Germantown Academy senior Issy Goldstein approaches the finish line to win the Inter-Ac League cross country championship meet. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

The truth of the old axiom that getting to the top can be easier than staying on top was borne out by the girls of Penn Charter last Monday, when they repeated as Inter-Ac League cross country champions.

In 2018, a very talented Quakers team romped to the title, winning by almost 30 points over the runner-up, the Academy of Notre Dame. This year, PC won by just six points over the Irish, 41-47, and Germantown Academy was not much farther back, posting 56 points in a third-place performance.

The GA Patriots could boast the individual champion in senior Issy Goldstein, who won in 18 minutes and 58.50 seconds after being the runner-up in 2017 and 2018. In second place in 19:28.40 was PC junior Emma Zwall, the two-time defending champion.

In the team scoring, Episcopal Academy was fourth with 77 points and Agnes Irwin School was fifth with 143. Springside Chestnut Hill, which did not enter the meet as an official team in 2018, placed sixth with 157 points, ahead of Baldwin School (206). Leading the SCH Blue Devils was freshman Grace Hannigan, who placed 14th overall in 21:53.50.

PC coach Andy Zuccotti remarked, “The level of competition was much higher this year; Notre Dame and GA were formidable squads. It was incredibly rewarding for me as a coach to have our girls run the way they did against those teams.”

GA’s Goldstein fashioned her first sub-19-minute run on the Belmont Plateau course, despite feeling under the weather for a few days leading up to the meet.

“I toughed through it,” she said. “I knew I had to because I didn’t want anything to get in the way of winning the Inter-Ac title. It’s been kind of elusive for me.”

Her older sister, Abbe, now a junior at Harvard, won four Inter-Ac championships at GA, the last one when Issy was a freshman.

When she emerged from the woods with under a mile to go, Goldstein was about 40 yards ahead of Zwall, and she widened the gap before the end of the race.

“I know Emma pushes going up hills, and I’m the opposite,” the Patriots senior said.

After gaining some separation, she put on another burst descending the final downhill stretch from the top of the plateau, Flagpole Hill.

Two sophomores, GA’s Olivia Merrill (left) and Penn Charter’s Lane Murray, raced each other to the very end of the Inter-Ac championship meet. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

“I just wanted to fly down from the top of Flagpole,” she said. “My attitude was ‘I’m a different runner than last year.'”

After she and Zwall staged a one-two finish, Notre Dame announced its intentions to be in the championship mix with third- and fourth-place finishes by freshman Therese Trainer (19:54.30) and senior Lindsey Smith (19:59.70).

GA freshman Olivia Jappe was fifth in 20:32.40, then Episcopal number one Jilliana McEntee (20:52.40) edged out PC sophomore Julia Dolce (20:52.50) for sixth place. Another Quakers sophomore, Olivia Montini (21:01.80), was next to cross the line, giving PC three runners among the top eight.

Ninth and 10th place went to Notre Dame and Episcopal, and 11th was secured for the Quakers by senior Alicia Newman (21:22.90), who is a team captain along with classmates Sophia Solomon and Lauren Cubbin.

Racing to the finish line together and sharing a time of 21:27.90 were two sophomores – GA’s Olivia Merrill and PC’s Lane Murray. Meet officials gave Merrill the nod for 12th place, but Murray’s 13th-place showing rounded out the winning team total for PC.

PC’s Zuccotti explained, “Last year we really had a lot of talent and I just turned them loose and let then run for time. We needed to take a more strategic approach this year. We talked a lot about tactics – who to look out for and who we wanted to stay with. The idea was not to panic and take silly risks, but rather to be patient and not waste energy, and when it was time to attack, to do it decisively.”

The Quakers’ Solomon came in 21st in 22:38.00, and the seventh varsity runner for the team, sophomore Elena Coupas, placed 32nd in 24:07.50.

GA’s fourth and fifth scorers were two experienced seniors – Katie Sands (18th; 22:20.30) and Gabby Manosis (20th; 22:27.90).

The second runner to finish the race for SCH was senior Liz Moore, who placed 31st in 23:46.60, and junior Zoe Thistle was 35th in 24:26.40. Also scoring for SCH were sophomore Kaylie Akins (38th; 25:21.00) and junior Juniper Moscow (39th; 26:00.30).