SOL Boys/Girls Cross Country Notebook (11-2-17)

This week’s notebook recaps some of the SOL highlights at the District One AAA Championships, including the top finishes by CB West girls, Ariana Gardizy and Rusty Kujdych. It also features several Pennsbury runners who made the state cut.

By DENNY DYROFF 

October 27 was a historic day for Central Bucks West’s athletic program.

On the cross country course at Lehigh University’s Goodman Campus in Hellertown, the Bucks captured the District 1 Class AAA team championship. It was the first time the CB West girls returned from the district meet with the team championship trophy.

The feat was impressive.

What was even more impressive was the way the Bucks did it.

Against a field that was very deep with talented teams, CB West claimed the title by a wide margin. The Bucks finished with 60 points while Pioneer Athletic Conference champion Owen. J. Roberts was a distant runner-up with 202 points.

What was more impressive still was the company the Bucks placed themselves in.

“Since 2000, only three other teams have scored 60 points or less,” said CB West assistant coach and team spokesperson Kevin Munnelly.

Those three teams were Pennsbury twice and Unionville – and all three were nationally-ranked powerhouses.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of West’s stellar performance was the individual finishes.

At the District 1 meet, each of the top five teams qualifies for states as a team with all seven runners earning a trip to the PIAA State Championships the following week. The top 25 individual runners not on one of those teams also earn berths at the state meets.

All five of West’s scorers posted times that would have qualified them for states as individuals had they not earned a ticket to the state meet in Hershey as a member of a top five team. West had three finishers in the top 10 and four in the top 11.

Adding to the impressiveness of the Bucks’ effort at the district meet, only 33 seconds separated runners one through five.

Freshman Julia Flood finished fourth with her sophomore teammate Piper Wilson two seconds back in sixth place. Bucks’ freshman Emmi Simon and senior Erin Chinnici placed 10th and 11th just two seconds apart. Junior Katie Jenkinson placed 29th to complete West’s scoring. The Bucks’ other finishers were junior Darby Roth at 34th and sophomore Grace Kolbe at 49th.

One week earlier on the same course at Lehigh, West claimed the Suburban One League Continental Conference title with all seven runners in the top 12 --Wilson (3), Simon (6), Flood (7), Jenkinson (8), Chinnici (9), Roth (10), and Kolbe (11).

“We worked through the league meet with two-a-days,” said Munnelly. “We thought we could win. Kiki (CB West head coach Kiki Bell) always focuses on districts. But, we didn’t know that these girls would put four in the top 11 at districts. This is just a bunch of kids that came together in this school district with great team chemistry. They train hard together and get along really well.

“At districts, we had five in the top 10 at the end of the first mile. We were on pace to finish with 38 points. That group stayed together. They blew away the opposition by running as a pack. The top five could see each other all the way. On paper, we didn’t expect it to go that well. And, our girl Vanessa Barrow won the jayvee race at 20:32. No team in the varsity race had its seventh runner under 21:00.”

Had Barrow run the varsity race, she would have placed 99th.

“Our goal every season is to always run our best race at districts – but it doesn’t always happen that way,” said Munnelly. “This year, when we had time trials at the start of the season on our course at Lake Galena – which are always a barometer for districts, we thought we could have three or four girls go 19:00 or better at districts – and we did.”

This season, the CB West team finished first at the Souderton Invitational and the William Tennent Invitational, second at the PTXC meet in Kutztown (behind a team from Maryland) and fourth at the PIAA Foundation Meet in Hershey. Now, it heads back to the same course in Hershey for Saturday’s PIAA State Championships.

Munnelly said, “Our goals for states are to run the best race we can, work the uphills and fly down the hills.”

If the Bucks run the way they’ve shown they’re capable of running this season, there is a good chance they’ll return home from Dauphin County with some impressive hardware.

The CB West boys team had its highlight moment this season at last week’s Suburban One League Continental Conference Championships at Lehigh.

The team of Michael Samson, Carter Laatsch, Brian Baker, Ben Bunch, Andrew Gillespie, Riley Warren, and Owen Schiele combined for a score of 45 points to edge Central Bucks East (55) and North Penn (56).

“We were optimistic we could do it,” said CB West coach Greg Wetzel. “Our kids rose to the occasion against CB East and North Penn. Districts went O.K. for us and we finished ninth. But, to get out of District 1 and advance to states, you have to run better than good.”

Two other Suburban One League teams earned state meet berths with their finishes at last Friday’s district meet – Council Rock North’s boys team and North Penn girls’ team.

Council Rock North finished runner-up to Downingtown West with the team of Ryan Campbell, Ethan Koza, Sam Farley, Kevin Ehrgott, Matt Mullen, Brandon Pfister, and Jon Davis and now will head to Hershey with intentions of defending its Class AAA state title.

The North Penn state team features Ariana Gardizy, Maeve Gimbert, Olivia Dyer, Jaime Diedel, Jenna Webb, Ximena Trejo‚ÄźMora and Lauren Matulevich.

Gardizy led the way for the Maidens – and also led every other runner in the race. The stellar senior defended her district title when she crossed first at 18:09. Coatesville’s Brooke Hutton was a distant runner-up at 18:33.

