PIAA CROSS COUNTRY: ATHENS' BRONSON, WANCK HAVE SIGHTS SET HIGH FOR STATE MEET
(2023-11-03)By TIM BIRNEYValley Sports Report
ATHENS — Athens junior Sara Bronson will be making her third trip to Hershey for the PIAA, Class AA Cross-Country Championships Saturday, while freshman Graham Wanck will be making his debut at the season-ending meet.
Bronson finished 99th as a freshman, and improved to 54th last year. She has her sights set on a much better finish Saturday.
“I really hope to do well this year. My goal is to medal,” said Bronson.
“I want to run a strong last part of the race because you can catch a lot of people on that course.
“And, I really want to get out well, so I can get in a good position at the beginning of the race,” she added. “There are a lot of girls, so it can be difficult to sort your way through (the pack).”
Wanck knows he should have more opportunities at the state meet in the future, so he’s looking to pick up some knowledge Saturday.
“This year is a learning experience. I just want to do the best I can … my goal would be the top 50,” said Wanck. “I want to get out strong, and finish strong.”
Wanck knows the Hershey course can be challenging.
“I know there are some big hills,” laughed Wanck. “They’re a little scary.
“I wouldn’t say hills are a weakness for me, but there is definitely a lot of room for improvement,” he added.
What words of wisdom can the veteran Bronson offer Wanck?
“Get in a good position, and finish strong because it’s a long stretch,” she said.
Mike Bronson is not only the Athens cross country coach, along with Scott Riley, he is Sarah’s dad, and he is enjoying the experience.
“As a Dad, I couldn’t be any more proud,” he said. “She’s had a great career so far.”
Mike Bronson said Sara has had to overcome some health issues to get to States.
“She’s had a great season, although it was a little rough to start out,” said Bronson. “She didn’t have great training this summer due to health problems, and had surgery at the end of the summer … it delayed her start.
“She worked really hard, and kind of raced herself into shape,” he noted. “At this point, she’s in really good shape, maybe better shape than she’s been in ever before.
“She has proven herself to be a really, really tough competitor,” continued Bronson. “To be there three years in a row as a (Class) AA runner … AA in District 4, it’s tough to get out of District 4 with the Danville and Lewisburg girls, but she’s right in the mix with all those girls.
“I know she has big goals, and she’s a competitor,” he added. “It will be awesome to see what she does once we get down there.”
Wanck made a name for himself as an 8th-grader when he won the junior high race at the prestigious McQuaid Invitational. With his success came expectations, and coach Riley believes Wanck has done a good job living up to the pressure that comes with expectations.
“It’s a big deal to qualify for States as a freshman … to see him to be among the top District 4 qualifiers in a tough district, it’s impressive,” said Riley.
“Being as competitive as he is, he does put some pressure on himself, so we’re trying to get him to take it one stride at a time, and he’s doing a really good job with that.
“Graham wants to use this race as a learning experience, yet he wants to finish in the top 50,” noted Riley. “He does a nice job with the balance of being competitive, and having that drive, but at the same time realizing he’s still a freshman.
“Top 50 is a good goal, but it’s a tough goal. He’s going to have to work hard and run a smart race,” added Riley. “Top 50 is definitely a realistic goal if he runs a good race.”
Riley believes if Wanck runs his race, he’ll find the results he wants.
“Running that course is a little different than what we see around here, even with some of the invites we go to. It’s all about how he’ll adjust to it,” he said. “I think he’s capable of running that type of course, and being successful on it.
“He needs to make sure he doesn’t get caught up in the adrenaline,” noted Riley. “They are going to go out hard and fast, and if he gets sucked up too far to the front, the middle part of the course with the hills will make you pay — it’s not very forgiving.
“We’ve talked about it, and he’s done the virtual tour of the course, so he’s done his homework,” added Riley. “He kind of knows what to expect before he gets there.”
Riley also believes Athens’ schedule will have both Wanck and Bronson prepared for the state meet.
“The competition they’ve seen throughout the year will definitely help them,” he said.
“We’ve been very fortunate throughout the years that our school district has allowed us to go wherever we want for invites — so running at McQuaid and some of the other bigger invites sets them up to be successful because they’ve run in the bigger meets, and know what to expect,” Riley added.
Bronson also believes both runners will be successful if they’re true to themselves.
“If Sarah and Graham go down there, and do what they’ve done all year — run the same kind of race, the results will sort themselves out, whether it’s a medal or a top-50 finish,” he said.
“I think the key down there is not to get so overwhelmed that they can’t get out there and race hard.
“I think if both kids do what they’ve been doing, and don’t let the size of the field, and the pressure of it being the state championship get to them … I think both of them are going to have great days,” added Bronson.
Bronson’s race is set for 10:15 a.m. Saturday morning, while Wanck is scheduled to run at 12:30 p.m.
IN PHOTO: Athens junior Sara Bronson (left) and Graham Wanck. … VSR STOCK PHOTOS.
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