On Saturday, over 1,100 runners from 44 different schools are expected to descend on the twisted trails of Two Mile Run County Park for the popular Rocky Grove Cross Country Invitational.
That might seem like a lot, but Rocky Grove High School coach Josh Beightol says that in its heyday the invitational drew 50 plus schools and even more runners.
"Our runner count is down about 200 runners, but most program numbers seem to be down," he said Even his program numbers are down.
Numbers started dropping off and when Beightol took over the program in 2014 there were only 16 teams that attended their invite. Beightol is happy to see the numbers as high as they are despite this season's lower overall squad sizes
At this point, he is expecting over 250 varsity boys runners and over 200 varsity girls. There will also be JV, junior high and elementary races.
Beightol hopes his boys team finishes in the top three. "We haven't raced any big invites in the area since September 11," he said. But the team has been traveling to run and recently went to Rochester N.Y.
"So I’m excited to see what happens back on our home turf. We have only raced one time this year on our course, and it was hot and we didn’t have our best performances."
He says individually the runners to watch are Jack Mumford of Oil City, Matt Woolcock of Cranberry, Colson Jenkins of Lakeview, Max Dillaman of Meadville, Simeon Hunter of Conneaut, Kyler Woolstrum of Cochranton, Hunter Spaid of Cambridge Springs and his top two Grove runners Ethan Knapp and Evan Wolfgong.
Rocky Grove girls only have a few runners so they don't compete for team championships. "We don't have a full girls’ team, but I am hoping to see them be competitive with themselves and enjoy the experience.”
He said the top female runners to watch are Willow Myers of Mercer, Nadalie Latchaw of Franklin, Kennedy Liederbach of Oil City, Camryn Guffey of Meadville, Kady Alexander and Mikayla Montgomery of Lakeview, Alexis Wyant of Maplewood, Karleigh Shaffer of Cranberry and Julia Johnson of Titusville.
Schools are coming from as far away as Coudersport and Ridgeway.
"I know we have a lot of boys that are graduating and this, for them, will be their last chance at getting their name on our all-time course time list! The history of runners that have ran on our course runs very deep," Beightol said.
This includes Beightol himself who remembers his days running the course for Rocky Grove.
"I came up through Rocky Grove cross country from 1999-2004. I was part of some of the huge invite years." His experience is something he really wants for his team. "
“I do this for my runners - having our runners experience the planning, set up, race day activities, and all the fun that comes with it." He hopes they take with them and remember throughout life.