Early in the AACA championship meet, Mount St. Joe junior Julianna Kardish leads Gwynedd Mercy sophomore Stephanie Szekely and Mount freshman Mollie Mullen. Szekely would move ahead later on. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

Early in the AACA championship meet, Mount St. Joe junior Julianna Kardish leads Gwynedd Mercy sophomore Stephanie Szekely and Mount freshman Mollie Mullen. Szekely would move ahead later on. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

In 2012, Mount St. Joseph Academy waltzed to the team title at the Athletic Association of Catholic Academies cross country championships, winning by a whopping 46 points. The gap between the champ and the runner-up was much smaller last year, with the Mount holding onto the AACA crown by a mere four points over Gwynedd Mercy Academy.

Last Tuesday at the 2014 league meet, the GMA Monarchs reversed that outcome, outscoring the Magic 44-48 to become the new champions. The Mount had gone undefeated in 2014 league dual meets; in their closest clash the Magic had edged Gwynedd by three points.

In last weeks championships at Tyler State Park, the first two individual finishers did not come from any of the top teams. Freshman phenom Emma Seifried won easily in 18 minutes, 34.31 seconds, but she was only one of two entrants in the varsity race from Country Day School of the Sacred Heart. Repeating as league runner-up was senior Karli Visconto of Nazareth Academy (18:56), which placed fourth in the team standings with 121 points, behind number three Villa Maria (118) and ahead of St. Basil and Villa Joseph Marie (both with 123 points), and Merion Mercy (137).

Gwynedd sophomore Stephanie Szekely was third overall in 19:31, and MSJ junior Julianna Kardish replicated her fourth-place finish of a year ago, this time crossing the line in 19:34.

Freshman Mollie Mullen landed in fifth place in 21:14, and the Magic had another ninth-grader, Jen DeGroat, take ninth place in 20:52.

“It was a good race, and we had three girls finish in the top nine,” noted Mount coach Kitty McClernand. “Our compression between our four, five and six wasn’t quite good enough, and Gwynedd ran well today.”

While the Monarchs only had Szekely and freshman Kylie Saloma (7th place; 20:35) in the top nine, after the first two runners from Villa Joseph Marie took 10th and 11th place, Gwynedd captured the next three spots ahead of the Mount’s number four.

Wrapping up the team victory for GMA were senior Sydney Hirokawa (12th; 21:01), sophomore Emily Gregor (13th; 21:09), and senior Emily DeGrandpre (14th; 21:14). Right behind this trio in 15th place was Mount St. Joe freshman Mady Taylor (21:25), and the final scorer for the Magic was senior Madeline Reiche (20th; 21:45).

The other two varsity racers for the Magic were junior Jane Prior, who came in 21st just after Reiche (21:47), and freshman Jade Killion, whose time of 22:10 netted her 29th place overall. In the team scoring, each runner’s individual contribution was actually bumped up one point due to the fact that the winner’s school, Sacred Heart, did not field a full team.

Only one of the Mounties who ran in the varsity race will graduate, and Kardish pointed out, “We had four freshmen in our seven, so that’s exciting for the future.”

Another young MSJ athlete was unable to appear at Tyler, though. Sophomore Kelly Ward, who had been as high as third on the Magic team earlier in the season, stepped in a hole during a practice run around campus and broke the growth plate in one of her feet.

The Gwynedd Monarchs were also missing one of their stronger performers. That was Stephanie Szekely’s older sister, Allie, a national-caliber swimming standout who was away at a major aquatic event.

The weather forecast had called for sunny, relatively humid weather conditions with a high temperature around 80 degrees, but by race time the sky was overcast and the air felt more suited to the season.

“It was nice that things cooled off,” Kardish said. “It felt good running.”

From dual meets, the other top ruuners in the league knew that they’d just burn themselves out trying to stay with Sacred Heart’s Seifried.

“We knew she was going to be way out in front,” Kardish commented, “so I just forgot about her and focused on my own race.”

Simply in terms of numbers, the Mount St. Joe squad actually did a little better than in 2013, collecting 48 points this year after winning the meet with 52 last fall. Gwynedd upped its game even more, though, and came away with the crown.

The league meet behind them, the Mounties would turn their attention to the PIAA District 1 championships, which will take place this Friday at Lehigh University. Even the Magic rookies are somewhat familiar with the course, since they appeared in the well known Paul Short Run at Lehigh at the beginning of the month.

Asked about improvements she’s looking to make in her personal performance, MSJ’s Kardish said, “I’m working on my second mile. That’s where I try to make my move. The first mile I sort of hang in, and in the second mile I start trying to go after the girls ahead of me.”

The team preparations for Districts will be fairly straightforward, according to McClernand.

She explained, “Because Lehigh’s a flat course, we’ll do some speed work, and then just taper down.”