A lone Friends Central athlete (third from left) finds himself in the middle of a pack of Germantown Friends runners during last Tuesday’s regular-season swansong. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

A lone Friends Central athlete (third from left) finds himself in the middle of a pack of Germantown Friends runners during last Tuesday’s regular-season swansong. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

In the last cross country competition they’d see before this week’s Friends Schools League Championship Meet, the boys’ team from Germantown Friends capped off the 2014 dual meet season in the league last Tuesday in their customary dominant fashion.

Sophomore Nick Dahl cruised around the Belmont Plateau course in 18 minutes and 40 seconds to take first place, and his teammates locked up six of the next seven spots to fashion a 19-44 victory over Friends Central. It was the Tigers’ 76th consecutive dual meet win in the league, and gave them a 7-0 mark this fall.

With both the Friends League champs and the Pennsylvania Independent Schools meet looming in the near future, GFS had no intentions of going full throttle in this final regular-season race.

As Dahl described it, “Today I just wanted to find a steady rhythm and roll with it, and allow my stride to open up. I wanted to win to give our team the points, but I also wanted to stay within myself and keep the pace controllable.”

In addition to being the defending FSL individual champion in cross country, Dahl won the freshman two-mile race on the track at the New Balance Outdoor Nationals last June.

He explained, “Making the transition to cross country is fairly easy for a two-miler, compared to a 400 or 800-meter runner. A lot of the stuff we do in training is pretty similar. Even in track season we still do some hill running.”

Practicing on upgrades comes in handy when GFS performs on its home course at Belmont, where the Indy Schools championships are also held.

“I love Belmont because you get three good shots at a hill,” Dahl said. “It gives you an opportunity to separate yourself from the pack and kind of find your own race.”

After Dahl won on Tuesday, Friends Central junior Zach Zwick snagged second place in 18:54, but it would be some time before the Phoenix fans would see another FC runner arrive at the finish.

Germantown Friends junior Grayson Hepp placed third in 19:30, and right behind him five more Tigers were each assigned a time of 19 minutes, 33 seconds. For the official record their finishing order was senior Joe Newmann, fourth, junior Zach Schwartz, fifth, junior Gordy Goldstein, sixth, senior Peter Jarka-Sellers, seventh, and sophomore Daniel Stassen, eighth.

At 19:36, FC freshman Alex McDonnell placed ninth overall as he led a string of eight Phoenix runners across the line. In 17th, at 23:32, was GFS freshman Colin Riley.

Newmann, who is team co-captain along with Hepp, pointed out, “Our program has improved dramatically from last year to this year. A lot of it just has to do with following the training our coach has laid out for us. Another part of it is running over the summer, and getting that mileage in without overtraining.”

Among the team’s faster runners, Newmann is a relatively rare commodity as a senior.

“Nick Dahl is already very focused as a sophomore,” he noted. “We have other young guys who have a lot of ability, and I want to do what I can to cultivate that talent and keep them interested in the sport. I want to teach them to do it the right way, which means that I have to do it that way and set an example.”

As you’d expect, GFS coach Rob Hewitt is also pleased with the team’s progress.

“Last year we didn’t have anybody under 17 minutes, and it was a really tough year for us” he recalled. “Right now we’ve got two under 16 and another who ran 16:18, and we’re at 16:45 and 17:03 for our four and five. The culture of the team is in a good place right now.”