.”

Smith said he too was pleased to reach the state tournament.

“I was looking forward to this race because it’s my final season,” Smith said. “I’m happy I’m going to Hershey with those guys.”

Hampton won the school’s first WPIAL title with 85 points. North Catholic was second with `13 and Blackhawk was third with 145.

Class 3A boys

Butler senior C.J. Singleton was fighting a sinus infection when he ran in the Tri-State Track Coaches Association meet earlier this month. It cost him a title, which was won by his teammate, sophomore Drew Griffith.

Singleton wasn’t about to let an illness stop him this week.

Singleton captured his second consecutive Class 3A title in 16:26.3, edging our Griffith 16:32.1. North Allegheny freshman Jack Bertram was third (16:44.8), Peters Township junior Brett Kroboth (16:53.0) was fourth, and Seneca Valley senior Noah Peterson (16:56.9) was fifth.

“It’s really cool to win again,” Singleton said. “There aren’t a lot of guys that have done it. It’s very special to me.

“Drew earned that win last week. He’s really worked hard all season. It was kind of cool to see him win.”

Singleton placed sixth in the state a year ago. He wants to be atop of the podium this season.

“I just want to go out with the pack and try to get my first state gold,” Singleton said. “I have to bring my best race and I have to run as best that I can. The state of Pennsylvania is always strong.”

Griffith said he was pleased with his race.

“The pace was a little slower than last week,” Griffith said. “I still felt pretty good. I almost fell running down the hill, but I finished strong.”

North Allegheny won the team title with 51 points. Butler was second with 86 and Fox Chapel was third with 144. It was the Tigers 34th title and fourth consecutive.

Class A boys

Sean Aiken left no doubt.

Running on the Cal (Pa.) course for the first time since his freshman season, the Eden Christian junior bested the boys Class A field by 13 seconds, winning his first WPIAL title in a time of 17:09.3.

“It means everything,” Aiken said of his WPIAL title. “Leading up to this, I tried to visualize it and think about it. Finally coming true, that is huge. Now, I have to really prepare my mind for states. Freshman year, I didn’t really prepare at all and I got smoked. I got 69th. This gives me a little momentum, which is good. I have to prep because I’ve got to race these guys again in a week.”

Aiken was ninth at WPIALs last year on the White Oak Park course, and he placed 11th at Cal (Pa.) as a freshman.

“Before the race, I thought I was going to throw up. I was real nervous, which, in a way, is a good thing,” he said. “It’s been a while since I had run this course. It’s tough, but I like it. Being at White Oak, it really didn’t feel like WPIALs. It was nice to come back to (Cal).”

Winchester Thurston senior Lance Nicholls, third at WPIALs last year, finished runner-up Thursday with a time of 17:22.8. Riverside senior Ty Fluharty was third (17:31.7).

Knowing a thing or two about finishing as runner-up, Riverview finally broke through.

The Raiders had finished second to Winchester Thurston the past five years. Thursday was a different story as they placed all five of their scoring runners in the top 25 to win the WPIAL team title with 76 points.

Winchester Thurston, with four in the top 25, was second with 90 points. Eden Christian (108) and Our Lady of the Sacred Heart (149) rounded out the state-qualifying teams.

“It feels amazing to be able to accomplish this,” said senior Parker Steele, who led the Riverview boys with a fifth-place finish in the individual standings (17:55.3).

“After the past five years of coming so close, it is great to be able to do it with this group of guys. Now, we will see how it goes (at states) next week. It’s a completely different race with a whole other group of great teams. It will be fun for sure. We will be ready to run again and try to bring home the state title.”

More Cross Country

After 3rd-place finish at PIAA meet, Riverview bids farewell to decorated senior runners
Shaler runners build to strong postseason
North Allegheny’s Mlecko steps into PIAA cross country history books as 4-time team champion
Future bright for Hampton cross country teams
Moon’s Mia Cochran named Pennsylvania cross country runner of the year

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