Sophomore Jade Killion (left) completed Mount St. Joe’s runner-up team score at the AACA championships and junior Kelly Ward (right) helped take away points from rival teams. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

Sophomore Jade Killion (left) completed Mount St. Joe’s runner-up team score at the AACA championships and junior Kelly Ward (right) helped take away points from rival teams. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

If you twisted around an old adage and said “Once your chickens hatch, make sure they all count,” you could be describing Mount St. Joseph Academy’s approach to last Tuesday’s Athletic Association of Catholic Academies cross country championships.

A young and talented Villa Joseph Marie squad blitzed the field, scoring 25 points to win the team title by more than 50. However, in a much closer battle for second place, the fifth and sixth runners for Mount St. Joe played a major role in helping the Magic repeat as the AACA runner-up team, edging Nazareth Academy, 78-81. The Mounties had won the league title in 2012 and 2013.

Mount St. Joe had two runners in the top 10 overall. Senior Julianna Kardish came in fifth with a time of 19:46.86 at Bucks County’s Tyler State Park, and sophomore Mollie Mullen placed 10th in 20:24.80. The course was a little short of today’s standard five-kilometer (3.1 mile) distance, measuring three miles exactly.

Nazareth Academy freshman Anna Featherstone came in right behind Kardish, sixth in 19:54, and once the Pandas put three more runners in the top 20, they needed just one more finisher to complete their team score. After Kardish and Mullen, the Magic had one other top-20 runner, with sophomore Jen DeGroat landing 18th in 21:17.73.

The outlook for Mount St. Joe’s turned around as runners 21 through 30 began to enter the finishing chute. Freshman Megan Ciasullo nabbed 21st place for the Magic (21:26.36), allowing them to hang in with Nazareth, only three points back at 51-54. Hopeful Nazareth fans watched the runners come into view on the long grass fairway leading up to the finish, but the fifth Panda wouldn’t appear until 30th place, giving them a final team score of 81.

In the meantime, MSJ supporters cheered on a pair of athletes who often raced close to one another during the season. Sophomore Jade Killion crossed the line 24th in 21:39.69, rounding out the Mount’s second-place score of 78 points, while junior Kelly Ward was 25th in 21:40.26, helping take a point away from their Panda pursuer. The Mount’s seventh runner, junior Tess Worthington, finished 31st in 21:53.73.

“We always emphasize that every place counts, and today that was really true for us,” commented Mount St. Joe coach Kitty McClernand. “I would’ve liked to be a little closer to Villa Joe, but overall we did a good job and we did great in the JV race.”

Before the varsity event, the Magic won the junior varsity championship, scoring 24 points to runner-up Villa Joe’s 50 and Villa Maria’s 72. The individual winner was Julianna Kardish’s 11th-grade sister, Caroline, with a time of 21:53.83.

Villa Joe’s varsity, with six freshman among the top seven, had dominated the Catholic Academies dual meets, handing the Mounties their only loss. The Magic felt that after the Jems, their chief competition at the championships would come from 2014 title winner Gwynedd Mercy, but last Tuesday the Monarchs were unable to crack the top dozen places, and wound up fourth in the team tally with 96 points. After Gwynedd came Villa Maria (106), Merion Mercy (186), St. Basil (198), and Country Day School of the Sacred Heart (199).

Mount St. Joseph hadn’t beaten Nazareth by a wide margin in the dual-meet season, but McLernand noted, “It was raining, and we didn’t really run well that day.

“Villa Joe is obviously very good,” she went on, “but you don’t want to go into a meet thinking there’s no way you can win. You still have to run the race and things sometimes don’t turn out the way you thought when you get a number of teams racing together. We just emphasized everybody working hard and trying to do their best.”

Among the top finishers, the results were largely predictable. Although Sacred Heart did not thrive as a team, their sophomore star, Emma Seifried, was the defending champion. She retained her title without much fuss, winning in a new meet record time of 17:54.61.

Villa Joe number one Katie Irelan, who led early in the race with Seifried on her shoulder, came in second in 18:24.19, and behind her were two of her freshman classmates, Brianna Kling (third; 19:18.54) and Caroline Brandt (fourth; 19:22.52). Late in the race, MSJ’s Kardish had moved ahead of Nazareth’s Featherstone to capture fifth place.

Next, two freshmen who would be Villa Joe’s last two scorers were sandwiched around Nazareth junior Taylor Neals (eighth; 20:14.23). The VJM youngsters were Abigail Zwall (seventh; 20:07.03) and Camila Drobac (ninth; 20:18.78). The Mount’s Mullen rounded out the top 10.

Gwynedd’s top three would finish in order, with 13th-place junior Emily Webster (20:38.89) preceding junior Sarah Waddington (20:47.78) and sophomore Erin Dougherty (20:49.35).

After the concentration of Villa Joe runners at the front of the field and the trio of GMA Monarchs, the runners from various teams were scattered throughout the results, indicating fairly good parity in the league.

Another thing that impressed MSJ’s McClernand was the amount of young talent.

“Julianna was the only senior in our seven, and she was also the only senior in the top 10,” she said. “It’s impressive how good these young girls are.”

Going farther down the list, there were only four 12th graders among the top 30, so the future of the league looks solid.