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Owen J. boys finish in three-way tie for first place in Liberty Division; girls continue domination after sweep of Spring-Ford

ST. PETER’S >> They leave with fond memories of their home course.

Not necessarily for the challenging layout at Warwick County Park, which rates as one of the tougher among Pioneer Athletic Conference schools. But several Owen J. Roberts seniors enjoyed the results the boys’ and girls’ programs compiled in recent years — capped by Thursday’s Senior Day meet with Spring-Ford.

The Owen J. boys (4-1) used a 23-33 victory over the Rams (4-1) to become part of a three-way tie for first place in the PAC Liberty Division, sharing the top spot with Boyertown (4-1). On the girls’ side, the Wildcats (5-0) continued a season-long domination of dual-meet opponents with an 18-45 runaway from Spring-Ford (3-2).

“This day is extremely special,” Roberts senior Liam Conway said after winning his home-course career finale. “Especially how the team performed. Each race they surprised me. Seeing how they’ve done in practice gives us confidence.”

Conway clocked a 16:22 on OJR’s home layout, leading a six-man bunching in the Top 10. He crossed the line 10 seconds ahead of classmate Andrew Malmstrom, whose 16:32 clocking was better than Spring-Ford’s 3-4 combination of Jacob McKenna (16:36) and John Zawislak (16:37).

“This race was the most fun I’ve ever had,” Conway said. “I love this course. I ran it the last four years.”

In the girls’ race, Mary Bernotas won her Warwick County Park finale by one second over Hannah Kopec. Bernotas ran a 19:37 to the 19:38 of Kopec, who in turn edged Spring-Ford’s Gabriella Bamford by another second (19:39).

“We (team) have tried to be dedicated and run as hard as we can,” Bernotas said. “The coaches have been inspiring to us.”

The OJR girls placed eight runners among the Top 10, aided by five going 4-5-6-7-8 in the final order. They had five more displacers between 10th and 16th place, dropping the Rams’ fifth runner down to 17th.

That’s all put the Wildcats in good position to contend for the team championship in next week’s PAC Championship Meet at Heebner Park. They’re also driven to be in the mix at the District 1 meet one week later, and to qualify as a team for the PIAA Championships two weeks down the road, having come up short of that achievement last fall.

Spring-Ford’s Gabriella Bamford leads at the halfway mark. Bamford finished third with OJR’s Mary Bernotas, back-left, finishing first in her Warwick County Park finale. (Barry Taglieber – For Digital First Media)

“That’s our inspiration,” senior Autumn Sands, who gave Owen J. a fourth-place finish (19:46) behind Bamford, said. “Getting up from that fall.”

The Wildcat boys firmed up their solid run with Linus Blatz placing fifth in 16:38, and senior Kyle Malmstrom sixth in 16:40. Juniors Quinten Sherwood (17:00) and David Brunton (17:08) went a respective ninth and 10th to prevent the Rams from achieving a perfect run through the PAC’s Liberty ranks.

Spring-Ford’s other high finishers were Shane Ainscoe (seventh, 16:53), Milan Sharma (eighth, 16:54) and John Clark (11th, 17:11). It had Zach Smith, a top runner for the team, out of action.

“We would have liked to finish undefeated,” SF head coach Brian Sullivan said afterward, “but it is what it is. The reality is, it’s a winner-take-all next week.

“We were PAC (team) champs last year, so we have the big-meet experience,” he added. “I still have faith in the guys.”

The girls’ race was different. Spring-Ford had only one other runner place in the Top 10: Sydney Galster, who was ninth in 20;49. Its next three finishers — Rachel Moyer, Devon Pytel, Brook Donoghue — ran a respective 11th, 13th and 17th.

“Owen J. is tough,” Sullivan said.

The twin wins had OJR head coach Dave Michael feeling good in advance of the sport’s post-season.

“I’m thrilled at the results,” he said. “The kids have worked hard in training. We’ve had only two races here this year, but they’ve put in the training and hard work.”

The Roberts girls’ other Top 10 performers were Alex Glasier (fifth, 20:05), Mikayla Niness (sixth, 20:34), Makenzie Kurtz (seventh, 20:38), Emma Torak (eighth, 20:39) and Charley Lustig (10th, 21:01). Hannah Pugh (12th), Madison Frederick (14th) Emily Glasier (15th) and Quinn Kratz (16th) displaced the Rams’ fourth and fifth runners.

“I think we’re a little stronger this year,” Sands said. “Losing (graduated) Allie Brunton is a big loss, but we’re able to fill the gap.”

NOTES >> His home course layout had Michael confident about his teams’ prospects for the PAC meet. “This is a pretty good test,” he said. “It has hills and flat areas … cross country terrain.” … Kopec was gracious in her close second-place run to Bernotas. “Mary has been a very strong number-one all season,” Kopec said. “She earned it.” … Sands on completing her last career race at home: “I’m kind of glad. I will miss being out with the team the most.”

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