by Tom Utescher

The 2012 fall sports season has come to an end for everybody, unless you’re a varsity cross country runner at Germantown Friends School. Both the Tigers’ boys and girls teams will be in action this Saturday at the Nike Northeast Regionals, held about 60 miles north of New York City in the town of Wappingers Falls.

There, the course laid out in Bowdoin Park is widely considered to be one of the toughest in the Northeastern U.S., and the GFS runners will be duking it out with elite athletes from eight states in an attempt to qualify for Nike’s national meet, which will be held December 1 in Portland, Ore.

The Germantown Friends teams both repeated as champions at the Pa. Independent Schools meet back on October 27, but head coach Rob Hewitt didn’t want to have almost a full month go by with nothing but intra-squad workouts to prepare his charges for the Northeast Regionals.

Last Wednesday afternoon, the Tigers trekked out to West Chester to hone their edge against the top two teams in the Pa. Interscholastic Athletic Association large schools division (Class AAA). The host for Wednesday’s practice race was Henderson High School, which won the boys’ 2012 state title by tiebreaker against Catholic League champion Cardinal O’Hara.

Both the Warriors and the Lions are ranked among the top 20 teams in the nation by and will be racing in the Northeast Regionals.

GFS, Henderson, and O’Hara, joined by a lone runner from Kennett High School, competed in a 3200-meter race on the track at Henderson.

When Henderson won the state championship on November 3, Hewitt sent a congratulatory text message to Warriors coach Kevin Kelly. He also mentioned that he’d scheduled a two-mile time trial for his Germantown teams, and eventually last Wednesday’s three-way workout was arranged.

GFS senior Sami Aziz, the Pa. Independent Schools champion, ran most of the race alongside Henderson junior Tony Russell, the PIAA winner. Aziz had more left in the tank in the final lap, crossing the line first in nine minutes, 14.7 seconds, while Russell came in at 9:16.3.

After Henderson’s Reiny Barchet (9:21.6) and O’Hara’s Jim Belfatto (9:22.1) finished third and fourth, GFS senior Lyle Wistar placed fifth in 9:22.7. With that figure, Wistar lowered his personal record at that distance by seven seconds. Two more runners arrived with times under 9:30, quite impressive for an informal practice race.

The team depth of the large PIAA schools was evident, as the remaining Germantown Friends runners finished farther back in the group. Nevertheless, Hewitt was pleased to see junior James Finney run a new PR of 9:56.9, undercutting the 10-minute mark for the first time. The other runners the Tigers will enter in the championship race this weekend are seniors Ben Stassen, Henry Shah, and Paul Maxson, and junior Andy Bugos.

Last Wednesday, a few male runners from GFS and Henderson competed in a separate co-ed race in which almost all the girls were from GFS. Tigers senior Eliza Lukens-Day, the Friends Schools League champion and the fourth-place finisher at the Independent Schools race, won easily in 11:10.6, coming close to breaking the Germantown Friends record.

Second went to sophomore teammate Brigit Andersson (11:46.8), who has shown great promise as a first-year cross country runner. Next, in order, came junior Alison Love, freshmen Caitlin Harrity and Alice Wistar, senior Isabel Goldstein, and sophomore Arielle Frank, the five girls who will complete the GFS contingent in Saturday’s main event.

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