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Mercury All-Area: Liam Conway led OJR to long-sought PAC Championship

There’s very little Liam Conway didn’t accomplish during his scholastic track career.

A two-time champion of the Pioneer Athletic Conference’s three distance races. A medalist at the Class AAA level of District 1 and the PIAA. That all was in complement to his winning a pair of gold medals during the 2017-18 indoor season.

Yet against all those individual achievements, one goal eluded Conway and his Owen J. Roberts teammates all along: A PAC team championship. And in the final lap of his high-school experience, the OJR senior longed to be part of that distinction,

“In four years, I never got to be part of a PAC champion,” he recalled.

That changed this spring when the Roberts boys claimed the conference’s team title from its championship meet at Pope John Paul II. And Conway played a key role in that accomplishment, his personal performance helping cement a second straight award of The Pottstown Mercury’s Boys Track Athlete of the Year.

Owen J. Roberts’ Liam Conway celebrates as he crosses the finish line to win the boys’ 4×400 relay and the team championship at the conclusion of the Pioneer Athletic Conference Track and Field Championships at Pope John Paul II. (Austin Hertzog – Digital First Media)

In addition to repeating as the league’s distance-race champion, Conway anchored Roberts’ 4×400 relay team of Kyle Malmstrom, Matt Muthler and Zach Kartos to a meet-capping win in 3:28.93.

The Wildcats finished with 128 team points, well ahead of runner-up Methacton’s 97 and third-place Perkiomen Valley’s 91. Conway’s gold medal-winning runs figured in 40 of those team points.

“Getting the win in the 4×400 was important,” he said. “Running with my three best friends, then getting the PAC championship … we had gotten so close before, but never reached it. Every race was points for the team. I know how they worked, and they deserved it.

“It was special.”

The 800 proved particularly special for Conway. Caught in the middle of the pack at the start, he worked his way into first place with about 100 yards to go, then edged out Owen J. teammate Kyle Malmstrom by a quarter-second (1:56.56-1:56.81).

Owen J. Roberts’ Liam Conway, left, and Kyle Malmstrom (3) celebrate after finishing 1-2 in the boys’ 800 meters at the Pioneer Athletic Conference Track and Field Championships at Pope John Paul II. (Austin Hertzog – Digital First Media)

“After the 1,600, my legs felt sluggish,” Conway said at the time. “For the 800, I wasn’t in top shape. But they were running 24 seconds at the start, so I knew things would slow at the end. That drove me to be fast at the end.”

It fulfilled a strong desire for Conway, who constantly talked up that goal after many of his winning runs.

“That dated back probably to last year,” OJR head coach Tim Marcoe recalled. “A lot of guys on the team had a lot of belief in that.”

And Marcoe believes Conway’s drive in that regard, conveyed to his teammates, got them also working toward that accomplishment.

Owen J. Roberts’ Liam Conway, front, takes the baton from Andrew Malmstrom, back, during a meet at Perkiomen Valley. (Barry Taglieber – For Digital First Media)

“It carries a lot of weight, the belief from him as opposed to the coaches talking about it,” he said. “That had a whole lot of impact.”

Conway continued his post-season success — albeit in a more limited fashion — at the District 1 meet the next week. He won the Class AAA 1,600, using his stretch-run “kick” to overtake the lead pack and clock a 4:20.18 and beat out Bishop Shanahan’s Jonah Hoey (4:21.04) and Ridley’s Zack Forney (4:21.38).

“I made my move at the 600-meter mark to go assault the pack at the front,” Conway said of a strategy change he employed. “The idea was to be more proactive than reactive.

“Here, you have stronger competition. People have a tendency to make big moves early, and I wanted to be prepared for that. The last 400 yards especially … with the 600, that extra 200 put me in the spot.”

While winning district gold was big for Conway, seeing teammate Malmstrom qualify for the state 1,600 was just as big. Malmstrom placed fifth in a time of 4:23.56.

OJR’s Liam Conway overtakes Ridley’s Zack Forney to win the boys’ 1,600 at the District 1 Track and Field Championships at Coatesville. (Austin Hertzog – Digital First Media)

“I was happy how it went,” Conway said. “Kyle also making it was huge for me. I never had anyone qualify with me for states.

“This year, there was momentous success around me.”

The lone downside to Conway’s senior season came in the PIAA Championships at Shippensburg University. His qualifying run wasn’t fast enough to make the finals field, leaving Conway with an unhappy finish to his scholastic career.

“Right now, I’m in the middle of off time, resetting,” he said. “I got so caught up mentally with personal things, some of it was hard to overcome. Winning races, the expectations … led to me falling apart. I didn’t have as much fun.

“I was disappointed in myself, my high school career ending that way. But I feel you can learn just as much from failures as successes. Going through ups and downs, you can learn from both equally as important.”

Conversely, Conway’s successful spring was enhanced by a medal-winning run at the Penn Relays the end of April. He placed fifth in 4:16.10.

“My Penn Relays performance was decent,” he said. “Coming off two indoor medals, I was at my highest point in four years. During the season, I compared myself to them.”

Conway’s future following high-school graduation will be in California. He will attend Stanford University on an athletic scholarship, running cross country and track for the Cardinals’ successful Division 1 program while pursuing an academic track of medicine — a focus on bioengineering — toward the goal of becoming a doctor.

“It’s a completely different environment,” he said. “I’m up for the challenge and the change. It’s a whole new life out there.”

At the same time, Conway is fondly remembering his recently-completed high-school life.

Spring-Ford’s Jacob McKenna and Owen J. Roberts’ Liam Conway, left, lead the field in the boys’ 3,200 meters at the PAC Track & Field Championships at Pope John Paul II. Conway won the race in 9:32.60 with McKenna following in 9:34.92. (Austin Hertzog – Digital First Media)

“This last season, I tried to savor the ‘lasts’ … the last dual meet, the last home dual meet,” he said. “I think this was part of me preparing for life. It’s completely different, sort of a mental preparation now. Some focus on the future, but enjoying the present.”

Part of that enjoyment revolved around the Roberts boys team, which benefited from his race wins and point production and his leadership by example.

“I couldn’t be more blessed,” he said. “I have the most supportive coaches. They care more than about how you’re racing … how you’re doing outside the sport.

“I wouldn’t be close to where I am without them (teammates). They motivated me, made me enjoy running. That was the most important thing for the last four years.”

“After four years, it feels like the time flew by. But in the moment, every experience was extremely important, every memory important.”

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