GFS senior Lyle Wistar, a 2012 Cross Country tri-captain along with Sami Aziz and Henry Shah. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

If you look at Germantown Friends School’s cross country schedule in any given season, it usually reveals something about what coach Rob Hewitt feels about the current strength of his program. When the Tigers promise to be exceptionally talented, they won’t engage in a lot of races outside of their mandatory league bouts, but the outside events that they enter are high-profile invitationals.

This holds true for both the GFS boys and girls teams this fall, who have been smoking the Friends Schools League competition, and are challenging themselves with excursions to races such as the Bowdoin Park (NY) Cross Country Challenge and the Manhattan Invitational.

The Manhattan gathering, which draws from up and down the eastern seaboard, is coming up on October 13, and the Tigers have already raced at Bowdoin Park, where the boys’ squad faced the number one team in the United States on September 22.

The Christian Brothers Academy, of Lincroft, NJ, rolled up a perfect score by snapping up places one through five, and it was no small achievement for Germantown Friends senior Sami Aziz to cross the line immediately after this quintet. The winning time at Bowdoin Park, located a little south of Poughkeepsie and considered one of the toughest five-kilometer courses in the Northeast, was 16:03.11, and Aziz arrived sixth in 16:23.36.

The other component in the Tigers’ premier pair of seniors, Lyle Wistar, finished 11th in 16:40.21.

Asked about the prowess of the top-ranked CBA Colts, Coach Hewitt observed, “The word is ‘humbling.’ They gave us a good tour of Bowdoin Park. Lyle was actually with their top five more of the time up to 3k, then Sami had a nice finish.”

Each one is capable of taking on the leading role for the team on any given day.

“They’re a great one and two for us,” Hewitt said. “Both of them are phenomenally fit.”

Aziz came in just two seconds behind the number five man for the Christian Brothers. After Wistar came Germantown’s third senior tri-captain, Henry Shah, who completed the circuit in 17:49.11 for 47th place. The Tigers’ scoring was rounded out by junior James Finney (51st; 17:58.99) and senior Ben Stassen (53rd; 18:03.52), while the sixth runner who made the trip to Bowdoin Park, Paul Maxson, placed 72nd (of 135 finishers) in 18:51.17.

Tigers junior Andy Bugos, usually a member of the team’s top seven, was competing closer to home at a different event on the same Saturday. He came in ninth at the George School Invitational, with a time of 17:43.

At Bowdoin Park, Christian Brothers Academy dominated the team scoring with a perfect 15 points, while runner-up Pembroke (Mass.) High School had 107 points, and GFS was eighth among the 20 official teams, with a total of 168 points.

The GFS girls’ team, which graduated several very talented runners from the 2011 roster, has needed a little more tweaking, but Hewitt is excited about their prospects. The Tigers did not take a full girls’ team to Bowdoin Park; six athletes made the journey, but two were entered in a separate freshman race.

A local runner from Newburgh High School won the race in 19:15, and the first GFS finisher, senior Eliza Lukens-Day, placed 15th (of 186 finishers) in 20:37.66. Her classmate Isabel Goldstein was 29th in 21:14.76, and the other two Tigers finished close together, junior Alison Love landing 54th in 22:13.49, and sophomore Arielle Frank one spot behind in 22:21.89.

Hewitt also speaks enthusiastically about the development of sophomore Brigit Andersson, who played soccer last fall and then ran track in the spring, and of freshman talents Caitlin Harrity and Alice Wistar (Lyle’s sister). The ninth graders finished third and fourth in the three-kilometer freshman race at Bowdoin Park.

“The one thing that’s really nice about this team is that we’ve got our two through seven runners all working out together, and there’s some serious talent there,” Hewitt noted.

As for Lukens-Day, he commented, “This is the best I’ve ever seen her mentally and physically. She’s also great in a leadership role because she not only talks it but walks it. You can feel that energy from her – that we’re going to make this work.”

Both the GFS boys and girls teams will be seeking their 11th straight league titles at the Friends Schools League championships on October 16. However, many of the top Tigers will be racing just three days before that at the Manhattan Invitational.

“We really wanted to race at Manhattan this year because we felt that both of our teams are at a level where we can handle that,” Hewitt explained. “Potentially we could race a little tired at the league championships, but I think we’ll be okay. Only five of the boys will be going to New York, so our six and seven will be fresh for the Friends League meet.”

On October 27, Germantown Friends will participate in the Pa. Independent Schools State Championships, where the boys will be seeking their seventh title and the girls will be looking to dethrone defending champ Notre Dame.