Hempfield narrowly edged out Cedar Crest for the 2019 LL League title, 91 to 94. The Falcons effort was valiant as they weren’t at full strength. The 3rd-6th place teams were separated by only 10 points –> Elizabethtown (126 pts), Ephrata (131 pts), Manheim Township (132 pts), and Donegal (136 pts). Hempfield returns their top 5 runners from last season’s championship team. Cedar Crest, Elizabethtown, and Ephrata return 4 of their top 5. Manheim Township and Donegal both return their top 5. Elizabethtown and Ephrata both graduated top performers. E’town graduate Katie Locker (now at Monmouth University) and Ephrata graduate Mary Campbell (now at Mount Saint Marys) had terrific LL League careers.
Individually, Gwyneth Young returns to defend the title she earned in 2019. She has already posted a resume that puts her amongst the league’s all-time bests. She’ll look to cap off a fantastic career with a run at the state title this year. Before states though, she will get pushed by fellow LL League seniors Arielle Breuninger (JP McCaskey), Anna Martin (Warwick), and Madeline Quinn (Elizabethtown). These four are all top distance recruits in the state this season. Braetan Peters (jr, Annville-Cleona), Sierra Kapcsos (jr, Elizabethtown), Milana Breuninger (so, JP McCaskey), and Grace Tadajewski (so, Cedar Crest) are the top non-senior returnees for 2020.
The team race for the LL League girl’s title should be an awesome event. As many as 4 teams could take a run at the team title. Freshmen could make the difference this season.
Note – The Iron Bridge Invitational is the unofficial LL League Jr HS/MS Championship meet.
Team previews and pre-season league ranks:
1. Hempfield (AAA) – In 2019, Hempfield went undefeated in league meets, won the Section 1 title, and won the LL League Championship. Lily Williams (sr) will look to lead the Black Knights in 2020. She is the #6 returnee from the 2019 League Championship. Williams isn’t the only high ranked Hempfield returnee, however. Paige Harrington (jr, #13), Delaney Minder (jr, #15), Gabriella Hollinger (sr, #16), and Isabel Smith (sr, #17) are all top 20 returnees. These 5 formed the tightest 1-5 pack in the league a year ago. Grace Stringer (sr, #30 returnee) and freshman Ella Wolfe add more depth. Wolfe finished 5th at the Iron Bridge Invitational. Also keep an eye out for Hannah Kilheffer (fr, 15th at Iron Bridge) and Mackenzie Ridilla (jr). Hempfield had an off day at Districts a year ago, but if this crew shows even the slightest improvement over 2019 they could be state bound in 2020.
2. Cedar Crest (AAA) – I went back and forth between Hempfield and Cedar Crest for the #1 pre-season ranking. It’s so close. Hempfield’s depth ultimately earned them the #1 ranking. That said, I believe the Falcons top 5 could be special. They return the league’s #1 runner in Gwyneth Young. Young is the #5 returnee in the state this season. She set new indoor PRs in 2020 and was set-up for a big outdoor season before COVID shut things down. Look for continued improvement and a big senior season from her this year. You can follow along with her here in our Senior Journal series. Sophomore Jillian Tobias was the league’s 2nd finishing freshman at leagues last year. Cedar Crest gets back a healthy Grace Tadajewski (so). Tadajewski looked like the league’s top freshman before injury sidelined her for the post-season. The Falcons will have another top freshman again in 2020 with Madelyn Lowe (6th at Iron Bridge in 2019). Junior Elizabeth Vila finished just outside of the top 25 last season. Graduating All-League performer Shayla Bonzelet is a loss, but if healthy, this team will be better than the 2019 squad. Depth needs to be developed, however. An injury to a top runner could set this team back.
