BETHLEHEM >> With every stride, Connor McMenamin’s four-year dream became more and more a reality.
“It’s definitely something that I’ve had on my mind since freshman year,” the Souderton Area senior said of winning gold at the Suburban One League Continental Conference Championships. “I’ve always looked up to guys like (Hatboro-Horsham grad) Casee (Comber, now at Villanova) and (Central Bucks East grad) Jake (Brophy, now at The Naval Academy) and I had been running against them and it had always been in the back of my mind that I wanna be a conference champion at some point in my career.”
That time came Friday, as McMenamin raced away to victory in impressive fashion, crossing in 15 minutes, 39 seconds to win the Continental crown on a warm afternoon on the course at Lehigh University.
North Penn’s Ariana Gardizy won gold in the Continental girls race, leading the Knights to the team title for the second straight season, and the Central Bucks West boys packed five runners in the top 12 to pull off a three-peat in the Continental boys.
Also, the Upper Dublin girls defended their title in the SOL American and Cheltenham rose to the top spot on the boys side. National team titles went to the Council Rock North boys as well as the Pennsbury girls.
McMenamin pulled away from tough competition, winning the race by 23 seconds.
“After the first mile, my goal was just to bust it open as much as possible and hopefully my teammates would benefit from that,” said McMenamin, who led Souderton to the second-place spot. “I was just trying to take the race out at a moderate pace and then as soon as I got to a point where I felt comfortable, just bust it open.”
Matt Scarpill of Central Bucks South and Brian Mass of Central Bucks West were closest, earning second and third.
“Both are phenomenal runners and they had great races,” McMenamin said. “I was with them and after two miles, I was virtually by myself.”
He was 29th as a freshman, fourth as a sophomore, third as a junior, and now a champion.
“It’s been a long four years dreaming about a moment like this,” said McMenamin, who will run at Bucknell next year, “and I’m really happy that it happened.”
Gardizy made the jump from second in 2015 to first this year, setting the pace for champion North Penn.
“It felt really good,” said Gardizy, a junior, who crossed with a winning time of 18:44. “I like this course. I know a lot of people like it because of how flat it is, the scenery around it.
“I tried to get out fast, tried to avoid getting stuck in a pack of people.”
Gardizy was well out in front, winning by eight seconds. Souderton’s Emily Bonaventure ran a strong race to place second, and then the Knights bunched together five runners in the top 16 to win the team crown.
Overcoming two dual-meet losses, the Knights ran their best when it mattered most, with Olivia Dyer (third), Mikaela Vlasic (fifth), Jenna Webb (12th) and Maeve Gimbert (16th) all conquering the Lehigh course to bring home the trophy.
The Upper Dublin girls did just that in the American race, paced by fourth-place finisher Saddie Gustafson.
“It was tougher than I remember it — last year I think it was cooler — but I like this course. It’s a good opportunity to run fast,” said Gustafson, who crossed in 20:01. “I was always try to go out fast, try to stick with my teammates — we all really wanted to run as a pack today.”
The Cardinals placed three runners in the top nine, five in the top 20.
“(The title) means a lot — we have to keep it up,” Gustafson said. “There are so many girls that came before us who kept the streak alive and we really wanted to make them proud as well as do it for ourselves.”
The Bucks are building quite a legacy in the Continental, racking up their third title in a row. Mass (third, 16:14) led the way, followed closely by Michael Samson (fifth, 16:18), Alec Hofer (8th, 16:29), the aptly-named Ben Bunch (10th, 16:33), and Mark McClenahan (12th, 16:36).
The Bucks’ bunch formed a tight pack, just 22 seconds in between their No. 1 and their No. 5.
“It means so much to you to have the whole team with you the whole time,” Mass said. “It’s great to have teammates where they push you, you push them. I feel like that’s what really makes the race for us — the pack running and helping each other out, because we’re all in this together.”