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Conway’s win highlights Owen J. Roberts’ sweep over Boyertown

BOYERTOWN >> A home-course advantage?

The topic could generate considerable debate, particularly when the course in question is Boyertown High School’s new layout.

The argument went both ways Wednesday, when the Bears hosted Owen J. Roberts in a Pioneer Athletic Conference (Liberty Division) meet. The Boyertown boys ran a solid pack behind Roberts’ race winner, Liam Conway, for a 20-45 victory. The Wildcat girls were even more dominant in their race, taking the first nine places to run up a 15-50 result.

“I wanted hills on the course. That’s why we did it,” Boyertown head coach Ryan Knox said of the return to the Boyertown High campus after two years of running at Boyertown Junior High-East Center. “East is flat, and you’re making 180s (turns) every tenth of a mile.”

Members of the Owen J. Roberts cross country team flock together during Wednesday’s race at Boyertown. (David Harmanos – For Digital First Media)

Conway covered the 3.1-mile course — one running around the campus’ athletic fields and Bear Stadium — in 17:19. He split from the Boyertown pack at the point on the course where it veers toward the Colebrookedale Elementary School building, and ran unheaded the rest of the way.

“My outtake on the course it, there’s a lot of turns,” the PAC’s defending boys champion said. “There’s open fields, and it’s a pretty flat course.“

Dominic DeRafelo, Boyertown’s leading runner with a second-place 17:36 outing, admitted to not having a lot of experience running the new course. But he and seven Bear teammates navigated it well enough to keep all but Conway and one other Roberts competitor, Quentin Sherwood, out of the Top 10.

“This is our second race on it, and one of the first times for me,” DeRafelo said. “I like it more because it’s at our home school. It runs by the other sports teams, so it feels like there are more people around.”

The Owen J girls (3-0 league) enhanced their strong run by bringing a tight group across the finish line. Autumn Sands, Mackenzie Kurtz, Mikayla Niness and Hannah Kopec were all clocked at 22:52 while Emma Torak, Charley Lustig and Hannah Pugh went 5-6-7, separated by one second behind Torak’s 22:55 split.

Members of the Owen J. Roberts cross country team flock together during Wednesday’s race at Boyertown. (David Harmanos – For Digital First Media)

“We’ve been training hard all season to get here,” Sands, the race winner, said. “As a team, we work together.”

The consensus among Roberts’ top-finishing girls was the Boyertown course wasn’t as tough as their own “home course” at Warwick County Park.

“I don’t think it’s that bad, compared to ours,” Torak said.

“Our course is harder,” Niness added.

Kurtz cited one challenge on the course: A mud pit on the stretch running into the woods at the west side of the campus.

“It’s so deep, you can have one foot sink all the way down,” she said.

DeRafelo concurred about the course’s muddy spots.

“There’s definitely a lot of mud,” he said. “There’s been times when we’re running, somebody’s shoe comes off.

“But we pretty much know where the spots are. It (course) has a cross country kind of feel.”

Behind DeRafelo, the Boyertown boys (3-0) got a close third from Josh Endy (17:38) and fourth from Todd Barton (17:44). Christian McComb rounded out the Top Five (18:03), followed by Justin Smyth (18:08), Payton Stanziani (18:29), Kollin Miller (18:33) and James Sahakian (18:36).

Owen J. (2-1) had the next three placers in Sherwood, Vince Fennel (18:50) and Zach Kardos (18:51), but the Bears had Cy Evans (14th) and Nolan Longacre (15th) further displace Roberts’ fifth runner, Andrew Malmstrom, to 16th place.

“We pretty much mix things up,” DeRafelo said. “Every race we have runners alternate. McComb and Endy have both won races this year.

“We have a lot tighter pack than last year.”

The Owen J. girls’ pack was tight to the point of impenetrable. It added an eighth-place finish by Emily Glasier and ninth by Mali Frederick (both 23:10) before Boyertown’s lead runner, Amanda Murray, checked in 10th in 23:29.

Zora Bergey (11th, 23:47) and Mallory Schmidt (12th, 24:10) followed Murray across the line for Boyertown, with Alyssa Mraz 14th (24:15). Jeanne Tokay (24:12) gave the ‘Cats another displacer.

“2002 was the last time we did that,” Sands said of the OJR girls’ crowded finish. “We want to all finish first.”

Both teams now have this weekend’s PIAA Foundation Cross Country Invitational at Hershey on their schedules.

“It’s good competition,” DeRafelo said. “It’s a good test.”

To cap the PAC’s upcoming bye week, the Paul Short Invitational will be staged at Lehigh University next Saturday (Sept. 30).

“I’m excited about that for me and the guys,” Conway said of the Short Invitational, where he’s run a personal best of 15:39. “It’s a prime time to be running fast.

“We’ve been training hard, so our legs are tired,” he added. “But we’ll rest up for it.”

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