3. Manheim Township (AAA) – No team benefits more from a strong freshman class than Manheim Township. The Blue Streaks MS program was the best in Central PA and possibly the state in 2019. They won everything a year ago and it wasn’t even close They won PTXC, Iron Bridge, and the Carlisle MS Meet of Champions, basically halving the runner-up team’s point total in each contest. Three potential impact freshman join the squad in 2020. Ava Shirk, Marina Papadimitriou, and Sabrina Hess will push a strong returning squad for top 5 spots. Chloe Kline will provide some needed senior leadership. She has won league medals in each of her first 3 seasons and is the #9 returnee from the 2019 championships. Sarah Russo (jr) made big strides in 2019 and returns as the leagues #20 runner. Paige Lawrence (jr), Avery Ebersole (jr), Aurelia Huss (sr), and Jenny Weiss (jr) could all push for top 25 finishes this season. Township may have as much depth as Hempfield, but will they be able to compete up front against Hempfield and Cedar Crest’s top 5?
4. Donegal (AAA) – The Indians return their top 7 runners from 2019. That 2019 team advanced to the state championships in class AA where they finished 12th. They’ll face a new challenge for 2020 as they transition to class AAA. Hadley Shoaf (jr) and Myra Naqvi (sr) provide 2 low-stick performers up front. They are the #10 and #12 returnees in the league. Naqvi had a strong indoor campaign and set new 800m and 1600m PRs. Rachel Fernald (sr), Amanda Fry (sr), Marleigh Ballard (so), Emma Myers (so), and Meg Zell (jr) round out a strong and tightly packed top 7. This is an experienced group that could break into the league’s top 3 this season. With a great season they could compete for the title. They are heavy favorites in Section 2.
5. JP McCaskey (AAA) – Like Donegal, JP McCaskey also returns their top 7 performers from one year ago. Breuninger sisters, Arielle (sr) and Milana (so), return to lead the way for the Tornadoes. A year ago, Arielle finished 3rd at the League Meet, 14th at Districts, and 32nd at States. She set indoor PRs in everything from the 800m through 3k and qualified for the state championships in the one mile run. She seems primed for a state championship medal this season. Milana was a nice addition to the team last year and ended the season as the league’s top freshman, finishing 11th in the league. She too had a strong indoor season. Elili Ayana (jr), Corinne deSyon (sr), and Naomi Main (jr) give McCaskey a strong and experienced pack.
6. Warwick (AAA) – One of the breakout stars of 2019 was Warwick’s Anna Martin. She really hit her stride in the post-season. She finished 4th at Leagues, 10th at Districts, and then 16th at the PIAA State Championships. She’s a great runner who will provide tremendous leadership for the Warriors in 2020 (see her “Senior Journal” entries here). Look for Martin to push Gwyneth Young this season. Warwick has a strong freshman class and could see 2 newcomers in their top 5. Ella Hartel was 3rd at Iron Bridge and is the leagues top ranked rising freshman (7th graders went 1-2 at Iron Bridge in 2019). Sidoney Freeman finished 11th at Iron Bridge. Alexa Wenger (jr), Rachel Bonner (sr), Sophie Brandwene (jr), and Kendall Eby (jr) provide solid depth.
7. Conestoga Valley (AAA) – The Buckskins were 9th a year ago and return everyone from that team for 2020. They have the ability and experience to battle for a top 5 league finish. Kylynn Frankford (jr) is the league’s #21 returning runner, but her performance from districts (20:17) shows she has top 10 potential. Kayla Mongiovi (jr), Kate Kmieczak (sr), Brittney Johns (jr), and Emily Castronova (sr) add solid depth. A strong freshmen class of Cassidy McClune, Seana Dougherty, and Jocelyn Ross could challenge for varsity spots.
8. Ephrata (AAA) – Ephrata returns a strong core and should be able to manage the graduation of Mary Campbell pretty well. Alyssa Fedorshak (sr) and Lexi Roe (jr) are returning league medalists and have been staples on the Ephrata roster over the past several years. Madison Kimmel (so) was one of the league’s top freshman a year ago, placing 31st at the league meet. Sarah Heberlig (jr) had a breakthrough race at districts when she ran a nearly 1 min PR.
