BETHLEHEM >> Preseason expectations aren’t always met.
Central Bucks West, however, exceeded them.
The Bucks turned Lehigh University’s course into their own personal stomping grounds Friday morning, banding together to overcome a deep and vast Class 3A field and win the team title by a wide margin.
“We all stick together,” Julia Flood said, “and support each other. Even in races where we’re not feeling good, another teammate will take it for us.”
The Bucks were at their collective best on Friday, placing three in the top 10, four in the top 11, and when No. 5 runner Katie Jenkinson hammered it home, West had officially secured its first district team title in the program’s history.
“It means everything,” said Flood, who set the pace for Friday’s pack, a mere 33 seconds separating runners one through five.
West made a substantial jump this year, going from eighth a year ago and cracking the top three for the first time since 2012. There was already a buzz surrounding this group in the preseason.
“We were pretty confident with our time trials that we would have a pretty strong team this year,” Flood said with a smile.
And Friday the Bucks delivered. Flood was fourth in 18 minutes, 46 seconds, Piper Wilson was sixth in 18:56, Emmi Simon placed 10th in 18:58, followed closely by Erin Chinnici in 11th with a 19:00, and Jenkinson raced to 29th in 19:19.
Detailing how special the group was, the times they posted Friday would all rank amongst the top 13 best times West has had at Lehigh’s course since 2000.
The Bucks finished with 60 points, their closest competition Owen. J. Roberts with 202.
“It just gives us more confidence,” Flood said. “And we’re just really happy with our performance today.”
Leading the entire pack of 374 runners was North Penn’s Ariana Gardizy, who pulled away to the district title in 3A, crossing the line in 18:09.
“With all of the people — hundreds of runners in our race, it’s amazing. I still haven’t wrapped my mind around it yet,” Gardizy said.
Gardizy clocked an 18:09, taking top honors by 24 seconds.
“Last year was a lot different. The strategy last year I liked better because I always had people in front of me,” the Knights’ senior said. “The top runner last year took it out in like 5:30, so I always had people in front of me that I was trying to catch up to.
“But this time I didn’t see anybody in front of me so it was kind of mentally hard, but as I was going, people (along the course) were saying ‘20-meter lead, 30-meter lead,’ and it kept stretching out as the race went on, so that kind of helped me.”
Fourth as a junior and District Champion as a senior, Gardizy set the pace for North Penn’s run to states, as the Knights finished third in 3A to punch their ticket.
“That’s what we were all hoping. We were all on the line, telling each other ‘top five, top five,’” Gardizy said.
Maeve Gimbert (12th, 19:03), Olivia Dyer (15th, 19:06), Jaime Diedel (78th, 20:11) and Jenna Webb (115th, 20:42) all ran well to ensure a team trip to Hershey.
Racing to states out of Class 2A is Gwynedd-Mercy Academy’s Kelly Murray, who continued her magical freshman season by overcoming two-time defending district champion Villa Joseph Marie’s Katie Irelan. Just like she did at the Catholic Academies League race, Murray was able to outrace Irelan, this time for the district title.
“It feels really great. I just knew that I worked hard the whole time so it really payed off,” said Murray, who was stung by a bee just moments after crossing the finish line. Other than that, it was a perfect day on the course.
“I knew (Irelan) would be right with me so I just wanted to see what would happen,” said Murray, who pulled away from Irelan in the third mile, winning by 15 seconds.
After coming in second two years in a row, Jenkintown’s Jack Miller raced to the top spot in Class A boys, crossing in 16:29.
“This is what I’ve been working for. This is what I wanted since freshman year so it’s awesome,” said the junior.
Miller led the parade of Drake runners that took places one through five and ran away to the team’s second straight team title.
“We really have an awesome team so that pushed us all to be better,” Miller said of a pack that included Joshua Jackson (17:08), Luke Miller (17:32), Carter Geer (17:44) and Patrick Wagner (17:47).
Team titles are a new thing for the Pope John Paul II boys, kings of the mountain in Class 2A.
“I ran with my teammate, Mike (Florig, 17:22), the whole time, and we just push each other,” said PJP’s Shane McKeon, third overall in 17:08. “I would fall back and he would pull me up and then I would pull him ahead. I just got luckier and was able to pull away but we finished three and four and that was a big reason for why we won.
“This is the first championship we’ve ever won so it’s a big deal for us.”
Jack Phillips (17:56), Kaden Buchler (18:09) and Jack Brosius (18:46) all placed in the top 22 for the Golden Panthers, propelling them past second-place Holy Ghost Prep.
Third place went to Lower Moreland, and its Class 2A Gold Medalist, Shane Cohen (16:42). In a tremendous push to the finish, Cohen out-kicked Upper Perk’s Cameron Junk for the top spot.
“I wanted it so bad,” Cohen said. “I gave it everything I got and then I was right next to him. I just told myself ‘this could be my last race,’ so I gave it everything I got.
“Everyone’s here watching and I wanted to put on a show.”
The Spring-Ford boys head to states out of Class 3A, their pack of Jacob McKenna (16:08), John Zawislak (16:17), Milan Sharma (16:24), Shane Ainscoe (16:36) and Zachary Smith (16:42) putting together a fourth-place finish at Lehigh.
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