Macknair, Baublitz medal in Hershey

Sentinel photos by JEFF FISHBEIN
Juniata’s Garrett Baublitz runs the course at the 2017 PIAA Cross Country Championships, Saturday, in Hershey.

HERSHEY — A couple months ago, Chayce Macknair wasn’t sure he’d be running cross country, must less returning to the Parkview Course in November to try for a state medal.

The Mifflin County junior, who spent the run up to the season battling Lyme Disease, found his midseason form by midseason. Saturday, he finished 18th in the PIAA Class 3A championship race, giving him a coveted piece of hardware for his distance running effort.

He wasn’t the only boy from the area who climbed the medal stand — Juniata’s Garrett Baublitz, also making his second trip to run here, did even better. Baublitz had a top-10 finish in the first year his high school had a sanctioned cross country team.

Two other Mifflin County harriers appeared in the Class 3A boys run, Brayden Harris, a freshman, and Chase Sheaffer, a sophomore who qualified for the second time.

Macknair, who ran a 16:24, admitted he almost fell into the same trap as a year ago. When the race begins, the 240 or so entrants funnel into a pack after the first few hundred yards, and getting caught in that crowd can mean the difference between a good finish or an unhappy one.

“That race started out bad,” he said. “I kept clawing.

“The problem last year was I got really panicked at the beginning and tried to make something happen quick,” Macknair said. “(This year) I was patient, and once I got over the bridge and the course opened up that’s when I started making my move.”

Another thing he did this year was to break down the race into smaller and smaller segments. Instead of looking at mile times, he look at fractional splits.

“I knew all the little splits that make everything easy to go,” he said. “I think I was in about 27th place with .6 miles to go. I had a really strong finish, and that doesn’t usually happen.”

String finish is the mantra for his season after falling ill. He was worried the devastating disease would spread, and get worse.

“At the beginning of the year they didn’t even think I was going to be able to get back into the top five on the team,” he said. “The doctors did a great job catching that early and I’m so glad.”

Macknair is already making plans for his final attempt on this course.

“Hopefully next year I think top seven would be cool,” he said. “I think that’s realistic.”

Baublitz, on the other hand, got a huge jump, all but leading the race on the opening dash.

“I just wanted to get out really fast and get situated in the top 10-15 area. I tried to fly. That fast start is definitely beneficial later on,” he said. “It’s really important here because there are so many tight spots and so many sharp turns. I got lucky because I was able to get on the inside of those turns.”

A year ago, he had trouble breathing during the race and ended up well in the middle by the finish line. At the first mile marker he was in 12th place, and moved up three spots from there. He held ninth from the end of the second mile to the end of the race.

“I knew that if I got to 800 meters left in the race I could hold on and keep my spot,” he said.

His time was 16:31.

Some of the issues of last year he fixed on his own, others were helped by repeat runs on this course — not just at states, but at the PIAA’s Foundation Meet in season.

“I think last year was mental — I just mentally got weak,” Baublitz said. “Those hills — only a mile into the race I got tired. The key to this course is you’ve got to keep going.

Previous experience on the course “gave me a lot of confidence coming in here. I knew that I could actually run well on this course,” he said. “It made me less nervous.”

Baublitz is the first medalist from Juniata, but follows in the footsteps of East Juniata’s Tyler Erhard, who made the podium as an unattached runner. This is the first year the school district has a team, which is a co-op among the two schools.

“I’m very honored, actually,” Baublitz said. “It’s awesome.”

Harris, who made a name for himself before high school on a national scale, admitted it’s different in this environment.

“In USATF there were two age groups I was in, and this is double that,” he said. “There’s always someone better than anyone. I think if people think (about) that too much they just get off track.”

It didn’t help that he came to Hershey thinking the course was one he had experience on.

“I thought this was a totally different course — I thought it was one of the ones I ran in USATF,” he said. “It was nice to run it so next year I’ll know what I’m doing.”

Harris crossed the line 91st in 17:09. Not far off was Sheaffer, running 17:28, or 143rd out of the group.

“I had a higher goal this year, going a little bit faster. I think I’m satisfied with today,” he said. “I guess I took it in a little bit more, took it more serious.”