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Owen J. Roberts boys, girls stay the course in cross country win over Boyertown

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BOYERTOWN >> Boyertown High School unveiled its new cross-country course Wednesday … one considered a reversal of the layout from the 2017 season.

No problem for Christian McComb, who became the Bear program’s first winning runner on the new configuration. And certainly no problem for the Owen J. Roberts boys and girls teams, who literally packed in victories from this Pioneer Athletic Conference Liberty Division matchup.

While McComb breezed to top individual honors, the Wildcats followed the lead of Linus Blatz and grabbed the next four places en route to a 23-32 victory. On the girls’ side, Hannah Kopec ran first to head Roberts’ solid finish of seven in the Top 10 to come away with a 19-41 win.

Christian McComb

“I like the course,” McComb said after covering it in 17:42 to finish 20 seconds faster than Blatz and the rest of the field. “It’s not hard to follow. I think it’s faster.”

Two significant differences between the new and old courses are the elimination of the stretch running through the trees at the western end of the Boyertown practice fields, and the section running by the tennis courts. Those changes were deemed satisfactory by Kopec, whose 21:56 clocking put her across the line almost a full minute ahead of teammate MacKenzie Kurtz (22:52).

“I like it a lot better,” Kopec said. “I didn’t like the woods, and the part by the tennis courts is rocky and hard on footing. It’s nice to avoid that.”

In consideration of its unfamiliarity with the new course, the Owen J. boys were content to follow the Boyertown leaders for the first mile. At that point, the Wildcats’ lead group formed and went 2-3-4-5 in roughly a 30-second span.

Behind McComb and Blatz, David Brunton placed third in 18:22, with Quinten Sherwood (18:23) in fourth and Cole Smith fifth in 18:30. Vincent Fennell followed in ninth (18:53) behind the Boyertown trio of John Black (sixth, 18:31), Zack Raugh (seventh, 18:42) and Tyler Reigner (eighth, 18:47).

Linus Blatz

“After the first mile, we split the field,” Blatz recalled. “We kept good position and worked off each other.”

“The boys didn’t run well here last year,” OJR first-year head coach Tim Marcoe added. “I think because of that, they had a chip on their shoulders coming back.”

James Sakahian rounded out Boyertown’s Top 10 grouping with his 10th-place (18:57) run.

“I think the course is faster,” McComb said. “Last year I ran a time like this, but it was pushing. I think it’s faster.”

The OJR girls had a more dominant showing in their race, with seven finishers in the Top 10.

Behind Boyertown leader Zora Bergey (third, 23:09), Roberts got a fourth from Hannah Pugh (23:23) and fifth from Charley Lustig (23:35). Linette Fogwell (24:49) and Alicia Avello-Tango (24:52) went 7-8 behind the Bears’ Beatrice Stringa (sixth, 24:08), and Emma Torak placed 10th (25:12) after Boyertown’s Sabrina Bergey (ninth, 24:56).

“We tried to stay with them (Boyertown) the whole first mile, then pull away,” Kopec said. “The other girls followed me. I couldn’t have done it without them.”

The Owen J. boys’ showing ended any questions about whether they could remain dominant with a solid core from the Class of 2018 gone the graduation route. That core featured two-time PAC meet champion and Mercury Runner of the Year Liam Conway, as well as brothers Andrew and Kyle Malmstrom.

“It’s a whole different dynamic,” Blatz said. “We’re trying to fill the gaps lost with the graduating seniors. We’re trying to get everybody up.”

Even with his own fast start to the season — winning runs in the season-opening City Championships and last weekend’s Centaur Invitational at deSales University — Blatz is not proclaiming himself the successor to Conway’s legacy.

“I try to see how it feels the first mile,” he said. “When I get a feel, I push for the team.”

NOTES >> One particular rough spot on Boyertown’s new course was the final stretch, with considerable mud and wheel tracks making the footing uncertain. “It’s slow and wet,” Marcoe noted, “but everything is wet and slow.” … Roberts’ next action will be Saturday in the Harrier Invitational.

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