2020 LL League XC Preview (Boys)

Video of the 2019 LL League Championships

The LL League has a few heavy hitters up front in the likes of Cedar Crest, Hempfield, and JP McCaskey. The Falcons will be seeking their 3rd straight PIAA District III AAA title this fall. They sit atop the LL League pre-season rankings with Hempfield close behind. If JP McCaskey finds a solid #5 they too could compete for a league title.

Individually, Graham Thomas returns after having a fantastic post-season run in 2019. Thomas dealt with an early season injury, but rebounded nicely to finish 3rd at leagues, 2nd in the district, and 16th in the state. He will be pushed by Cedar Crest’s Tommy Bildheiser and Hempfield’s Evan Eshleman, both seniors. Other seniors in the mix for an individual title include the JP McCaskey duo of Stephen Schousen and Alex Miller. Junior’s Luke Hinegardner and Ryan Wolfe of Cedar Crest, Tyler Stevens of Manheim Township, and Lachlan McLane of JP McCaskey will look to continue to move up the league ranks this year. Aidan Hodge of Hempfield was the leagues top freshman last season and should make a strong push forward in year 2.

Team by team preview and league rankings:

Note – The Iron Bridge Invitational is the unofficial LL League Jr HS/MS Championship meet.

#1 Cedar Crest (AAA) – The Falcons return 3 from last season’s top 10 at leagues and a 4th who finished inside the top 20. While they graduate 3 of their top 7 they have enough depth returning that they can recover from such a loss. 2019 league medalists back for 2020 are Tommy Bildheiser (sr, 2nd), Luke Hinegardner (jr, 7th), Ryan Wolfe (jr, 10th) and Ben McElroy (jr, 19th). Alex Nazeeri (jr) was the team’s #8 runner at leagues and he placed 30th. After graduations, these 5 return as the #1,4,5,13, and 20 finishers from last season. The depth doesn’t end here, however. Miles Weber (sr) and freshmen Jake Perhonitch and Ben Causak could also factor into the mix this year. Perhonitch was runner-up at the Iron Bridge Invite.

Cedar Crest enters 2020 looking for their 3rd consecutive District III title. They will have new competition this year as York Suburban moves up to AAA. Suburban won the District III AA title in 2019 and only graduated 1 runner from their top 7.

Bildheiser, Hinegardner, and Wolfe have the potential for individual state medals this season. This team could be Cedar Crest’s best yet.

#2 Hempfield (AAA) – Hempfield had an undefeated regular season, winning the Section 1 title last year. They finished 2nd to Cedar Crest at the League Championship Meet. While they graduate 2 from their 2019 top 7 they still have 5 returning medal winners from last year’s league meet, led by senior Evan Eshleman. Eshleman was 4th last fall and returns as the #3 performer this season. Aidan Hodge (so) was the leagues top freshman a year ago placing 14th and he will look to make a big leap forward in year 2. David Jackson (sr), Dale Winand (jr), and Joseph Fahrney (so) are also returning medalists. They placed 16th, 17th, and 25th in 2019. Owen Jackson (sr), Ryan French (jr), Chris Titter (so) and Isaiah Hollinger (so) provide additional team depth and could emerge as top performers this season.

Hempfield was primed to take one of District III’s 4 team qualifying spots for states until they were struck by injury after the league meet. This squad should push Cedar Crest for a league title and could earn a state berth this season.

#3 JP McCaskey (AAA) – McCaskey has a top 3 that can compete with Cedar Crest’s top 3. Not many team’s can say that. They only graduated their #5 and #6 runners from a year ago and have some good depth returning. Stephen Schousen (sr), Alex Miller (sr), and Lachlan McLane (jr) return to lead the Red Tornados. Schousen and McLane both individually qualified for states in 2019. Schousen showed his fitness this past spring running a 5k track time trial in 15:38. You can follow along with Stephen Schousen in our Senior Journal series here. Miller had a great winter track season running a new indoor mile PR of 4:30. Ben Blough (so) provides a really strong team #4.

The biggest question mark around this team is who will step into the #5 position and can they make enough of an impact at leagues to help McCaskey challenge Cedar Crest and Hempfield. Theron Plumb (jr), Jonah Keener (so), Jeremy Devin (jr) and newcomers Carlos Medina (fr) and Derek Kendig (fr) will be looked at to fill in depth behind the top 4. If one or two of them can make a big jump McCaskey could be dangerous. If they dont qualify for states as a team they could have 3 individual qualifiers in Schousen, Miller, and McLane.

