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MERCURY ALL-AREA: Success breeds success for Owen J. Roberts’ Conway

It was a case of success breeding even more success.

Liam Conway capped his stellar scholastic cross-country career this fall with an inspiring farewell tour. The lanky Owen J. Roberts senior swept through the Pioneer Athletic Conference (Liberty Division) dual-meet season, scored a slew of medals in both invitational and post-season meets, then tested his mettle in regional and national competition.

His dominating run at all those levels was key to Conway repeating as The Mercury’s All-Area Boys Runner of the Year.

“I was looking at a long postseason,” Conway said. “I set my mind to it during the regular season. It helped my body adapt, knowing it’s going to be a very long season.

“I think the only way was the best way going in.”

Gene Walsh – Digital First Media
Owen J. Roberts’ Liam Conway finishes first during the PAC Cross Country Championship at Heebner Park in Worcester October 19, 2017.

The league’s dominant runner one year ago, Conway came into the 2017 season with two levels of goals. The first, to author a different finale than the injury-racked conclusion to his junior campaign, which saw him finish well off the pace in the PIAA Championships’ Class AAA race. The second, to play a key role toward the Owen J. Roberts boys’ team’s achievement of program goals.

“Their personal improvement is what mattered,” Conway said. “Everyone was serious about reaching personal bests. Their efforts were related to how the team did.”

His performance in the PAC this year was a repeat of last year’s. Running first in Owen J’s Liberty Division duals, Conway successfully defended his league championship in a time of 16:07 that cut last year’s finishing mark (16:21) by 14 seconds.

In the District 1-AAA meet this fall, Conway improved to a third-place finish on the Lehigh University course. His 15:25 clocking was four seconds better than fourth-place Ryan Campbell of Council Rock North.

But it was at states where Liam got the most vindication. He placed eighth in the AAA race, after finishing in the second hundred last year, with a 16:08 time on the HersheyPark course.

As was the case at districts the previous week, Conway was topped only by AAA champion Rusty Kujdych of Neshaminy (15:47) and seventh-place Josh Hoey of Bishop Shanahan, who crossed the line two seconds ahead of him. He, in turn, beat Henderson’s Spencer Smucker across the line by five seconds.

“I wouldn’t have changed anything,” Conway said. “If I didn’t run (in 2016), I would have had regrets. Going in this year, I’m glad I redeemed myself.”

But Conway wasn’t ready to call it a season at that point. He qualified for the Nike Cross Regionals’ Northeast race held Saturday, Nov. 25, at Bowdoin Park in Wappinger Falls, N.Y. He covered the course in 16:02.1 to finish behind winner Chris Romero of Voorhees High in New Jersey.

One week later, Liam was off to Portland, Ore., for the Nike Cross Nationals at Glendoveer Golf Course. He finished tied for 83rd with a time of 16:18.

“I was happy about it,” Conway said of his Northeast Regional finish.

Combined with an individual championship at the Centaur Invitational, and third-place outings at the PIAA Foundation meet and Paul Short Brown race, it made for a memorable final go-round for Conway. In the process, he dropped his personal record 18 seconds to 15:07 at Lehigh.

“That’s huge,” he said. “That time ranks higher up with guys in the nation.”

Not to be obscured, though, was his desire to lift the entire OJR boys program as high as possible.

“This year, it was so much about the team,” Liam said. “We had a great summer of training … focused on keeping our bodies healthy, and our summer mileage. We got off to a slow start, but at Paul Short we saw progress.”

The regular season saw Roberts go 4-1, part of a three-way tie with Boyertown and Spring-Ford in the PAC’s Liberty Division standings. At the league’s championship meet, the Rams edged the ‘Cats 37-39 for the team title, the difference being just seven seconds between their respective No. 5 runners.

“Finishing two points behind Spring-Ford was incredible,” Conway recalled.

At districts, OJR got the jump on the Rams. While both teams advanced to states as intact units, Roberts was third with 193 points while SF was fourth with 219.

Spring-Ford got back in front at states, fourth with 186 points while Owen J. was seventh with 235.

“Every time I raced, whether it was a small team or big, I was out to represent OJR,” Conway said. “In recent years, we’ve seen OJR cross country grow.”

To that end, Conway embraced his role as a team leader. He and Andrew Malmstrom served as captains, leading and motivating the younger runners.

“A great individual talent who is team-oriented,” head coach Dave Michael said of Conway, whose career put him in the company of such previous Owen J. stars as Phil Mellott (1986) and Bruce Stiles in the 1970s. “He wanted us to be PAC champs and qualify for states as a team.”

A college choice has also been on Conway’s task list. At present, the one thing about which he’s certain is his course of study wherever he chooses to go.

“Immunology and biology, then maybe branch off,” he said. “It’s been somewhat stressful. College is pretty large for the future.

“I’ve made progress on it over the last few months. I’m extremely grateful for the opportunities.”

For the rest of his senior year, Conway’s focus will be on track competition in the winter and spring seasons.

The winter of his junior year, Liam was second in the mile with a time of 4:15.65, and sixth in the 800 at 1:55.87. In the spring, Conway scored gold medals in the PAC meet’s 800, 1,600 and 3,200 races; he then focused on the Class AAA 1,600 the rest of the way, placing second in District 1 and third in the PIAA competition.

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