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The smile on her face said it all.

September, 2019, is a lot better than September, 2018, for Marlee Starliper.

The Northern York senior dominated the Carlisle Invitational’s Girls' Challenge field by nearly 30 seconds, crossing in 17 minutes, 5.8 seconds to win the race for the second time.

It was not an all-time state record (like her 16:30 three weeks ago at the LVC Dutchmen Invitational). It was not a course record (like her attention-grabbing 16:50 two years ago).

No. This was just another win for a senior that, barring injury, is likely to claim a third straight PIAA title in a month and cement herself as arguably the best to ever run distance in Pennsylvania.

And that’s perfectly fine for Starliper, one of the nation’s best runners.

“Where I was at last year at this point, it was like — I remember it was just a really tough transition back to school,” she said early Saturday morning at Carlisle High School after he team finished 11th with 307 points. “This whole month has been totally different. It's been so awesome, and I've just been enjoying training so much. It's just been so much fun being a senior with my team and everything, and working with them even more.”

This stage was where Starliper officially put her name on a national platform with a blistering time that was the country’s fastest at that point in 2017. The then-sophomore was in the midst of a breakout campaign, one that would end with her first state cross country gold.

Last year she skipped this race, opting instead for the Paul Short Invitational. That was partly due to her and her coaches wanting to avoid the pressure of trying to improve on her record-breaking time, she said Saturday.

But Starliper also dealt with well-documented struggles of fatigue, both mental and physical. Even though she’d go on to repeat as PIAA champ, most of her cross country season was — relative to her high standards — miserable. She lacked her typical joy.

That is hardly the case anymore.

Despite the building heat Saturday, Starliper was bubbly and flashed a thousand-watt smile after the race. She’s the two-time state champ and one of the top distance recruits in the country — Starliper said she’s choosing between North Carolina State, Arizona and Oregon, hopefully in the next few weeks.

But it’s tough to tell if she’s carrying any weight on her shoulders at all.

“My whole big thing two years ago was I was just gonna run with my heart, and that's what pushed me so far,” Starliper said. “And now all this season, I'm running with this really passionate joy. ... It’s really special coming here.”

Back where it all began.

OTHER WEEKEND PREP NOTES

Northeastern's Carroll fourth in Carlisle: Starliper wasn't the only York County runner to excel at the Carlisle event.

Northeastern's Margaret Carroll took fourth in the field of 254 female runners, finishing in 18:11.8. Red Lion's Gwendolyn Lloyd was seventh in 18:31.7 and Red Lion's Kiersten Lloyd was 12th in 18:48.3.

Northeastern finished sixth as a team, while Northern was 11th and Red Lion was 14th. There were 37 teams in the field.

York Catholic boys' soccer team keeps rolling: The York Catholic boys' soccer team continued its unbeaten run in York-Adams League Division III action on Saturday with a 7-1 victory over Delone Catholic.

The Fighting Irish improved to 11-1-0 overall and 9-0-0 in D-III play.

Ben Bullen had three goals and an assist to lead the Irish. Jon Yinger (goal assist) and Asher Clarke (two assists) also excelled for YC.

The Irish next face a showdown at Biglerville (11-1-0 overall, 9-0-0 in D-III) at 7 p.m. Tuesday in a battle for first place in the division.

Central York girls solidify hold on first in Division I soccer: The Central York girls' soccer team solidified its hold on first place in York-Adams Division I girls' soccer on Saturday with a 3-0 win over second-place Red Lion.

The Panthers improved to 10-2-1 overall and 9-0-0 in D-I action. Red Lion fell to 8-3-0 overall and 7-2-0 in the division. 

Both of Red Lion's division losses this season came to Central by 2-0 and 3-0 scores.

Central is No. 3 in the latest District 3 Class 4-A power ratings.

Kennard-Dale finishes unbeaten regular season in girls' tennis: The Kennard-Dale girls' tennis team finished off an unbeaten regular season on Friday with a 3-2 win over Susquehannock.

The Rams finished 15-0 in the regular season and are ranked No. 2 in the District 3 2-A power ratings.

In the win vs. Susquehannock, K-D got straight-set singles wins from Megan Hawkins and Bianna Serruto (KD) and a straight-set doubles victory by Shannon Fletcher and Victoria Santoriello.

Dallastown now 13-0-0 in boys' soccer: The Dallastown boys' soccer team improved to 13-0-0 with a 7-1 domination of New Oxford on Friday.

The Wildcats, ranked No. 1 in the District 3 Class 4-A power ratings, are 8-0-0 in York-Adams Division I action.

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