“I had a good race,” said Gardizy. “No-one came up on me in the first mile. When I saw the mile time – 5:42 – I knew it was faster than leagues. It was a comfortable pace.”

It was a comfortable pace for the leader – but not much of a race.

“In the second mile, my gap was getting bigger,” said Gardizy, who will run and study nursing at the University of Pennsylvania next year. “It was hard to figure out the best pace to run. If I felt myself slowing down, I told myself to keep pushing. People on the side helped me by cheering me on.

“Now, it’s states at Hershey. With all the hills on the course there, I hope it doesn’t rain. I don’t have a goal time. I’m more concerned with getting a better place than last year when I finished ninth. I’m just hoping I can compete with the best.”

With just 25 individual berths for states open to runners at District 1, the runners who are in the upper 30s and low 40s heading into the final 800 meters know they have to go all out – to get to the line before the final qualifier crosses the line and the door slams shut.

This year, the last runner to jump on board before the boat left the dock was Pennsbury’s Megan Schaal. She finished 41st at 19:40 – slightly ahead of Cheltenham’s MaryGrace Rittler who was 42nd with the same time.

“It was so close,” said Schaal, a Falcon senior. “I beat the girl in 42nd by half-a-step. It was a race to the very end. I started my kick with 800 to go. I passed 10 girls in the final 800. I just wanted to lay everything out there. When the race got near the end, I knew I had to catch as many people as I could.

“I caught the girl in 42nd in the last five steps. She had slowed down a lot. I saw it happening, but I thought the gap was too big. Still, I went for it. It was the best kick of my life. I knew it was going to be really tight. I had to get there before the brick wall came down in front of me.”

Schaal will be joined at the state meet by her Pennsbury teammate Chloe Connor, who came across in 16th place.

“Megan is a senior who had never made states before,” said Pennsbury coach Ken Cislak. “She gave it her all. It was the best race I’ve ever seen her run. With 800 to go, I had her in 51st,

“Chloe also had her personal best. Last year, she was one of the final girls to qualify for states. This year at districts, they both went out like I told them – comfortable enough that they could push it later and pick off people at the end,”

Connor, also a Falcon senior, said, “My race was good. There was a lot of high energy and that helped. I started out in the back of the front pack. At the start of the third mile, I went as fast as I could. No-one passed me in the last mile and I didn’t see a girl in front of me.”

Pennsbury also had a runner in the boys’ race who just made the state cut by the skin of his teeth – Aidan Sauer who placed 38th.

“Aidan is a senior and this is his first time going to states,” said Pennsbury coach Tim Cass. “Our league is so tight. Aidan is a state qualifier and he wasn’t first team in our league. He’s very goal-oriented and making states was his goal.

“He had a smart race. With 600 left in the race, he realized he was on the bubble. He’s an 800 runner in track and he used his speed to outkick four or five guys at the end.”

Sauer said, “It was definitely a tough race. It was a PR (personal record) for me. It was a little scary. I felt like I picked it up in the third mile. In the last 800, I grinded as hard as I could. I made sure no one passed me. I knew it was close. I’m just glad I made it.”

The SOL National Conference also had the top individual finisher in the boys’ race. Neshaminy’s Rusty Kujdych finished first and successfully defended his district title.

“Rusty had a very good season last year,” said Neshaminy coach Syd White. “He worked hard last summer to get ready for all the races this year. He hasn’t lost to a Pennsylvania runner this year.”

Kujdych finished first at the Briarwood and Foundation meets and second at Paul Short behind a runner from Maryland. He placed fourth at the Manhattan Invitational and was the top runner from Pennsylvania. At the PTXC meet, he was fifth behind four runners from a nationally-ranked team from Virginia (Loudon Valley).

At last Friday’s district meet, Kujdych crossed first at 15:11 and narrowly edged Bishop Shanahan’s Josh Hoey, who clocked a 15:12.

“There was a lot of us at the mile mark and then it started separating in the second mile,” said Kujdych. “Josh and I had the same idea where to start the kick. It happened at the same time – with 1,200 meters to go where there is a slight downhill behind the cornfields.

“We went at the same time and pushed each other. I started to pull away a little but he was never more than 10 meters behind me. I could hear his footsteps. It almost seemed like an open 800 track race at the end. In the last 400, I didn’t lose any ground. It was a really good race by both of us.

“Hershey is a challenging course. But, it’s very appropriate for a state championship course.”

Other Suburban One League runners who have qualified for this weekend’s state meet are Cheltenham’s Janelle Williams, Central Bucks South’s Madi Tomjaselli, Central Bucks East’s Cameron Billingsley and Mckenna Brophy, Neshaminy’s Kaylee McCullough, and Upper Moreland’s Jill Kelly in the girls’ race.

SOL qualifiers in the boys’ race are North Penn’s Brendan O’Toole and Noah Demis, Cheltenham’s Jason Cornelison, Upper Dublin’s Ben Brugger, Central Bucks West’s Michael Samson, William Tennent’s Sean Rahill, Wissahickon’s Ben Hoyer, and Central Bucks East’s Alex Bardwell.