A George School athlete held the early lead in last Tuesday’s tri-meet, but the pack of Germantown Friends runners right behind him foretold the eventual outcome. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

If last Tuesday’s home tri-meet is any indication, neither the Germantown Friends boys or girls are about to relinquish their hold on the Friends Schools League title, which both teams have won 11 years in a row.

With neither squad at full strength, the Tigers defeated league rivals Abington Friends and George School at Belmont Plateau. In the boys’ race, Germantown did not enter its top nine runners, and still, in double-dual meet scoring, the Tigers knocked off George School, 19-42, and Abington, 15-48.

One of the regular top five for the girls, sophomore Caitlin Harrity, took the day off to do some specific technical training, and this made things a little more interesting. But even though George School was returning its number one runner from 2012 (Jerrica Bauer placed fourth at the FSL Champs, and fellow freshman Harrity was fifth), the Tigers took down the Cougars 24-34, and beat the AFS Kangaroos, 15-48.

Junior Brigit Andersson was the first finisher for Germantown and was second overall, while in the boys’ race senior Cameron Dichter was the outright winner.

Combined with victories over Friends Central and Westtown School a week earlier, last Tuesday outcome gave both the GFS boys and girls a flawless 4-0 record in FSL duals.

The girls have reason to maintain a healthy respect for Friends Central though, since their final score against the Phoenix was pretty close, at 26-33. It’s always more difficult for GFS to muster a large pool of female runners than their male counterparts, since the school fields four fall sports teams for girls, and only cross country and soccer for boys. Although the GFS harriers don’t need to test their limits during the everyday league dual meets, the Tigers had set themselves a tougher task on Saturday, September 21, when they participated in the Cherkokee Challenge in Marlton, N.J.

Drawing athletes from several states, the Challenge is a 3200-meter event in which there are separate races for each grade of high school. The overall results for each school are aggregated to produce unofficial team rankings. GFS saw its girls finish sixth overall, and the boys, 10th.

Andersson placed eighth among the junior girls with a time of 11 minutes, 54 seconds, while Harrity and Alice Wistar were ninth and 10th, respectively, in the sophomore competition, and freshman Griffin Kaulbach was 15th in her race.

Another ninth-grader, Nick Dahl, recorded the Tigers’ highest place overall when he landed third among the boys in his age group, in 10:27.26. One rung up the chronological ladder, Grayson Hepp ended up ranked 11th among the sophomores. Two strong seniors for Germantown, James Finney and Alison Love, were taking the ACT exams that day and were unable to participate.

Following the Tigers’ league victories at Belmont three days later, Andersson explained, “We did a real race over the weekend, and we do “tempos” for the dual meets. We still want to win, so we do a pace that will let us win, but not work too hard. Then we go our hardest at the championships.”

Andersson, a Mt. Airy resident, actually played soccer in the fall of her freshman year, but at the end of track season the following spring, GFS coach Rob Hewitt convinced her to give cross country a go.

“I was completely new to it last year, so I sort of consider this my first real season of cross country,” she said. “I enjoy the way the team has to work together in order to win, and I like learning about long distance running and the various strategies.”

Last Tuesday at Belmont Plateau, the only runner to best the GFS junior was George School’s Bauer, who placed sixth at the Pa. Independent Schools Championships last fall. Bauer’s winning time in the tri-meet was 20:23 and Andersson clocked in at 20:52.

Coming in third, at 21:05, was George School senior Abby Harrison, but any glimmer of hope for the Cougars was soon extinguished as GFS sent the next six finishers across the line. Coming in fourth and fifth were Wistar (21:43) and Love (21:44). Fourth for the Tigers and sixth overall was junior Arielle Frank (22:37), and rounding out the team score for Germantown Friends was Kaulbach, the freshman (22:50). Nine seconds later, senior Cece Dye became the sixth Tiger in a row to wrap up the race.

It wasn’t until almost two minutes later that the first of three consecutive George School runners arrived to complete the Cougars’ team tally, and the first runner for Abington Friends, freshman Mia Panzak, was 12th overall in 26 minutes flat.

Coach Hewitt’s decision to rest his premier male runners at this event allowed a new cast of characters to dash into the limelight. Still, even the understudies displayed the disciplined, pack-running style that is a GFS hallmark.

After Dichter won the race in 19:17 and George School senior Donald Wong became runner-up in 19:24, five more Germantown athletes finished in a span of nine seconds to nail down the win. The quintet consisted of sophomore Sam Bunson (3rd; 19:34), junior Ethan Jones (4th; 19:40), freshman Daniel Stassen (5th; 19:41), sophomore Zach Schwartz (6th; 19:44), and junior Mathias Hammer (7th; 19:45).

A pair of George School runners rounded out the top ten, while the first AFS Kangaroo across the line was junior Andrew Niemynski, who was 11th overall in 20:16.