by Tom Utescher
The sun tentatively peeked through the clouds over the Belmont Plateau cross country course at 5:25 PM, but by that time it was all over.
In a rain-soaked race for the 2012 Girls Inter-Ac League championship, the Lions of Springside Chestnut Hill Academy won the title for the first time in team history, scoring 54 points to overcome two other teams from the east side of the Schuylkill, runner-up Germantown Academy (61 points) and third-place Penn Charter (73).
SCH sophomore Jamie Costarino, who finished second at the 2011 meet, clinched the individual title by covering the difficult 3.1-mile course in 19 minutes and 20 seconds, while Penn Charter senior Catie Skinner came in close behind at 19:28.5.
After third-place Paige Kupsky, a freshman who led the GA Patriots with a time of 20:20.6, fourth place went to SCH’s second finisher, Emma Helstrom. A Mount Airy resident (like Skinner) who is only in 7th grade, Helstrom was the only other runner in the 20-minute bracket, crossing the line in 20:32.6.
Senior Maddi Hinchey (a Norwood Fontbonne Academy alum) and freshman Nicole Novo secured seventh and 11th place, respectively, for Springside Chestnut Hill. Hinchey clocked in at 21:24.6 and Novo at 21:56.3, and the Lions’ team score was completed by ninth-grader Brenna Isackman, who was 31st in 23:16.9.
In addition to Kupsky, GA had junior Alyssa Bunim claim a spot in the top 10, as she finished 10th in 21:49.1. The other members of that elite group were Baldwin School’s Miriam Jaiser (fifth) and Episcopal Academy’s Katherine Hong (sixth), who are both sophomores, and two seniors from the Academy of Notre Dame, Siobhan Dougherty (eighth) and Darcy Curtis (ninth).
As expected, the weather slowed everyone down; last year Costarino came in second with a time of 19:05, while Notre Dame’s Maria Seykora, now at Princeton University, set a meet record in 18:44.
Still, Costarino commented, “I don’t mind running in the rain. Plus, after last year’s [Independent Schools] State meet in the snow, everything else is nothing compared to that.”
Notre Dame, the seven-time defending league champion, was fourth in the team standings this year with 81 points, and was followed by Episcopal (118), Baldwin (141), and Agnes Irwin (177). Last spring, Notre Dame graduated a strong senior class that included Seykora and Caroline Powers, who placed third at the Inter-Ac championships a year ago.
PC’s Skinner won both the Inter-Ac and Pa. Indy Schools titles as a sophomore in 2010, but had to deal with a nagging foot injury last fall. She came in fourth in the league meet but then rebounded to finish second behind Seykora at the state championships a week later.
After Costarino won the 2012 league crown last week, she said “I was a little surprised. At the beginning of the race I thought I was going to snag second. I knew that Catie knows the course very well, and she’s strong on the hills.”
The SCH 10th-grader had not raced at Belmont since last October, and the Lions had practiced there only once this fall.
“I wasn’t feeling great at the beginning of the race,” she said. “I struggled a little bit going up Parachute [a well-known upslope halfway through the course] because I was a little nervous.”
It was easy to identify the red-haired Skinner as the first runner to emerge from the wooded section of the course with about a mile to go in the race.
Still, Costarino wasn’t ready to concede to the senior.
“I saw her slowing down somewhat,” the Lions’ lead runner said. “I told myself I should just take it. I was very tired, but I felt like I had this chance so I shouldn’t give it up.”
She moved into the lead, but didn’t really feel secure until she allowed herself a beaming smile as she crossed the finish line.
“Near the finish I was afraid I might get passed,” she explained. “It was so slippery that it was hard for me to have a strong finish, because my feet kept sliding.”
Three more SCH runners passed the line among the first 11 athletes, then the Lions had to wait a bit to calculate their final total.
They’d won all of their league dual meets this fall, but they’d only beaten GA by one point, and Penn Charter by three.
After Isackman completed the scoring, the next runner to arrive was fellow SCH freshman Brooklynn Broadwater, 32nd in 23:26.1. The seventh runner for the Lions, junior Caroline Canning, was under the weather on race day, but still managed a respectable 36th place in 23:54.3.
Since 2011, when Main Line schools snapped up the first three places in the team rankings, the three teams from Northwest Philly and the adjacent suburbs had turned things completely around.
Four of Penn Charter’s top four were seniors; Skinner, Ani Schug (14th; 22:20.3), Heidi Zisselman (17th; 22:28.4), and Emily Diaz (18th; 22:35.5), while the Quakers’ other scorer at the Inter-Ac meet was a freshman, McKenna Krall (22nd; 22:42.5). Sixth for PC was senior Rachel Morris (25th; 22:51.3), who finished just a fraction ahead of ninth-grader McKenzie Case (26th; 22:51.6).
GA had no seniors at all among its five scorers. After Kupsky and Bunim came junior Anna Hallahan (12th; 22:05.8), Hallahan’s freshman sister Maggie (15th; 22:22.9), and junior Evelyn Rakowsky (21st; 22:41.8). Sixth for the Patriots was sophomore Kelsie Hermance (23rd; 22:43.8), and seventh was senior Bridie Lawlor (24:09.8).
From the closeness of the dual meets, the SCH Lions knew that every place would be critical at the championships, and they were able to get the job done. The team had ranked sixth out of the seven league members just a year earlier.
“It was hard to believe that Springside [Chestnut Hill] finally won,” reflected Costarino. “It was about time.”