Early on, GFS junior Sarah Walker (left) and Friends Central freshman Gabby Wilkinson ran together in Tuesday’s dual meet, then Walker pulled away. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

Early on, GFS junior Sarah Walker (left) and Friends Central freshman Gabby Wilkinson ran together in Tuesday’s dual meet, then Walker pulled away. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

Throughout the fall season, Germantown Friends cross country runners get to test themselves regularly at major invitational races both here and out-of-state. On the other hand, the Tigers rarely receive a challenge in dual meets against rivals from the Friends Schools League, where GFS has been dominant for more than a decade.

Last Tuesday’s bout at Belmont Plateau was an exception, as the girls of GFS and their counterparts from Friends Central arrived at the Fairmount Park course with unblemished records in the FSL.

Tigers junior Sarah Walker won the race in 19 minutes, 54 seconds, but the FC Phoenix snapped up the next two spots thanks to freshman Gabby Wilkinson (20:30) and senior Hannah Szapary (20:45). Just one second behind Szapary, Germantown sophomore Griffin Kaulbach came in fourth, and overall the Tigers had four runners in places four through nine.

This enabled the Tigers to pull out a 26-31 victory and end the regular season with a 7-0 record in the Friends League. This week in the league championships at Westtown School, both the GFS boys and girls teams will be going for their 13th consecutive FSL titles.

After the girls’ race last week, coach Rob Hewitt remarked, “Typically, we don’t run hard in dual meets because we haven’t had to. We knew we’d be in for a good one here, because Friends Central ran real well at Paul Short last Saturday. We got to see a good side of our girls today, because they had to compete hard and go after it.”

“It makes us realize that we need to keep improving,” said senior Arielle Frank, who is a team co-captain along with classmate Brigit Andersson. “We want to be confident, but not complacent.”

It was Frank who completed Germantown’s team scoring last Tuesday; she placed ninth overall with a time of 21:39. Anderson was fourth for the Tigers and seventh in the race at 21:05, and junior Alice Wistar was third on the team and fifth overall with a time of 20:54.

The number six and seven runners for GFS lodged themselves among the top 11 finishers, with freshman Elise Hocking running 21:46 for 10th place, and with junior Caitlin Harrity coming in 11th in 22:04.

Early in the race, the Tigers’ Walker was shadowed by FC’s Wilkinson, who is the younger sister of former Penn Charter standout Elise Wilkinson. Eventually, Walker drew away to win comfortably, even passing a few lagging runners from a boys’ race that had started earlier.

The GFS junior was the top 800 meter runner in Pennsylvania during track season last spring, but up until this year, she had played soccer in the fall. Running cross country has required some adjustments.

“Since I’m mostly an 800 runner, I’m working on not thinking about the length of these races,” she explained. “One of the main things is staying focused through the middle of the race.

“In my track races,” she continued, “I don’t have as much to think about because they’re so short. Cross country is definitely more of a mental sport; I’m practicing keeping calm before races and just focusing on what I’m trying to do.”

She said she likes running at Belmont Plateau, where Germantown hosts regular-season dual meets. It will also be the place where GFS will look to defend its 2013 Pennsylvania Independent Schools championship later on in October.

“I guess it’s mainly because it’s the only course I’ve raced on more than once so far,” she revealed. “I know the mile markers and the landmarks, so it’s easier to break up the course into sections. Basically what I do is just sit on the top runners, and when I feel ready to go, break off.”

Germantown Friends’ strength has always been pack running, and Coach Hewitt has been pleased with the way his scorers have been performing.

“I’m watching Griffin Kaulbach get beyond confident right now, and Alice Wistar’s doing some really good stuff,” he said. “Arielle did well, she was right around their [number] four today, and Elise Hocking is only a freshman but she’s figuring things out very quickly.”

With team that includes some young rising stars, co-captain Frank thinks part of her job is to “Unite our team and make everyone feel confident. No one should feel they’re alone out there; each one should feel that they’re being supported by the whole group.”

With her own high school career nearing its conclusion, she revealed, “I want to win the league again, and I’m looking forward running States here at Belmont. I’ve had some of my best races at Belmont, and my PR last year was on this course.”