BLOOMSBURG - Few, if any, of the more than 50 runners who fanned across the grassy starting area on Thursday morning at Bloomsburg University for the PIAA District 4 Cross Country Championships had less experience than South Williamsport's Griffin Molino.
When the sophomore took his mark for the Class A boys race, he was prepared to hear the sound of the starting gun for just the third time in his cross country career, and all that was on the line was a trip to the PIAA Championships.
Next week in Hershey, he'll hear the gun for a fourth time.
Molino looked as ready as any seasoned runner yesterday and he finished third behind a pair of Northeast Bradford runners as he became one of five local boys to advance to next Saturday's state championships.
"I really didn't know what to expect being a district cross country meet, so I just did what I could," Molino said. "I was real nervous because I really wanted to go to states because I think I can do well at states."
During the final of four races yesterday, Jersey Shore's Cody Allen, Warrior Run's Spencer Williamson and Lewisburg's team punched their tickets to the PIAA Championships in boys Class AA.
For the first time the district races were broken down to Class A and Class AA. In previous years there were just two classes in cross country, Class AA and AAA. The switch to three classifications this year left District 4 with just one Class AAA team - Williamsport - and it competed at the District 2 meet on Wednesday.
Griffin was experiencing it all for the first time. The sophomore came out for cross country only after striking a deal with his friend Colt Young. Young, who suffered a neck injury during wrestling season and was unable to compete in football, decided to give cross country a try and Griffin followed in tow.
Griffin also played soccer this fall for the Mounties. The time crunch didn't leave him opportunities to specifically train for cross country and limited him to just two previous meets during the season - the PHAC Championships this past Saturday and an invitational on the same Bloomsburg University course he ran yesterday back in September.
"That meet was critical," said South Williamsport coach Ted Deljanovan. "I told him the only meet you have to run is the Bloomsburg Invitational in September because it was the exact same course."
Limited training and experience didn't slow Molino yesterday as he finished in 16 minutes, 15 seconds, which was 40 seconds better than his time here in September. He trailed only Northeast Bradford's Curt Jewett (15:41) and Sam Williams (15:49).
"That just shows his natural talent and ability," said Deljanovan. "Usually that is not the case in distance running at all. It's really hard work and preparation, not that he's not prepared mentally, but physically if he was to go at this, who knows. That 16:15 was just ridiculous to me. I was very thrilled he could run that kind of time with little training."
Northeast Bradford easily won the team title with 32 points, 39 better than second-place Canton, but five local runners secured the five individual bids to the PIAA Championships. The top team and next five best runners all qualified for states.
Molino was followed by Wellsboro's Jordan Jackson, previous PIAA medal-winner Kelby Mullen of Sullivan County, Canton's Emmett Watson and Wellsboro's Bobby Hill.
In boys Class AA, the top two teams and the 10 individuals not on those teams advanced to the state meet. Lewisburg narrowly won the team title with 88 points. Towanda was second with 89 and Danville third with 90.
Lewisburg's Sean Walker made sure his advancement to the state meet was secure regardless of his team's outcome by placing second behind Towanda's Aaron Valoroso, who finished in 16:05. Walker was 18 seconds back. Allen was another 8 seconds behind and the junior advanced to the state meet for a third consecutive year.
"It makes me feel like I accomplished something," said Allen, who advanced to the state meet individually last year and as part of a district championship team as a freshman.
Warrior Run's Williamson finished 11th overall at 17:03 but advanced to the PIAA?meet.