#4 Penn Manor (AAA) – The Comets return their top 6 runners from a season ago and are led by one of the state’s best, Graham Thomas (sr). Thomas battled an injury through the early parts of the fall, but when he returned he made his presence felt. In what was his 2nd meet back from injury he placed 3rd at leagues. A week later he finished 2nd in the district. A week after that he finished 16th in the state! He is the #1 returning runner in District III AAA. Classmate Lou Lindsley (sr) gives Penn Manor a strong 1-2 punch. Lindsley placed 21st at leagues last year. Jeremiah Hetrick (jr) is the #25 returnee in the league from last season’s meet and could give the Comets three league medal winners this year. Jordan Photis (sr), Maxwell Kreiter (sr), Issac Braegleman (so), and Emmitt Richey (sr) provide experienced depth. Freshman Kaleb Kabkjian could challenge for a top 5 team spot. He placed 6th at the 2019 Iron Bridge Invite.

#5 Manheim Township (AAA) – Went through a rebuilding year last season following the graduation of 2018 state medalists Evan Dorenkamp and Ian Miller. Tyler Stevens (jr) took over as team #1 and finished 12th at leagues. He continued to improve this spring with solo time trial PRs of 15:52/5k, 9:43/3200, and 4:33/1600. Brayden Brunsch (jr) was a pleasant addition last year. He medaled at leagues finishing 23rd. Andrew Gusavage (sr) and Luke Papadimitriou (so) are the #29 and #30 returnees from last year’s championship. They both could make a jump into the top 25 this fall. Braden Schuyler (sr) and Hayden Brennan (sr) both have post-season experience. In some ways, this will be another rebuilding year as several sophomore and freshman will push for top 7 team spots. Charlie Mosner (so) and Liam Rockwell (so) were both on the fringe of making the district team last year and should make an impact this season. Freshman Gunner Geib won PTXC11 and finished 3rd at Iron Bridge. He will be looking to crack the top 7 this year.

#6 Lampeter Strasburg (AA) – Making a big rise to 6th from their 13th place league finish a year ago are the Pioneers of Lampeter Strasburg. Only 53-seconds separates their 5 returners form last year’s league team and they add the league’s top freshman in Colin Whitaker. Whitaker could step into the Pioneers #1 role as a freshman. He won the Iron Bridge Invite last fall and went on to run a 4:23 1500m indoors. He could have an Aidan Hodge-like impact in the league this year. Last season’s top team performer Luka Vranich (jr) is back. He brings 2 years of post-season experience to the table and is the #28 returner form last year’s championship. Adrian Ella (jr), Nathan Eberly (sr), David Pritchard (jr) and Parker Stoner (so) give this squad a strong core. LS is the favorite to win Section 2 and they should make some noise at the PIAA District III AA Championships this year.

#7 Donegal (AA) – Donegal and Lampeter-Strasburg are so close in Section 2 that its almost a virtual tie as we head into the season. The Section 2 title run will be a fun one to watch between these two teams. The Indians are led by Brock Overlander (sr) and Hunter Gehman (jr). Overlander broke out in a big way at the 2019 PIAA District III AA Championships when he ran 16:38, finished 12th, and qualified for states. Gehman, Logan Fry (sr), Sam Rothstein (jr), and Ethan Steck (sr) give Donegal an experienced 5 returners. In fact, Donegal returns everyone from their top 7 a year ago. Freshman Noah Hinkel will challenge for a top 7 spot after a strong MS campaign last fall.

#8 Lebanon (AAA) – The Cedar’s top 3-4 runners give them the potential to finish in the league’s top 5 this season. Isaac Showers (sr), Caleb Hershey (jr), and Owen Showers (sr) have league championship medal potential. Isaac Showers had a nice breakout last season and just missed out on an individual state qualifying berth with his 16:52 from the district meet. Both he and Caleb Hershey had good indoor seasons and will be ready to go this fall. Owen Sheetz (sr) gives the team a strong #4. Lebanon will need to develop some additional depth to crack into the league’s top 5 teams, however. Coach Pearson has seen growing participation numbers since he took over the program so there is a good chance that depth has been developed over the summer months. Sam Davenport (so) and Carter Troain (jr) could provide that depth. Troain ran his best race at districts last season and will look to carry that momentum forward this fall.