9. Elizabethtown (AAA) – Elizabethtown has a tremendous 1-2 punch with Madeline Quinn (sr) and Sierra Kapcsos (jr). They are the #4 and #5 returnees from last season’s league meet. Quinn was injured for most of the year, but rebounded well and had an impressive post season run. If she stays healthy in 2020 she’ll be a state medal contender. Quinn could be the third E’town girl in as many years to run Division 1 joining Cat Shontz (Class of 2018 – now at Temple) and Katie Locker (Class of 2019 – Monmouth). Kapcsos continues to improve and could earn an individual qualifying spot at states. Olivia Shenk (jr) and Katie Hook (jr) are solid performers who bring forth post-season experience.
10. Solanco (AAA) – Solanco will be one of the youngest teams in the league this fall and may be without a senior in their top 7. Daria Neaves (so) and Emma Baxter (so) had strong freshman campaigns and will look to build upon that success this season. Freshman Lillyan Soulliard (12th at Iron Bridge) will be a nice addition. The Golden Mules are a program on the rise.
11. Annville-Cleona (A)- The Little Dutch(wo)men are the best “small” school in the LL League. They have a great 1-2 punch in Braetan Peters (jr) and Cassi Clemson (so). Braetan was runner up at districts a year ago while Cassi finished 5th. These two could legitimately finish 1-2 at districts this year. Peters went on to place 12th in the state. PIAA District III class A receives 2 team qualifying berths for states the next two years. Annville-Cleona will be in a good spot to earn one of those 2 team spots both years.
12. Manheim Central (AAA)- The Barons program is heading in the right direction. They finished 15th in the league a year ago with 4 sophomores and 2 freshman. With everyone back for 2020 an improvement seems certain. Olivia Sunderland (jr) will lead the way and will battle for a top 20 finish individually. Central also welcomes one of the league’s top freshman in Julie Lindberg. Lindberg was 9th at Iron Bridge in 2019.
13. Lancaster Catholic (AA) – The Crusaders return their top 8 from 2019. This experience could lead Catholic to a better finish than projected. Ella Sheaffer (jr), Annalise Kauffman (jr), and Ellie Bomberger (sr) will pace the team in 2020. Sheaffer is the team’s top returnee from the 2019 league meet.
14. Penn Manor (AAA) – Penn Manor had a small team compete post season in 2019, but they return everyone in 2020. Their MS program finished 7th at Iron Bridge so expect a few freshman to battle for top 7 positions. Abby Ames (jr), Becky Kramer (sr), and Arden Morgan give the Comets a solid 1-3.
15. Lampeter Strasburg (AA) – The Pioneers will look to reload after the graduation of Micah Gordley (now running at Arcadia Univ.) and Colleen Gilbert (now running at Kutztown Univ.), both top 10 finishers at last year’s league meet. Aubrey Magagna (so) was one of the top freshman last season and will be positioned to lead the way for LS in 2020. She’ll be looking for her first league medal this year. Freshmen Morgan Wright and Jaclyn Martin could contribute right away.
16. Garden Spot (AAA) – Seniors Cloe Martin and Amanda Coblentz return to lead Garden Spot.
17. Northern Lebanon (AA) – 6 freshmen got post-season experience in 2019. They should provide a strong building block for the team moving forward.
The following schools are unranked based on lower participation numbers. I’m hopeful that they can all increase those numbers this season.
NR. Cocalico (AAA) – Hana Schneider (so) gives Cocalico a strong runner to build a program around.
NR. Columbia (A) – Should have 3 returnees, led by sophomore Emily Gambler.
NR. ELCO (AA) – ELCO returns a solid 1-2 in Isabel Zwally (so) and Madison Gery (jr). 3 rising freshman competed at Iron Bridge a year ago. Fingers crossed they can bring in a couple more runners to field a full team.
NR. Lancaster Mennonite (AA) – Jillian Hargraves is ready to provide senior leadership to anyone joining her this season.
NR. Lebanon (AAA) – Had good participation with their MS program which could give them something to build on at the HS level.
NR. Octorara (AA) – Rebecca Cassidy is the #18 returnee in the league from last year’s championship meet. Freshman Jessica Ferrara will be a nice addition to the Braves this season.
NR. Pequea Valley (AA) – Bringing back the program during a pandemic can’t be easy, but Pequea Valley is going to try. Welcome back!