by Tom Utescher

How’s this tip for help in digesting that sumptuous Turkey Day dinner? Try running three miles over hilly terrain while racing against the best scholastic cross country athletes from eight different states.

Two days after Thanksgiving, that’s what the Germantown Friends School distance runners were up to, with both the boys and girls teams competing at the Nike Northeast Cross Country Regionals in Wappingers Falls, NY.

The Tigers came home with a top-10 individual finish and with both teams placing right around the middle in these two elite packs of harriers.

In the boys championship race, senior Sami Aziz came in ninth overall, turning in a time of 16 minutes, 14.1 seconds on the five-kilometer Bowdoin Park course, considered one of the most challenging in this section of the country. With a team score of 471, the Germantown franchise finished 17th out of the 37 teams on hand (there were also some unaffiliated individuals participating).

Head coach Rob Hewitt felt his charges performed well, in light of some mishaps during the race. One of the senior tri-captains, Henry Shah, passed out during the race, and did not finish. Aziz was actually the race leader around the three-kilometer mark, but he slipped on a rock while descending a hill and got a little banged up in the fall. He got back in the race and made up some of the ground he had lost.

Another Tigers senior, Lyle Wistar (team tri-captain along with Aziz and Shah), was 40th overall in 16:50.9. Junior James Finney crossed the line in 17:47.1 for 118th place, and the other scorers for GFS were seniors Ben Stassen (126th; 17:50.1) and Paul Maxson (180th; 18:19.9). The sixth finisher for the Tigers, junior Andy Bugos, arrived in 19:07.5 to become number 220 on the list of 278 finishers.

A week-and-a-half earlier, Germantown Friends had run a 3200-meter time trial on the track along with the top public school squads in Pennsylvania, Henderson High School and Cardinal O’Hara. Turns out the Tigers picked the right rivals for this tune-up session.

New Jersey’s Christian Brothers Academy (the defending national champions) repeated as the Northeast winner with a score of 73, while O’Hara was second with 90 points, and Henderson third with 95. Back at the 3200-meter practice race, the Tigers’ Aziz edged out Pa. large school champ Tony Russell of Henderson, but last weekend Russell won the regional race in 15:51.7, with fellow Henderson junior Reiny Barchet finishing four seconds later to grab the runner-up spot.

As the top two teams at the Regionals, Christian Brothers and O’Hara received automatic bids to Nike’s national championship race, which will be held this Saturday in Portland, Ore. Germantown Friends earned a place in that event back in 2009, finishing 21st in the nation. A day after last weekend’s Northeast Regional, Henderson High was given an at-large invitation to Nationals.

The Tigers’ Aziz also received some good news later on. In the regional races, the top five individuals who are not part of the teams advancing to Nationals also earn a trip to Portland. Due to his mishap out on the course, Aziz was sixth on this list, but one of the athletes ahead of him declined the invitation, and the GFS senior will be running in Oregon this Saturday.

Like the GFS boys, the Tigers’ girls team won both the Friends Schools League and Pa. Independent Schools championships this fall. Last Saturday at Wappinger’s Falls, the Germantown ladies landed in 14th place out of the 27 teams in attendance, with a score of 377.

As usual, senior Eliza Lukens-Day headed the GFS effort, coming in 31st overall in 19:50.5, and next for the Tigers was freshman Caitlin Harrity, who took 77th place in 20:43.2. Just two spots behind was junior Alison Love (20:48.1), and the other scorers were senior Isabel Goldstein (89th; 21:01.9) and Lyle Wistar’s ninth-grade sister, Alice (101st; 21:18.5).

Rounding out the seven-woman contingent were sophomores Arielle Frank (107th; 21:22.3) and Brigit Andersson (120th; 21:34.7).

The overall winner in the field of 216 competitors was an unaffiliated senior from Vermont, Elinor Purrier (18:09.4), but the top team hailed from the Delaware Valley. Called the Lower Bucks XC Club for this race, the victorious team was in actuality Pennsbury High School, the large school Pa. runner-up this fall. Led by eighth-place freshman Maddie Sauer (who wasn’t even the top ninth-grade finisher), the Falcons posted 61 points to win by a 78-point margin.

For at least one GFS Tiger, Aziz, the 2012 season won’t end until this Saturday. The boys’ championship race gets underway at 2:35 p.m., Eastern Standard Time.

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