#9 Conestoga Valley (AAA) – CV had a young squad last season with 4 of their top 8 runners either freshmen or sophomores. Many Gitonga (jr) is the #1 runner for the Buckskins. He was a league medalist a year ago and will be looking for a top 10 finish this season. Things really pack up for CV after Gitonga. Jesse Kanagy (sr), Dante Velasco (jr), Ethan Logue (sr), and Adam Harris (sr) are all returnees from last year’s post-season team. Adding additional depth will be freshman Timothy Gitonga. Timothy placed 7th at the 2019 Iron Bridge Invitational. This is a team that could surprise in 2020 if the pack behind Many Gitonga can close the gap

#10 Warwick (AAA) – Graduation has hit the Warriors hard over the past two seasons. Heading into 2020 they may lack a “low-stick” performer, but could make up for that by having really solid pack running. The Warriors welcome one of the stronger crops of Jr High athletes to their HS squad this year. JH Mertz (jr) is the top returner for Warwick. The junior is the #26 returner from last season’s league championships. Colby Richard (jr) and Logan Mull (jr), along with newcomers Jake Forgione (so, 12th at Iron Bridge), Summit Smoker (fr, 13th at Iron Bridge), and Rhys Carver (fr, 15th at Iron Bridge) gives Warwick a solid foundation moving forward.

#11 Manheim Central (AAA) – The Baron’s graduated 2 of their top performers from last season. That said, they still return one of the more experienced groups in the LL League. Michael Greenwald (jr) started to come on towards the end of last season and had nice performances at leagues and districts. He could be a top 25 performer this season. Kaden Wagner (sr) only ran in a race or two early last fall, but has the potential to make an impact on the league.

#12 Elizabethtown (AAA) – The Eagle’s graduated their top 2 performers from last season. Looking to step into the 1-2 roles will be Nathan Johnson (jr) and Garrick English (sr). Both ran arguably their best races of the year at districts and will look to carry that momentum forward in 2020. Sophomore Shane Moran will look to push into the team’s top 3 this season. Freshman Eli Miller was 16th at Iron Bridge and will look to contribute to E’town’s top 7 this season.

#13 Lancaster Catholic (AA) – The Crusaders enter 2020 with 2 potential individual state qualifiers in AA. Daniel Myers (sr) is the #14 returnee from the 2019 PIAA District III AA Championships and Mason Moore (jr) is the #20 returner. If runners 3-5 can close the gap between these two then Lancaster Catholic could become a threat in Section 2.

#14 Northern Lebanon (AA) – The Vikings return all but last year’s league champion, Gage Krall (now at Lock Haven University). Damien Fiore (jr), Matthew Tinto (sr), Ayden Krall (jr), and Tyler Meyer (jr) all could vie for the team’s #1 position and give Northern Lebanon a solid pack. Freshman William Hillegas should provide some immediate support.

#15 Solanco (AAA) – The Mule’s top 2 can run with most in the league. Anthony Solis (so) was one of the league’s top freshman last fall. He is the #15 returnee from last season’s league championship meet. Avery Jacobson (jr) missed the league meet a year ago, but has the potential for a top 25 finish in 2020.

#16 Ephrata (AAA) – The Mounts are another team that has been hit hard by graduation over the past two years, including the graduation of 3 of their top 4 runners from 2019. Nathan Kimmel (sr) and Aaron Hershberger are likely to lead the way for Ephrata this fall.

#17 Annville-Cleona (AA) – for a small school, Annville-Cleona has had great participation in XC. That level of engagement bodes well for them and could help them easily eclipse this pre-season ranking. Jack Tshudy (sr) will lead the way and should battle for a top 10 finish at League’s in 2020. He broke out at the 2019 PIAA District III AA Championships and is the #7 returner for districts this season.

#18 ELCO (AA) – ELCO will enter 2020 as one of the youngest teams in the league. Look for Landen Brubaker (so) and newcomer Camden Marquette (fr) to lead the way with Jason Whelan (jr) and Nathan Sanchez (jr) close behind. If they can develop a #5 that can keep it close to these 4 they could finish much higher than this ranking. Marquette finished 11th at Iron Bridge last year.

#19 Octorara (AA) – one of the youngest teams in 2019 is still one of the youngest in 2020. Lucas Thaler (so) earned all league honors in Section II during his freshman campaign and will push for a league championship medal this season. Sam Bishop (jr) gives the Braves a solid #2. Soccer convert Connor Jeffries (jr) and Parry Bentley (sr) will be looked upon to add solid depth.

#20 Garden Spot (AAA) – Sophomore Zane Kauffman will look to build upon a strong freshman season for the Spartans.

#21 Lancaster Mennonite (AA) – Shane Harmer (jr) is the team’s top returner from 2019.

#22 Cocalico (AAA) – Jacob Walsh (sr) and Colin Knepper (jr) return to lead the Eagles.

NR Columbia (A) – Anthony Palmisano (sr) has been the loan ranger for Columbia. He’ll look to keep things going in 2020.

NR Pequea Valley (AA) – New sport for PV this year. Excited to welcome them back!