BLOOMSBURG - Hughesville's Hannah Merrifield knows her senior season will be a year filled with many lasts but prior to her last appearance at the District 4 Cross Country Championships, Merrifield entered with the euphoric feeling of a young child preparing for one her first memorable Christmas mornings.
There was the feeling of anticipation and nerves all wrapped into one for the Hughesville senior as she was about to experience her final district meet, but the first in the newly-formed Class A field after the PIAA decided to move cross country into three classifications.
Like a Christmas morning, there were plenty of hugs amongst family members, too, as Merrifield finished fifth and earned a berth into next Saturday's PIAA Championships in Hershey.
"The past couple of days I've been keeping to myself and trying to stay calm and focused and then (yesterday) morning I just woke up and I almost had that Christmas morning feeling," said Merrifield. "It was so strange because I never had that before a race, but I was like today is the day and it's going to make it or break it for me."
Wellsboro won the Class A team title with 52 points and qualified its team for the championships as the first-place team and top-five individuals not on that team advanced to the state meet.
Merrifield, who finished in 19 minutes, 38 seconds, doesn't have the pleasure of running with a team as she has just a single teammate to share training runs with on most days. She does have her mother, Pat, who volunteers as the girls' coach and her experience in marathon running helped make sure her middle daughter was prepared to run a personal best yesterday and earn a fourth consecutive trip to the state meet.
PIAA CROSS COUNTRY QUALIFIERS
Boys Class A
Griffin Molino, South?Williamsport
Jordan Jackson, Wellsboro
Kelby Mullen, Sullivan County
Emmett Watson, Canton
Bobby Hill, Wellsboro
Boys Class AA
Cody Allen, Jersey Shore
Spencer Williamson, Warrior Run
Girls Class A
Hannah Merrifield, Hughesville
Girls Class AA
Allison Graham, Lewisburg
Megan Wright, Lewisburg
Kaylee Long, Milton
Katie Edwards, Lewisburg;
Mel Hartley, Milton
Jessica Penn, Lewisburg
"My mom is a volunteer coach and she is a marathon runner so she knows what she is talking about," said Merrifield. "She does a good job training us and we do go up to Sullivan County to do a lot of races and scrimmages there."
Merrifield said her previous personal-best was 20:03 and entered yesterday's meet hoping to break 20 minutes for the first time.
"I really, really wanted to break 20 and I did," said Merrifield. "It was great, but I didn't think I'd break it by that much."
In the girls Class AA race, Lewisburg advanced four runners and Milton two to the PIAA Championships. Allison Graham was the top local finisher, placing sixth in 20:11 for the Green Dragons.
"I did a lot better than I thought I was going to do," said Graham, "because I was so nervous coming in, and then I felt just really good today so I ran fast and it felt amazing."
Megan Wright was 14th, Katie Edwards 17th and Jessica Penn (20th) for the Green Dragons. Milton's Kaylee Long was 15th and Mel Hartley 18th. Team champion Danville placed seven runners in the top 13 and scored 29 team points. Selinsgrove was a distant second with 77.
Graham was one of four freshmen to finish inside the top 10.
"I'm looking forward to running in states," said Graham. "It's been more than I expected this year."