by Tom Utescher
The ending of the story was the same for both the boys and the girls of Germantown Friends School, but the plots that the two groups of cross country runners followed last Saturday were very different.
At the 2015 Pennsylvania Independent Schools championships at Belmont Plateau, the Tigers boys added to the Friends Schools League title they claimed the previous week by toasting the rest of the PAIS field. Decisively unseating two-time defending champ Malvern Prep, GFS produced the individual champion in junior Nick Dahl (16:05.50) and pared its team score down to 41 points, light years ahead of runner-up Haverford School, with 108 points, and Inter-Ac League champion Episcopal Academy, which was third with 117.
After a long period of dominance in the FSL, the Germantown Friends girls had finished second by a close margin this fall. On Saturday, they would have to face the team that beat them, Friends Central, along with the closely-matched champion and runner-up schools from the Inter-Ac League, the Academy of Notre Dame and Germantown Academy.
It ended up being more of a three-way race for the laurels as Friends Central faded due to some injuries. When the numbers were crunched, GFS won with a score of 69. Notre Dame, which had edged out GA by a single point to win the Inter-Ac meet at the start of the week, nipped the Patriots again at the PAIS, 72-73. FC was fourth with 112 points.
After the GFS boys recorded a perfect score to win the Friends School League championship and when the Inter-Ac league meet produced no dominant team, the Tigers were the clear favorites at the Indy meet.
“The boys’ race was ours to lose,” commented GFS boys and girls head coach Rob Hewitt. “We had so much in our top six that we were able to separate really well. In the middle of the race we had a few hiccups with our middle guys, but the boys just picked one another up and it turned out great.”
A long streak of GFS victories at the PAIS event had ended with a decisive Malvern Prep triumph in 2013, and the Friars won again last fall, this time only six points ahead of the Tigers. Malvern would finish ninth this time around with 213 points, coming behind its own Inter-Ac colleagues Haverford, Episcopal, and Germantown Academy (sixth; 166 points).
Individually, the Tigers’ Dahl had finished fourth in 2014, having fallen during the race. This time he won entirely unchallenged, opening with a first mile that Hewitt clocked at 4:48. Mercersburg Academy senior Gabe Allgayer was runner-up in 16:38.80, and GFS senior Grayson Hepp was third in 16:43.30, a big leap forward from a ninth-place showing last fall.
“Our best day, in my opinion, came from Grayson Hepp,” Hewitt stated. “That’s the best I’ve ever seen him run on a challenging course.”
The Tigers took a backseat briefly as the next four places went to runners from Episcopal Academy, Haverford School, Malvern, and Westtown. GFS sophomore Zach Goldberg lodged himself in eighth place at 17:09.00, and the top 10 was completed by the lead runners from George School and Hill School. There was only a time gap of eight seconds between fifth and ninth place. The first finisher for Germantown Academy, securing 12th place in 17:25.00, was junior Owen Ritz, whose older brother Sam (GA ’15) was the PIAS champion last year.
It was clear that Germantown Friends had the title in hand when its team score was completed by junior Daniel Stassen in 14th place (17:32.70) and senior Gordon Goldstein in 15th (17:39.80). The other two runners for the victors were sophomore Colin Riley (17th; 17:50.30) and junior Jonnie Plass (54th; 19:09.10).
After the top three in the team scoring came fourth place Mercersburg Academy (132 points), followed by Hill School (147). In addition to Ritz, sixth-place GA got a top 20 finish from junior Peter Butler, who crossed the line 19th in 17:58.90. Next came George School (186), Friends Central (192), and Malvern (213), and completing the top 10 was Penn Charter (264), which had senior Tom Freitag come in 16th in 17:42.50 but then didn’t get another place until the high 40’s.
Springside Chestnut Hill Academy wound up 13th of the 17 teams with 285 points, getting a top 20 performance from junior Noah Chandler (20th; 18:01.80).
The GFS girls had a lot to motivate them going into Saturday’s meet. Before their loss to Friends Central on October 20, they had won 13 straight Friends League titles, and at the PAIS, they were the four-time defending champions.
Coach Hewitt knew their blood would be up to run against Friends Central again, so he had his girls focus on the Phoenix before the race.
During the competition, though, he encouraged them to work past the easily identifiable singlets of Germantown Academy.
“Get the red,” he roared.
Up front, FSL champ Jerrica Bauer, a George School senior, ran with three-time Inter-Ac titlist Abbe Goldstein (a GA junior) through almost the first two miles of the race. Bauer won the meet two years ago, but she was out with an injury in 2014, when the crown went to then-sophomore Terri Turner of Springside Chestnut Hill (now transferred to Penn Wood High School).
This year, Bauer was back in her old form, pulling away toward the end of the wooded section of the course and winning in 18:40.40.
Goldstein was the runner-up for the third straight year, clocking in at 18:54.30, while her senior teammate with the Patriots, Maggie Hallahan captured third place in 19:33.10.
Talented Agnes Irwin freshman Sanaiya Watts collected fourth place in 19:40.00, then the first GFS runners arrived. Sandwiched around their sophomore rival Gabi Wilkinson from Friends Central were Tigers senior Sarah Walker (fifth; 19:47.00) and junior Griffin Kaulbach (seventh; 20:11.10). Wilkinson was sixth in 19:58.30 to lead the fourth-place Phoenix, while Watts’ Irwin ensemble was fifth with 145 points and Bauer’s George School squad was sixth with 164.
After the first two Notre Dame athletes and the first runner for Episcopal Academy filled in the rest of the top 10, senior Alice Wistar (20:45.30) nailed down 11th place for GFS. The next two Notre Dame runners both got into the top 15, and in 16th place junior Rebecca Saunders led the way for SCH with a time of 21:21.90.
Winding up in the 20th spot in 21:35.50 was GFS sophomore Elise Hocking. Tigers junior Sophie Smith, who ran while sick at the FSL meet and came in seventh, was healthy and back in her regular number five position for the Indy Schools race. She wrapped up the team scoring for GFS as her time of 22:00.90 netted her 26th place overall, one ahead of the number five for the Irish of Notre Dame.
Germantown Academy’s third runner to crack the top 20 was 17th-place Jill Silverman (21:24.20) and just outside that envelope was number 21 Kelsey O’Hara, who ran 21:37.30 for the Patriots. Locking in GA’s score with her 30th-place performance was sophomore Jackie DeRusso (22:22.50).
The Pats fell just one point shy of Notre Dame, who, led by junior Sydney Stribrny (eighth; 20:29.40), gave GFS a strong challenge.
“GA and Notre Dame really ran well; it was a great race,” Hewitt remarked. “We needed Sarah up front to get a low stick for us and she got it. Elise was rock steady and Griffin had a strong day. Alice Wistar looked awesome – the best she’s been this fall – and having Sophie come back as our five was huge. It was one of those races where little things make the difference, and we were able to get the little things done.”
Placing 24th overall and second for SCH was senior Nicole Novo (21:54.60), and right behind her in 25th was the top finisher from Penn Charter, fellow 12th-grader McKenna Krall (21:55.60). Both of their teams would come in behind number seven Episcopal (201 points), the PC Quakers eighth with 219 points, and the Blue Devils ninth, with 246. A total of 15 teams had competed in the girls’ race.