by Tom Utescher
Led by a hard-driving Sami Aziz and fellow senior tri-captains Lyle Wistar and Henry Shah, Germantown Friends School sewed up its seventh straight Pa. Independent Schools Cross Country Championship last Saturday afternoon.
Aziz charged around the Belmont Plateau course in 15 minutes, 51.73 seconds to become the individual champion, and Wistar (16:23.83) and Shah (16:59.00) placed fourth and 10th, respectively, pacing the Tigers to a 47-58 victory over runner-up Penn Charter.
PC’s lead runner, senior Etienne Dumas, came in third in 16:22.92, and the Quakers also received a top-five performance from sophomore Ben Szuhaj, who was fifth in 16:32.83. Germantown Academy sophomore Sam Ritz, second overall in 16:04.72, helped the Patriots place fifth with 135 points, supported by senior Max Huang-Hobbs (7th; 16:39.92).
GA’s regular number one, Sam Ritz’s senior sibling, Ben, was the runner-up at the 2011 state meet, but last weekend he was suffering from a respiratory ailment and had a sub-par race, placing ninth in 16:53.47.
Separating Penn Charter from GA in the team rankings were 2012 Inter-Ac titlist Malvern Prep (89 points), and Episcopal Academy (127). Springside Chestnut Hill Academy wound up 13th in the 16-team field, with 385 points.
The winning time turned in by Aziz was very close to the meet record (at Belmont) of 15:47.61 recorded by SCH’s Dustin Wilson in 2010. Aziz was the runner-up in that race and was attending Abington Friends School at the time, prior to coming over to GFS last year. Wilson won the Pa. Indy meet again in 2011, but an early snowfall had blanketed the course, slowing down the entire field.
Throughout the 2012 season Aziz had been finishing just ahead of his classmate, Wistar, by small margins, but recently the former AFS Kangaroo has upped his game by leaps and bounds. On October 16 he won the Friends Schools League championships by more than a minute, after the Tigers had competed in the high-profile Manhattan Invitational three days earlier.
“Sami has just really been ‘on’,” GFS coach Rob Hewitt said. “At the FSL meet the plan was for him to see how he felt after about two miles. After that he just let it rip – he ran the last mile in 4:40 and change, which is crazy so soon after Manhattan.”
GFS has won the FSL title for 11 years in a row now, and Hewitt said that some of his runners were using that meet to correct some minor problems relating to technique and strategy.
“They were just working on some little things that they needed to fix, and you could see the result today,” the Tigers’ mentor said on Saturday. “Not everyone is going to run a perfect race on the same day, but I think today we did a really good job of minimizing the ‘downs’ and maximizing the ‘ups’.”
The Tigers were able to hold off Inter-Ac League runner-up Penn Charter thanks to its fourth and fifth runners, junior James Finney (15th; 17:26.98) and senior Ben Stassen (17th; 17:30.99).
Penn Charter’s Dumas and Szuhaj were backed up by three juniors: Scott Mason (11th; 17:09.96), Charlie Hoyt (16th; 17:29.34), and Hans Stedman (23rd; 17:46.01).
Malvern Prep’s depth had helped the team repeat as Inter-Ac League champion, but in that regard the Friars still weren’t in the same league as GFS, either figuratively or literally. With 89 points at the Pa. Indy event, Malvern was not a particularly close third to Penn Charter, and for fourth place, Episcopal Academy eclipsed GA, 127-135.
In addition to the figures produced by the Ritz brothers and Huang-Hobbs, the Patriots’ final total included a 52nd place from senior Devin Cody (19:14.02), and 65th from sophomore Anthony Simon (19:49.34).
Although Germantown Friends’ Hewitt will lose four of the five scorers from this year’s championship team, he’s buoyed by the fact that the Tigers romped to victory in the junior varsity race last Saturday, ringing up 22 points to runner-up Malvern’s 48.
“Four of our top seven were freshmen,” he pointed out, “and for young guys like that the improvement curve is huge, if you do it correctly.”
1. GFS Sami Aziz 15:51.73
2. GA Sam Ritz 16:04.72
3. PC Etienne Dumas 16:22.92
4. GFS Lyle Wistar 16:23.83
5. PC Ben Szuhaj 16:32.83
6. MP Billy McDevitt 16:36.63
7. GA Max Huang-Hobbs 16:39.92
8. ES Steven Lucey 16:47.23
9. GA Ben Ritz 16:53.47
10. GFS Henry Shah 16:59.00
11. PC Scott Mason 17:09.96
12. MP Colin Wills 17:12.33
13. FC Carlos Price-Sanchez 17:21.37
14. FC Ian Lopez 17:24.34
15. GFS James Finney 17:26.98
16. PC Charlie Hoyt 17:29.34
17. GFS Ben Stassen 17:30.99
18. HAV Lucas Elek 17:35.94
19. FC Nate Willis 17:38.35
20. EA Ryan Quinlan 17:42.93
1. Germantown Friends 47
2. Penn Charter 58
3. Malvern Prep 89
4. Episcopal Academy 127
5. Germantown Academy 135
6. Friends Central 157
7. Haverford School 160
8. Hill School 214
9. Kiski School 251
10. Mercersburg Academy 271
11. Westtown School 312
12. George School 334
13. Springside Chestnut Hill 385
14. Valley Forge Military 394
15. Solebury School 435
16. Shipley School 470