HERSHEY >> It was the perfect near-end to a perfect season for Rusty Kujdych.
Not THE ultimate end to the Neshaminy senior’s cross-country activities … but the end to his competition in Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association events. Kujdych highlighted the showing by District 1’s various participants in the PIAA State Championships Saturday by winning the boys Class AAA race.
“It’s not the end,” he affirmed. “I’ll be going for Nationals.”
The state meet still served as a key tuneup for the next level Kujdych will be pursuing. He covered the Parkview Course, adjacent to the Giant Center, in 15:47 one week after heading the district’s meet at Lehigh University. Kujdych finished 10 seconds ahead of Butler’s Noah Beveridge, who was running even with him up to the two-mile mark.
“I just did my own thing,” Kujdych said. “Last year I medaled, and the year before that. So I did better every year.”
He headed a District 1 pack that had five runners place in the Top 10. Bishop Shanahan’s Josh Hoey was seventh, followed by Owen J. Roberts’ Liam Conway, West Chester Henderson’s Steve Smucker and Council Rock North’s Ryan Campbell going 7-8-9-10.
“This is one of the hardest courses I’ve ever been on,” Kujdych recalled. “You really have to bring your ‘A’ game. There are so many people out there who want the title.”
The downhill sections of the Parkview Course, a matter of concern for many runners, haven’t fazed Kujdych in the races he’s run there.
“Running downhill is as important as running uphill,” he said. “You have to be careful.”
For Conway, his Top 10 finish in this year’s state event provided a bit of unfinished business. After an injury left him out of a finish within the Top 100 his junior year, Conway clocked a 16:03 in a postseason that saw him win the Pioneer Athletic Conference’s boys race and finish third at districts.
“I’m pretty happy with this,” he said. “I was right with the top guys up to the 2.5-kilometer mark. There’s a big hill there, and Rusty and Noah gapped it a bit.”
Conway’s joy was increased by he and his OJR teammates placing seventh in the team standings. Classmate Andrew Malmstrom followed in 13th place at 16:24 while Kyle Malmstrom (55th), Vincent Fennell (72nd) and David Brunton (88th) also factored in the scoring.
“This was a great cap, running with my teammates, ” Conway said. Like Kujdych, he will be competing in a regional meet at the end of November in an attempt to qualify for Nationals.
Spring-Ford went even higher in the team ranks, placing fourth with Jacob McKenna (20th) leading the way. John Zawislak came in 50th, followed by Shane Ainscoe (57th) and Zach Smith (89th) as part of the Rams’ first-ever qualification for states as a team.
“We set a goal to get a Top Five,” SF head coach Brian Sullivan said. “Things went our way. We came to run.”
Elsewhere in the Top 25, Phoenixville sophomore Carlos Shultz placed 21st and North Penn’s Brendan O’Toole 25th.
The Downingtown West boys were third as a team behind champion La Salle College and runner-up Council Rock North. Payton Sewall was its leading runner (14th) as Tyler Rollins placed 21st.
* * *
In the girls AAA field, Coatesville’s Brooke Hutton was District 1’s top runner. The senior placed ninth in a time of 19:02.
“I’m pretty happy about it,” she said. “It’s my highest finish at states.”
For her part, Hutton had no qualms about the downhill portions of the Parkview Course.
“Downhills I take pretty well,” she said. “That’s the easiest part. I just open up and let my body go.”
North Penn’s Ariana Gardizy, District 1’s girls AAA champion, placed 14th in a front-running pack that saw Conestoga’s Dominique Shultz finish 10th.
“I would have been happy with a lower place,” she said. “I was hoping for better than ninth.”
Perkiomen Valley’s Teagan Schein-Becker, running in the shadow of Spring-Ford’s Gabriella Bamford at PACs and districts, came into her own with a 17th-place showing in 19:15.
“It was a good race,” the Viking senior said. “A good end to the season.”
The Owen J. Roberts girls team, qualifying for states as a unit, were eighth in the team standings. The Wildcats edged Central Bucks West by one point (207-208) one week after the Bucks distanced the Wildcats and the rest of the District 1 field to emerge as team champion by a wide margin.
“This was fun,” Mary Bernotas, OJR’s top runner in 31st place, said.
“We definitely aimed higher than eighth place,” Autumn Sands, one place back in 32nd for Roberts, added. “But we’re glad the team made it here, in general.”
Unionville’s sixth-place rank made it the district’s highest-placing team. Its leading runners were Madison McGovern (19th) and Marcella Krautzel (22nd).
In the girls’ Class AA race, Gwynedd Mercy freshman Kelly Murray was 12th to emerge as District 1’s top runner in the bracket. She ran a 19:33 to edge out Lexi Seifert of Villa Maria (Dist. 10).
“It was pretty exciting,” she said. “I didn’t know what to expect. I definitely want to improve my time.”
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Pope John Paul II came away with a 16th-place showing among Class AA boys. Senior Shane McKeon (58th) led the way while Upper Perkiomen’s Cameron Junk, a runner-up at districts, went 81st.
Jenkintown’s Jack Miller helped his squad to a high team finish in Class A with a high finish of his own. The Drakes’ junior was third in a time of 16:28, leading their fifth-place showing with help from Joshua Jackson’s 14th.
“It was a good day. I’m excited,” Miller said. “I definitely had a better time … I dropped 30 seconds from my time at the (PIAA) Foundation race. And I was 11th last year, so I wanted to improve on that.”
The district’s top finishers in girls Class A were Jenkintown’s Alexander Byler (89th) and St. Basil Academy’s Ciani Kensey (90th).
NOTES >> The top 25 finishers in each race received medals. The team champions in each class also received medals and trophies, with La Salle College and Council Rock North both getting team awards.
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