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PJP boys’ 2A title leads successful PAC teams at District 1 Cross Country Championships

SAUCON VALLEY >> They put the “team” in a sport whose individual accomplishments garner more focus and accolades.

That situation was very much in vogue Friday at Lehigh University’s Goodman Stadium, the site of the District 1 Cross Country Championships. Along with the various achievements of boy and girl runners from Pioneer Athletic Conference schools, there were a goodly number of significant team showings.

Four teams — Owen J. Roberts, Pope John Paul II, and Spring-Ford on the boys’ side, OJR on the girls’ side — will be going en masse to Hershey for next weekend’s PIAA Championship Meet, by virtue of high qualifying finishes. Heading the list is PJP, which emerged as the district’s Class AA champion.

The Golden Panthers edged past Holy Ghost Prep for the title in their winning-team-takes-all bracket, their 50 points heading the Firebirds by one. They had a trio of Top 10 finishers in Shane McKeon (third), Michael Florig (fourth) and Jack Phillips (seventh), with Kaden Buchler (14th) in the Top 20 and Jack Brosius (22nd) not far out of that group.

“Props go to our coaches for getting us here,” Florig said. “The only reason we got here is they got us workouts.”

PJP’s senior twosome went a respective 17:08 and 17:22 behind Upper Perkiomen’s Cameron Junk, who was second to winner Shane Cohen of Lower Moreland in 16:43. Though the Panthers’ first four finishers had a 28-38 edge on HGP, the point spread tightened with the Firebirds going 11-12-13 in the final order.

But the finishes of Buchler and Brosius, both freshmen, ended up being enough to get PJP the team-champion trophy.

“It was a team effort,” Florig said. “We ran our own race.”

“Our freshmen stepped in,” McKeon added.

Junk emerged as the PAC’s highest-finishing individual. The UP senior, making his first appearance at districts since his sophomore season, ran at the front of the AA pack for the first two miles, at which time Cohen moved ahead and went on to score a one-second victory.

“The whole race, I was hoping to come through,” Junk said. “But at the two-mile mark, he (Cohen) started picking it up.”

Junk and Cohen, who ran respective times of 16:43 and 16:42, were the only AA runners to break the 17-minute mark. For Junk, it represents a first-time trip to states at the Parkview Course in Hershey.

“I did great there this year at an invitational,” Junk said. “I do pretty good on hills, but it definitely will be a challenge.”

Owen J. Roberts’ Liam Conway (DFM file photo)

In the AAA boys’ field, Liam Conway had two reasons to be elated. The Owen J. Roberts senior placed third in 15:25 — an improvement of three spots and 15 seconds from his junior year — while leading his Wildcat teammates to a third-place team finish that keeps them intact for states.

“I knew all season how capable we were of this,” Conway said. “In the back of our heads, this was a goal.”

The Roberts boys’ state qualification was bolstered by Andrew Malmstrom placing ninth in 15:48, and Kyle Malmstrom coming home 28th in 16:12. Their 193 teams points were topped only by champion Downingtown West (135) and runner-up Council Rock North (169).

“I finished the race, looked back and saw Andrew ninth,” Conway recalled. “I was excited about that. Kyle was fantastic, too. He was expected to finish around 50th, and he came in around 30th.”

The OJR girls’ second-place qualification for states was vindication for falling short of that achievement last year. It provided a bit of historical highlight, marking the first time the boys and girls teams both were state qualifiers the same year.

“We talked about how well we’ve run in big meets,” head coach David Michael said. “The boys have made progress, but I didn’t think we’d be third. And the girls … they gained 50 points running the last mile.

“For me and the kids, it’s a dream come true. They worked hard and deserve it.”

While the Owen J. girls didn’t have any Top 20 finishers — Mary Bernotas was their leader, placing 24th in 19:13 — they had four Top 50 placers. Autumn Sands was 27th (19:16), Hannah Kopec 36th (19:31) and Alex Glasier 48th (19:45).

“It’s really cool being second,” Kopec said. “This is my first experience going to states. It will be great.”

Spring-Ford’s Gabriella Bamford placed third in girls’ AAA at districts Friday. (Barry Taglieber – For Digital First Media)

“Especially since we didn’t make it in the Top Five last year,” Sands added. “We wanted to run as a team one more time.”

Another historic highlight in the girls AAA race belonged to Spring-Ford’s Gabriella Bamford. One week after winning the PAC event, Bamford made a third-place run at Lehigh to become the program’s highest district finisher.

“This is huge. Huge,” the Ram senior said of her 18:40 run, headed only by race-winner Ariana Gardizy of North Penn (18:09) and runner-up Brooke Hutton of Coatesville (18:33). “Around the statue, and coming down the hill, I felt if I made my kick, hopefully I could make it a reality.”

“There’s a lot of history there,” head coach Brian Sullivan added. “She was so strong at PACs. Getting in districts, she was fourth before the loop at the halfway point. It was something special.”

On the boys’ side, Spring-Ford’s fourth-place showing was also good for team qualification at states. Jacob McKenna led the way with a 23rd place (16:08) run, with John Zawislak (36th, 16:17) and Milan Sharma (43rd, 16:24) contributing to a 239-point effort.

“It was nice to get over the hump,” Sullivan said, noting the boys missed doing that the past two years. “We have a core of seniors who got close. Seeing them get through is special.”
In the girls’ AA race, Upper Perkiomen’s Serena Detweiler repeated as a district medalist with a seventh-place, 20:39 run. It was an improvement of one spot over her sophomore-season outing, though her time wasn’t personally satisfying.

“It wasn’t one of my best,” she said. “My personal-best time is a 19:52. I tried to stay with the top pack, but I ended up being the bridge between the top and second packs.”
Detweiler will seek an improved showing at states this time around.

“Last year I was in the 200s with a time of 22 minutes,” she recalled. “This time, I want to try and get in the 100s with a better time.”

NOTES >> Phoenixville sophomore Carlos Shultz ran a solid fifth in the boys AAA race, clocking a 15:37. Boyertown’s Dominic DeRafelo scored a 22nd in 16:07 while teammate Christian McComb was 27th in 16:11. … In the girls AAA race, Perk Valley senior Teagan Schein-Becker was 13th in 19:04. … Upper Perk’s Dylan Simms (17th, 18:14) and Pottstown’s Khalif Burgess (19th, 18:28) were other Top 20 finishers in the boys’ AA field. … PJP’s Julia Costello went 17th in the girls’ AA event with a time of 21:20. UP’s LeeAnn Markwalter was two spots back of Costello with a time of 21:21. … The top 25 finishers in Class AAA received medals, with the Top 10 in AA also honored. … The top 25 non-team individuals in AAA and top five in AA all qualify for the state meet.

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