BETHLEHEM >> The finish line drawing closer and closer, North Penn’s Brendan O’Toole savored the final few strides.
“It was awesome. All of the pain went away — it was just adrenaline and happiness,” the North Penn senior said.
O’Toole’s conference-championship dreams became a reality Friday, as the Knights’ lead man raced to a winning time of 15 minutes, 54 seconds on a sunny afternoon meant for racing, on the campus of Lehigh University.
“It feels great. It’s something I’ve been dreaming of this whole season,” said O’Toole. “The whole summer, I was like ‘I gotta do this. I gotta do this.’ I hit summer training really hard this season.
“My first race, I threw down a great time and I was like ‘I can actually do this.’ So I stepped up to the challenge and I went for it.”
O’Toole took home the Suburban One League Continental Conference title, the Knights’ Ariana Gardizy repeated on the girls side, the Central Bucks West boys and girls squads swept the Continental team titles and SOL American supremacy was seized by the Wissahickon boys and Upper Dublin girls.
“The first mile is really absolutely nothing,” O’Toole said of this fast day on the course. “The race really starts around the 2- or 2.5K, when you come down the hill and go right into a climb.
“That’s when everybody starts moving so I knew I had to focus in on that.”
O’Toole, making the jump from sixth a year ago to first this year, won the race comfortably by 21 seconds. Soon after, Gardizy raced to the top girls time of the day (18:46) to give the Knights first place in both Continental races.
For Gardizy, there was just one change this year.
“I didn’t wear the watch today,” she said with a laugh. “I always peek at it and look, but today I just thought ‘feel good the entire time.’ I knew if I was just consistent, I’d come out with a time like I did today.”
Teammate Olivia Dyer, making a nice recovery from a long illness earlier this fall, raced to second place in 19:09.
“It was really nice (to go one-two), to have her in my sights the entire time,” Dyer said, “especially because a lot of the races earlier this season have been like seeing her, and then slowly fading.
“It was really nice to be able to push through and finish the race.”
It took a team as strong as CB West to keep the Knights from winning the team title. The Bucks packed it in tight, bunching five runners in the top nine to win the crown that eluded them a year ago.
“We were really disappointed last year when we got here and things just kind of fell apart for us for some reason,” Piper Wilson said of the third-place finish in 2016. “So we were really focused on redeeming ourselves.”
Wilson led the charge, racing to a third-place finish in 19:20. Only 26 seconds separated the Bucks from one to five.
“We were trying to keep our eye on the prize,” Wilson said of the unbeaten Bucks. “A big part of the season was just trying to keep that pack up front and it definitely helped us out.”
The CB West boys, collectively, have been a fixed star in the Continental. On Friday they raced to their fourth consecutive conference crown, paced by Michael Samson’s second-place finish in 16:15.
“(The title) means a lot because that makes it four in a row, and it’s a big deal to keep the streak along with going (26 straight wins in dual meets,” said Samson, a senior for the Bucks. “Four years undefeated and four years of conference titles is awesome.
“We do workouts together and we’re all pretty close together. Coach (Greg Wetzel) gives us times to stick around and we definitely run in a pack, even when we’re working out, doing long runs, doing short runs.”
West stuck together and held off challenges by second-place CB East and third-place North Penn.
Over in the American, Wissahickon emerged to the top spot after a one-year hiatus, claiming its fourth conference crown in five years.
“We kind of started to develop multi-team friendships,” Wiss senior Ben Hoyer said. “We know a lot of Hatboro runners and we like to compete with them. We’ve created some healthy competition between the two of us.
“We had a really good team this year and we put something together today. Overall, a lot of our guys had good races.”
Hoyer raced to second, crossing in 16:03. The only one faster was Cheltenham’s Jason Cornelison, who took top honors in 16:01.
“Jason really pulled me along there,” Hoyer said. “He’s got a kick.”
Said Cornelison: “I saw (Ben) in the shadows, moving up on me to my left. And I just knew I had to get going or else it wasn’t gonna be a victory.
“I knew it was gonna be a close race. I’ve been focused on it all season.”
Cheltenham also had the individual winner on the girls side, with Marygrace Rittler clocking a 19:21 to win her second straight title.
“I love having leagues here because it’s kind of like a preview for next week (districts),” Rittler said happily.
Wissahickon, powered by senior Hayley Ross’ fourth-place finish, improved from third as a team a year ago to second.
“We’re a lot stronger team than we were last year,” Ross said.
Upper Dublin captured its ninth consecutive American title, placing three runners in the top 10 and five in the top 14. For motivation, all they needed was more cowbell.
“Our whole JV team had cowbells along the sides of the course,” said a smiling Madeline Spaulding, who led the way for the Cardinals with a sixth-place finish. “We wanted to win with all 28 of our girls.”
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