EAST MARLBOROUGH >> Other than one notable exception, there weren’t many surprises on a windy Monday morning at the Ches-Mont Cross Country Championships.
Perennial power Unionville won the girls team title, and a pair of repeat overall winners — Josh Hoey from Bishop Shanahan and Aislinn Devlin from Downingtown West — successfully defended their titles in the boys’ and girls’ races, respectively.
But when West Chester Rustin edged Downingtown West to capture the boys’ team crown, it raised some eyebrows. It even surprised Golden Knights head coach Matt Taglang.
“I didn’t see it coming,” he admitted. “At the mile mark, we were in third place and I was very excited. At the two mile, were in second and the momentum just shifted.”
Seeded sixth heading into the 14-team competition, Rustin managed to leapfrog a bunch of contenders thanks to superlative efforts up and down the lineup. Senior Brandon Hontz was the individual runner-up to Hoey, but teammates like Ryan Demis (sixth overall), Eddie Harpstead (13th) and Blake Winkley (30th) also made a difference.
“We were predicted to finish sixth, but Downingtown West and (West Chester) Henderson weren’t racing all of their top guys,” Taglang acknowledged. “That kind of opened the door, so we talked about taking it to the ceiling (Monday) and then just see what happens.
“You could see Ryan Demis wanted it badly, and Eddie Harpstead was hanging onto his heels. They are great friends and they really push each other.”
The unsung hero, however, was Winkley, who notched his personal best despite suffering from an illness just last week.
“Blake came down with vertigo a few days ago, and we managed to beat Great Valley without him, and that gave us a lot of momentum,” Taglang explained. “And then over the weekend, Blake got well. He was our number five and he ran a fantastic race, and that help keep our points down.”
Individually, Hoey nipped Hontz by two seconds to capture his second Ches-Mont title with a time of 16:24. The junior employed similar tactics that helped him with the crown a year ago by sitting on the leaders and then pulling away in the final quarter mile.
“Josh’s mindset was he’d rather drop dead than lose (Monday),” said his mom, Leslie, who doubles as the Bishop Shanahan girls coach. “He has miler strength and speed.”
The younger brother to Jackson Hoey, who now runs at Penn State, Josh credited his older brother for being his role model.
“He’s a big influence. He calls me up before big races and encouraged me,” Josh Hoey said.
“(Hoey) is one of the top guys in the state,” Taglang added. “Brandon (Hontz) doesn’t quite have the 200-meter speed that his competitor did, but on this course, a 16:26 is pretty fast.”
On the girls’ side, Devlin cruised to her third straight Ches-Mont individual championship. Her winning time of 17:43 was a full 40 seconds ahead of second place Anna Juul of Unionville.
“I knew it was going to be windy, so I didn’t want to be out front early,” Devlin said. “There were two girls who took it out after the first turn, so I kind of latched onto them. Once we got to a point where the headwind wouldn’t be a strong, I took the lead and then pushed from there.
“Anna was behind me and I know she has an awesome kick, so I stayed focused on ramping it up.”
According to Juul, she found herself in “no man’s land” in mid-race, and began missing her splits. It was a disappointment individually, but the Indians’ team title more than made up for it.
“It’s special this time around,” Juul said. “In previous years, we were very good and it was kind of a gimme. This year we had to work really hard.”
Overall, Unionville placed four runners in the top 12, with Madison McGovern (sixth), Elizabeth Edwards (11th) and Jillian Brislin (12th) helping the Indians hold off Downingtown East and Dowingtown West.
“We ran well today,” said Unionville coach Mark Lacianca. “We will get better still, and our goal is to get back to states.
“I think hosting is as much of a disadvantage and it is an advantage. We are busy setting up the course, so it’s chaotic and we won’t get much of a chance to talk to the athletes. But we are getting better at it. The first couple years it was a zoo.
“Our athletes did a nice job getting ready by themselves.”