Three Huskies, Baublitz ready to run in Hershey

LEWISTOWN — Four area athletes make the trek to Hershey’s Parkview Course Saturday in the quest for PIAA cross country gold.

In Class 3A, Mifflin County sophomores Chayce Macknair and Seth Phillips, along with freshman Chase Sheaffer compete. Juniata freshman Garrett Baublitz, an unattached entry (Juniata does not sponsor the sport), runs in the 2A event.

The 2A race begins at 12:30 p.m. and 3A at 1:15.

Macknair finished fourth in District 6 with a time of 16:41.8 on a windy, wet course in Sidman. He has been the alpha male of the pack all season for the Huskies. Sheaffer ran a 17:08.5, good enough for sixth at districts and Phillips came in one place behind his teammate with a time of 17:13.9

“(Macknair) is super competitive. He likes to go out fast and be near the front so he will like the start,” Mifflin County coach Greg Loht said. “This is his first year of cross country.  During the season, he developed into a better racer and he learns from each race. He was a state qualifier in track. That experience should help on Saturday.”

Loht said Macknair needs to avoid getting caught in heavy traffic on the course, which was reconfigured this year due to a road project at the adjacent sports and entertainment complex.

“Chase Sheaffer has been our second runner for most of the season. Chase is solid.  He has a great work ethic and does the little things that make a big difference,” Loht continued. “Chase favors a slower start and comes on strong the second half of the race. Coming out of the hill section there is still time to pass a lot of people.

“Seth Phillips has the most speed of the three. He gets up for the big meets and is a fierce competitor. He likes to think of himself as a track runner first but has a range from 400 meters to 5K. Seth has the speed to get off the line and get in good position at the start so that will be an advantage.”

Loht likes the talent, grit and determination of his trio and their potential at states.

“All three of the boys are underclassmen. To get to the state meet at this age is a testament to their talent level. Our goals this year are to learn all they can at the meet. We want to go down and have a good race experience,” Loht said. “The boys put in the training to get to this level. They expect to do well. They each have a chance to return to the meet a couple more times. Next year they will be older, stronger and faster and with this year’s experience under their belts.”

Baublitz won the district title despite being under the weather last week. He broke the tape in 16:55 — a full 30 seconds slower than his personal best this season. Jeff Miller, Baublitz’s coach, believes he is ready for the rigors of the Parkview Course.

“The 16-minute mark is not doable for him on this course. With perfect conditions at the D6 course, he could have done it. If he can repeat his time at districts, he would be right in at 25-26 near the medals,” Miller said. “He didn’t run a good race at districts even with the conditions. He had stomach and leg issues. We cut back this week, so he should be ready. Being just a freshman, he puts a lot of pressure on himself. I told him, ‘You have nothing to lose.'”

Miller has a simple, but not easy strategy for Baublitz running the Hershey course — get out of the gate fast.

“The course itself is very difficult with tight turns, narrow bridges and steep hills. The times won’t be fast, so this course suits him,” Miller said. “He has a quick start and should have no problem getting out fast. He needs to be in the top 30 by the first bridge. If you don’t get out you could be stuck. The key is to get out fast and get position. If you can get to the two-mile mark without being totally done, it’s a positive. The last mile of the course is easiest.”

The top 25 individuals receive medals in each race.