Boys Take 2nd, Girls 9th at States XC Meet


The Bears made a splash at Hershey in both races this Saturday, with a second-place finish for the boys and a ninth place ending for the girls. Coach Frey’s boys squad is no stranger to success on the big stage, having asserted themselves as Pennsylvania’s best in 2014, 2016, and 2019. The girls, conversely, were entering their first race at the state championship. Although their runners had qualified before in strong WPIAL performances, Saturday marked the first time they were able to send a full squad to Hershey, and a team finish that beat fourteen of the best in the PIAA was sure to turn heads.

The boys entered Saturday’s race hungry to make a statement. The graduation of three of last year’s top five, including the eminent Patrick Malone, created roster openings for the five-straight WPIAL champions. Freshmen Pete Heintzelman and Charlie Routledge, younger siblings of 2020 captain-duo Sean Heintzelman and Scott Routledge, were joined by classmate Eli DiSimone to fill those roles. Throughout the autumn months, the Bears easily maintained a streak of dual-meet wins that had been 73 races and years-long ahead of the season. The WPIAL looked to be home to three of the quickest teams around—Winchester, joined by Riverview and Eden Christian, had been impressing all season, and all three would be major presences at the district and state meets. 

Despite sharing an average time, Riverview inched past Winchester at the California, PA meet to win the WPIAL title. As it stands, Winchester Thurston boys cross-country is tied for the fourth-longest WPIAL winning streak of any sport for its dominant seasons in 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020. Although there isn’t room for all those banners in the gym, the record remains the same. Treacherous terrain at WPIALs also robbed Lance Nicholls of what should have been a repeat victory at the course where he had dominated just a week earlier.

“After finishing second in the WPIAL to Riverview and knowing that Hughesville was a very good team, we were expecting a third-place finish [at states]. We knew a top-two finish was possible, but it would take a good race from all of our guys,” Lance Nicholls recalled.

The boys were slow off the line at the state race. At the one-mile mark, their score tallied to 276 points—eleventh in the 22-team field. The team rallied to regain positions, shooting back up to fifth by the halfway mark, just 9 points’ distance from 2nd place Riverview.  

“I had no idea what was going on behind me, but I definitely knew that our team was capable of a late race comeback,” said Nicholls, who ultimately finished third among team runners. “On top of that, we knew what was at stake and everyone on the team was able to give it everything they had in the last mile.”

With a thousand meters to go, the boys were up to third and chasing Trinity for the runner-up spot. Riverview followed close behind the hunted’s 173 points with a slim 175 of their own, but the final stretch would decide all.

“The training Coach Frey and Coach Jen put us through all season has taught us to not start too fast and make sure that we can finish strong. On top of that, we knew what was at stake and everyone on the team was able to give it everything they had in the last mile. “

As the finish line neared, Winchester, Riverview, and Trinity were locked in a three-way battle for second place. Hughville’s two-digit performance had secured victory long ago, but what raged behind them remained unresolved. Although they didn’t yet know it, Charlie Routledge and Jonah Keller had called game with their 44th and 45th place finishes of the 259 runners. Riverview’s fifth man would cross 50th. Trinity’s top-five ended 58th. The final tallies: Winchester Thurston second with 140 points, Riverview kept to 145 for third, Trinity’s 148 dropping to fourth. A personal best from Winchester’s sixth runner, Sam Kuzmishin, didn’t hurt.

“The second place meant a lot to me in my last race, especially since I was hoping to do better individually,” Nicholls said. “My legs didn’t feel great after soccer the night before, so the fact that everyone was able to step up and get us the state runner up trophy definitely made up for it. Being able to have our best team race of the year in my last race ever was a great way to go out.”

Lance Nicholls and Jonah Keller have run their last races in the purple uniform, but they take with them the memories of success and leave behind a legacy of excellence. If nothing else, both can feel proud of their final meet and feel good about the direction of the program.

“Charlie, Pete, and Eli are all outstanding runners already as freshmen and I know they have the potential to continue improving each year. They’re all great teammates and they work very hard, so the team has a very bright future and I know we can bring in a few more state trophies in the coming years. It’s been great to serve as a leader for them as freshmen, and I’ll make sure to support them at as many races as I can for the rest of their high school careers,” Nicholls added.


The girls went into Saturday’s race on a historic high. The Bears had a fully-staffed roster going into the season and added a handful of strong freshmen runners to continue the momentum building since the team’s 2016 inception. To begin the year, the girls notched a competitive performance against larger schools at Marty Uher and fought to an early statement win at Red, White, and Blue. 

Section play also came easily to the girls, and as the WPIAL championship drew closer, the girls set their sights on improving from last year’s tie with Avonworth (which Winchester won on average time) and making an impression at Hershey. Another win with Avonworth present, this time at the Cal U course just a week before an identically layed-out WPIAL race, did even more for their confidence. 

The girls finished third at WPIALs, managing their best-ever score with a stellar 120 and a 28 gap to fourth-place Avonworth. Although Mohawk and OLSH remained out of reach, each year brought the Bears closer and closer to the top two. With third place secured, the Winchester Thurston girls cross country team travelled to Hershey for the states meet.

“Almost all of us had run at Hershey at least once before, so we knew what to expect on the course,” Junior runner Cyd Kennard said. “We were all super excited and were honestly hoping to get top-five, which might have been a little too ambitious for our first year.”

The girls sat in tenth at the end of the first mile and jumped up to ninth before the halfway mark. Winchester spent the rest of the race holding ninth, keeping a good distance from tenth-place Northeast Bradford and eleventh Elk Lake. The other two WPIAL representatives, Mohawk and OLSH, hung onto second and fifth, respectively. 

“The ninth-place finish meant so much to us. Even though we thought we would get a better place, going from never qualifying as a team to being 9th at states was such a big jump,” Kennard continued. “I think the thing I’m most proud of this year is how much everyone on the team encouraged each other in every race. We definitely complained about doing long warm ups and cool downs, but we ran a lot together and were pretty confident in every meet because we knew that everyone was willing to work hard for their teammates”

The girls’ finish creates an interesting comparison to the boys’ inaugural, ninth-place result in 2013. The latter would return to win the very next year. Who’s to say whether the trend will continue. Next year’s team will see five of their top seven carry over, in addition to the return of Abby Patterson, who sat most of the season out with an injury, and the debut of Abby Weinstein, who has been dominating middle school races all year. Teams across Pennsylvania should take note if they haven’t already.

“We all have high expectations for next year. Even though we’ll miss Lex and Mitra, with both Abbys on the team and any new arrivals, we definitely think that next year we can return to states and improve our place,” Cyd concluded.

The story of 2010s Winchester athletics is, effectively, the story of Coach Frey and Coach Jen leading the cross country team to win all over the place. Every 1A cross country runner in the WPIAL has heard of Winchester Thurston. No 1A cross country runner in the WPIAL is eager to see Winchester Thurston line up next to them. With both teams finishing top-three at WPIALs and impressing at states, the future looks bright for the program to continue its winning ways.