BETHLEHEM >> Mike Neeson experienced conflicting emotions Friday.
On the one hand, the Pottsgrove junior was joyful about his third-place finish in the boys’ Class AA race of the District 1 Championships, again held at Lehigh University’s Goodman Stadium athletic complex. He had one of the highest individual finishes of any Pioneer Athletic Conference competitor in four of the district’s six races, solidly qualifying for next weekend’s PIAA Championships at Hershey in the process.
But Neeson’s joy was tempered by the realization he will not be part of a Pottsgrove bid to compete as a team. With only the class champion qualifying, the Falcons’ third-place team finish behind champ Bishop Shanahan and second-place Holy Ghost Prep put that goal out of their reach.
“It’s definitely disappointing, considering we won it (districts) the last two years,” Neeson said. “But I’m happy for Bishop Shanahan.”
On the girls’ side in Class AA, Pope John Paul II freshman Julia Costello placed third in a Top 10 that included teammate Kelly Williamson (10th) and Pottsgrove’s Dyani Hairston (seventh).
In Class AAA, Methacton’s Jeff Kirshenbaum finished sixth in the boys’ race while Perkiomen Valley’s Annie Glodek was seventh among the girls.
Solid team showings enabled Perkiomen Valley and Owen J. Roberts to advance their squads to states, PV placing third and OJR fourth of the five schools qualifying. The Spring-Ford boys were the highest area AAA team, placing sixth but 30 points behind fifth-place Central Bucks East; PJP had the same distinction among the four AA girls teams, seventh in the 14-school field.
Neeson, a Top 10 finisher in last week’s PAC-10 meet, followed HGP’s Callahan Lennon (16:25) and Patrick Donahue (16:48) across the finish line in 16:52. Justin Beasley-Turner, Pottstown’s pace-setter throughout the regular season, came across the line in ninth place (17:16) while Neeson’s teammate, Joseph Drager, finished 10th (17:21).
“It felt pretty good,” Neeson said. “A second off my PR (personal record), and qualifying for states. I thought I could catch them (leaders) around the cornfield, but I had the Shanahan runners coming from behind.”
Heading back to Hershey, Neeson has more than just an improvement on his 80th-place showing in 2014.
“I’d like to run under 17:50,” he said. “That’s what I’m hoping for. I’m just going to run my hardest.”
Upper Perk’s Landon Detweiler (17th) and Cameron Junk (20th), along with PJP’s Beck Fuga (18th), were other area runners finishing among the AA Top 20. Pottsgrove followed with a tight pack of four, Matt Harp, Brendan Wurtz, Ky’lif Underwood and Mitchell Antenucci taking the 21st through 24th spots.
Kirshenbaum, unbeaten both in the PAC’s dual and championship meets, trailed champion Jake Brophy of Central Bucks East (15:09), a trio of Downingtown West competitors and another from Central Bucks West on the way to a 15:42 clocking that ranked as a PR for the Warrior senior. OJR sophomore Liam Conway, 11th in 15:52, and Phoenixville senior Sean McGinnis (13th, 15:57) were the PAC’s next-highest finishers.
“I got out to a good start, which I was happy about,” Kirshenbaum recalled. “At the mile mark, I was three to four seconds behind the (lead) group. When I started to go up the hill at the 1-1/2 mile mark, the front pack got a large gap opening up.
“I think I was running 15th at the time. The last 800 yards, I started picking off guys.”
Kirshenbaum tempered his feelings about his district finish by keeping another challenge in mind; namely, a first-time qualification for Hershey.
“My number-one goal was to make states,” he said. “I’ve been training all year for states, so I’m going to keep my head up high. I’d like to break 16 (minutes).”
Other local AAA representatives placing in the Top 50 were Perk Valley’s Jeff Montgomery (28th), Boyertown’s Bryton Henry (29th) and Spring-Ford’s Zachary Smith (42nd) and Jacob McKenna (50th).
Glodek, compiling a solid 13th-place showing and PR at last year’s district meet, made more improvement this time around. The Viking junior ran an 18:05 in finishing behind race winner Aislinn Devlin of Downingtown West (17:24), pairs of runners from Pennsbury and Unionville and Coatesville’s Brooke Hutton, who beat her out for fifth place with an 18:01 clocking.
“The problem was, the first 200 meters, I was boxed in,” the PV junior said. “I had to fight through people.”
Fight she did. In doing so, Glodek set the pace for the Viking girls qualifying for states as a unit, their 228 team points edging Owen J’s 229. Jocelyn Rotay (30th), Teaghan Scheinbecker (43rd), Michelle Daniels (71st) and Hannah Stolpe (77th) all checked in with times between the 19- and 20-minute marks.
“All year it was our goal, to get the whole team to states,” Glodek said.
Finding out the final team standings was one particular source of pride for PV head coach Ryan Sullivan, who last took a team to states in 2007.
“It’s a great finish,” he said. “Finishing third in this district is phenomenal, too. We’re young, healthy and super-excited. The girls have a great work ethic, and they proved it today.”
The Owen J. girls were without a Top 20 finisher, their best individual showing Allison Brunton’s 22nd-place (18:58) effort. But they made the team cut with help from Emma Torak (36th), Alex Glasier (46th), Emily Hansell (52nd) and Katie Proffitt (73rd).
“We were shooting for a Top Five, and we made that,” OJR head coach Dave Michael said. “Looking at Pennsbury (champion), they’re obviously dynamic. And Unionville (second) has potential … they were really low, point wise.
“We had girls who either ran, or were close to, personal records,” he added. “It’s a reward to go to states, but we’re going to compete.”
Costello, coming off an 11th-place showing in the PAC meet, maintained her status as the cream of the league’s small-school field with a 19:22 finish. Hairston (20:16) and Williamson (20:32) also achieved state-meet qualification by virtue of being among the five non-team qualifiers other than the champion.
Upper Perkiomen’s Serena Detweiler (15th) and LeeAnn Markwalter (18th) were other PAC runners finishing in the Top 20. Pottstown’s top runner was Yuliza Cruz, who placed 63rd.
NOTES >> Class AAA qualifiers from District 1 are the top 25 non-team finishers, along with the top five teams. … The Class A individual champ was Christopher Dock’s Michael Gordon, with New Hope-Solebury the team titlist. … In girls Class A, Emma Seifried from Country Day School of the Sacred Heart finished first individually, and Dock as the team leader.
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