CROSS COUNTRY: Strong finish: Ike senior VanGuilder runs to state cross country medal

HERSHEY – Devin VanGuilder ran the race of his life, and his cousin, Brooke Messinger, isn’t too far behind.

VanGuilder, a senior, was making his third straight appearance at the PIAA Cross Country Championships on Saturday at Hershey Park, and the numbers alone show his progression.

He finished 167th as an Eisenhower sophomore and 51st last year as a junior.

VanGuilder was 22nd out of 224 runners in the Class A championship – a state medalist among the top 25.

“He was so excited,” said Eisenhower coach Darlene Beach. “A medal – it’s always the goal. “I think, and he thinks, it’s one of the best races he’s ever run. He’s had faster times on easier courses, but with the difficulty of the course and the bigger race, it was one of his best races.”

Beach said the experience VanGuilder had from the previous two races helped him at the congested starting line. “And the other two senior boys, Tim Lange and Ben Morrison, were a real support to him, and a big help getting him ready for the race,” said Beach.

VanGuilder used to be called “Little D.”

“But he is big on determination,” said Beach. “That is probably the big thing with him.

“Back in 2011, he had his heart set on going to states,” she said. “The way he ran, he had determination written all over him, and I knew he could do it.”

Devin’s goal was top 25 this time around.

“I feel like that was my best race in all four years,” he said. “It was a way faster time (than he’d had in his previous two races at Hershey Park). I felt amazing.”

VanGuilder finished in 17:11, with only 10 runners finishing below 17 minutes. Nine of the top 25 individuals were out of District 10, and three of the top six teams.

VanGuilder could feel he was in between Nos. 20 and 25, but did not feel confident until “that last hill,” he said. “I could hear coach cheering for me. I never tried to look behind me; our coaches teach us not to.”

VanGuilder is the first cross country state medalist from Eisenhower High School since Derek Briggs in 2007. While he had a big weight lifted off his shoulders, he admitted, his cousin, Youngsville’s Brooke Messinger, has her whole high school career in front of her.

Messinger, a freshman, was 42nd out of 206 in the girls Class A championship. She finished in 21:02 in her first trip to states- after a third-place finish at districts.

“States was very overwhelming overall,” she said. “There were about 200 girls in my one race there were three other races for girls with about that many. Getting 42nd place overall as a freshman is very good if you ask me. I did not get a PR (personal-best time), unfortunately but the course was the most challenging course I have ever run on. Even right before the finish there was an insane hill. Even me walking the course the day beforehand somewhat scared me. What I could of done differently would of been having more positive thoughts before I started. I am excited for running there again I will know what I will be getting myself into next time.”