For three years, Annie Glodek was the gold standard of Pioneer Athletic Conference girls cross country: A three-time league champion who posted third-place finishes at the district and state levels last fall.
Her graduation from Perkiomen Valley in the spring got people wondering who could take over the league’s mantle of superiority this fall.
Spring-Ford’s Gabriella Bamford answered the curious crowd with a senior campaign culminating in her selection as The Mercury’s All-Area Girls Runner of the Year.
“It was always in the back of my mind,” Bamford said. “But I knew Owen J. had a strong group of girls, and Perkiomen Valley had Teaghan (Schein-Becker). It would be whoever came out having a good race.”
Her head coach had a more optimistic outlook, though. Brian Sullivan based his assessment on both Bamford’s showing during the spring track season, and her pre-season performance in late summer.
“We talked about it. Annie Glodek was such a good runner, she left quite a void,” Sullivan said. “But Gabi set personal records in her track events last spring. She was going to be one of those girls who’d come in and fight for an individual spot.”
Bamford opened the season with a dominating performance in Spring-Ford’s preseason scrimmage. From there, she solidified her position as the Rams’ top runner.
“When I saw that,” Sullivan said of the scrimmage, “I got to thinking maybe we have to up our goals. She had a great dual-meet season.”
In the PAC’s championship meet, Bamford became the league’s new front-runner, beating out Schein-Becker by three seconds (19:03) on the Heebner Park course. She also outran Owen J. Roberts’ pack-leading trio of Autumn Sands, Mary Bernotas and Hannah Kopec by a half-minute and more.
That was followed by a particularly surprising run the following week, in the District 1-AAA race at Lehigh University. Bamford — she was 27th in 18:54 her junior year — shaved 14 seconds off her time and jumped all the way to third place, coming in behind North Penn’s Ariana Gardizy and Coatesville’s Brooke Hutton.
“I surprised myself,” she said. “My goal was to get in there and get a medal … somewhere around 10th and 12th. Finishing third was a huge surprise.”
She fell off the pace at Hershey, finishing 61st in the PIAA Class AAA event with a 20:04 time on the Parkview Course. But that didn’t obscure her performance the rest of the season … one marked by a first-place run in the Harrier Invitational, a 19th in the Brown race of the Paul Short Run at Lehigh and a 44th in the PIAA Foundation Invitational’s Gold race. She also won the Harrier Invitational on Pottstown’s serpentine course.
“I really surprised myself,” she said. “I had a good race at Paul Short, and after that my mindset was if I trained well, I could come out successful.”
Her affinity for the course at Lehigh was another contributing factor to Bamford’s success.
“I think everybody loves it because it’s flat,” Gabriella said. “It’s hard to have a bad race there. I got my PR (18:40) on that course.”
Bamford loved just as much her performance in the team’s preseason scrimmage, and the regimen she conducted during the summer.
“That helped me realize my summer training paid off,” she said.
Bamford’s work during the summer consisted of swimming from the end of June to the beginning of July. She then focused on team practices near the end of July.
“I like the cross-training with swimming,” she said.
For Gabriella, her running talents had a family connection. Her father was a runner for the University of Scranton.
Running, however, hadn’t been her first focus in competitive sports.
“I had played softball, but then I decided I didn’t like it,” she said. “Out of the blue, I said I wanted to try track and field.”
With about half her senior year to go, Bamford has already taken care of a college decision. She verbally committed to St. Joseph’s University, where she’s looking to major in English and marketing.
“It was my top pick,” she said of the Philadelphia school. “I had looked at LaSalle and Fordham, but I liked St. Joseph’s best.”
Gabriella already has familiarity with the Hawks’ home course of Belmont Plateau. She ran there two to three years while a competitor in Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) meets, and with Spring-Ford at Quad XC meets.
Before that happens, Bamford is focusing on Spring-Ford’s winter and spring sports seasons. Her goals for her final year of high-school competition are straightforward.
“I want to achieve personal bests in all my events, qualify for states,” she said. “I think the two-mile record is within my grasp.”
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