BETHLEHEM >> It was a fast day on the course for the Cheltenham boys, the thought of redemption serving as their fuel.
“I don’t know if you heard what happened last year,” says Will Griffen, thinking back to the fall of 2015. “We went undefeated during the season so we had an advantage coming into the conference meet. We all bombed. Wissahickon ran a great conference race and we lost.
“It was terrible. Wissahickon had won it every year I’ve been running — cross country and track — so were hoping that this year, we could turn it around.”
This time, the Panthers were at their best. Cheltenham, again coming off an unbeaten dual-meet season, took five of the top 16 spots Friday afternoon at Lehigh University, led by Griffen’s first-place finish in 16 minutes, 21 seconds.
“My legs were a little heavy coming into today and I felt it on the first mile, but I got into a rhythm,” Griffen said. “I love this course. We had been doing a lot of hilly courses so to come onto a flat one feels nice.”
The Panthers’ pack of Griffen, Asad Grant (seventh, 16:51), Jason Cornelison (9th, 17:02), Drew Crosby (11th, 17:09) and Will Christensen (16th, 17:25) finished with 44 points, overcoming strong efforts by rivals Hatboro-Horsham (51) and Wissahickon (59).
Asked what the team title meant to them, Griffen said: “So much. It’s what we’ve been talking about all week.”
The Panthers’ success continued into the girls race, with MaryGrace Rittler — a former field hockey player competing in cross country for the first time this season — racing to the gold medal in 18 minutes, 45 seconds.
“In the first mile, everyone was pretty close and then I tried to break away,” said Rittler, who led the Panthers to fourth in the team standings.
Coming off a strong track season in the spring, the junior powered her way to a convincing victory, winning the race by over a minute.
“I’m very proud of the whole team. We’ve all been training really hard,” Rittler said. “Cat (Catherine Kluchinski) ran a great race too (third, 19:58). We had some big PR’s.”
Of her rapid success in the sport, Rittler said: “Coming into the first meet of the season, I wasn’t really sure what I could do, but after that I hit a pretty good mark at the Abington Invitational.”