EAST MARLBOROUGH >> All cross country runners try to have a plan, but often times those plans fail to materialize. That’s when decisions have to be made on the fly.
At the Ches-Mont Cross Country Championship on Monday morning at Unionville, West Chester Henderson freshman Jenna Mulhern stuck to her pre-race plan, won the girls’ crown, and helped the Warriors capture the team title.
On the boys’ side, Downingtown West employed its ‘pack-mentality’ to push all seven of its runners into the top-20 and give the Whippets their third league championship in the last four years. In the individual race, however, Unionville’s Cole Walker had to improvise his way to the title.
“The race went nothing like I expected,” Walker explained. “I was planning on chilling with the lead pack and then ending it with a sprint.”
Instead, Walker and West Chester East’s Josh Lewin found themselves with a bit of a cushion before reaching the first mile marker. That’s when Walker went off-script.
“I was feeling really good so I just decided to push the pace, and it worked pretty well,” Walker recalled.
A junior, Walker promptly opened the 10-meter lead, had extended it to about 50-meters at two mile mark and went on to win it with a time of 16:16.9, which wound up being 11 seconds ahead of Lewin (16:28.0).
Downingtown West’s Payton Sewell and teammate Isaac Valderrabano were third and fourth, respectively, at 16:39.0 to headline the Whippets impressive team depth.
“We talk about the pack at Downingtown West all the time,” said Whippets’ head coach Scott Burns. “It’s building depth from a culture standpoint.
“We’ve had a pretty good run going as a program. When the younger guys see the juniors and seniors ahead of them being successful, they buy in and then they are successful themselves. That belief effect is a real thing.”
The rest of the West runners included Aiden Barnhill in sixth (16:48.5); Joe Chamoun in ninth (16:55.7); Kevin Wagner in 10th (17:03.2); Ben Datte in 16th (17:16.5) and Jack Cappelo in 18th (17:20.1). The Whippets topped the team scores with 32 points, followed by West Chester East (90) and Unionville (115).
Afterwards, Burns said his team handled the wet and muddy conditions well, which was a pre-race topic.
“This season more than others we’ve talked about the state of the course and how to attack and make the course work for us,” Burns said. “We talk about opportunities like coming out of the mud is a chance to move and taking turns a certain way.”
Walker’s winning time was about 14 seconds off his personal best, but was still pretty fast considering the conditions at Unionville – his home course.
“This was one of the hardest courses we run because of the conditions,” Walker pointed out. “The footing back in the woods and by the corn field was very rough with ankle-deep water in some instances.
“But we run this course every day, so I know exactly where to push hard, where to relax and were to save energy. It’s definitely a bit advantage.”
As a sophomore, Walker was unable to finish at the Ches-Monts due to a breathing issue. But that only made this year’s title all the more exhilarating.
“My goal was a top two finish,” he said. “So to come back and get it done, this means the world to me.”
Mulhern’s first-place time in the girls’ race was 18:32.2, which is nearly 30 seconds off her PR, but was still enough to beat her nearest competitor – West Chester East’s Allyson Clarke – by more than 10 seconds.
“My coach (Kevin Kelly) gave me a plan,” Mulhern explained. “I was supposed to stick with the pack for the first mile and then move up for the second mile and let loose for the third. It went pretty much to plan.”
Mulhern and Clarke actually separated from the rest of the pack earlier than expected.
“I wanted Jenna to make a move at two miles and make a strong move, and she did,” Kelly said. “Her time was fast, but not blazing because the course is pretty soft. It was like running on a sponge.”
Clarke was the runner up in 18:42.4, and then Henderson’s Courtney Alexander (19:25.3) and Courtney Kitchen (19:40.0) were third and fifth, respectively, for the Warriors.
“The Ches-Mont championship has value in cross country,” said Kelly, who has been the Henderson boys’ coach for many years, but just took over the girls this season.
“It’s historically a good league for this sport. We ran tough, I thought. Historically, (Henderson doesn’t) run well at Ches-Monts because of the timing. But it’s good to win this meet. Everyone wants to be a Ches-Mont champion.”
Mulhern said that she held back a bit in the first few miles due to the sloppy course.
“I think everybody scaled it back because of the mud. A slip and a fall can really mess up your pace,” Mulhern said.
“At the last mile I had a lot of energy and I was able to pass (Clarke) and finish strong.”
It was all part of Henderson’s strategy of running a bit conservatively early and then pushing late. The Warriors finished with 43 points, followed by Unionville (79) and West Chester East (85).
“Jenna is just a freshman and we’re trying not to be too crazy with her training,” Kelly said. “But she is good. We thought it would be between her and Allison Clarke.”
The next big cross country meet is the District 1 Championship on Oct. 26th at Lehigh University. The state meet will follow.
“I am so proud of our team that we were able to win Ches-Monts. That’s a big deal,” Mulhern said.
“We always think of Ches-Monts as a step toward districts and states,” Kelly added. “We had a plan and the girls followed it pretty well. This group is actually good listeners.”
Ches-Mont Cross Country Championship
- Downingtown West (32)
- West Chester East (90)
- Unionville (115)
- Great Valley (117)
- West Chester Henderson (138)
- Oxford (168)
- Avon Grove (170)
- Downingtown East (176)
- Bishop Shanahan (210)
- Kennett (259)
- Coatesville (263)
- West Chester Rustin (355)
- Sun Valley (416)
- Walker (U) 16:16.9
- Lewin (WCE) 16:28.0
- Sewell (DW) 16:39.0
- Valderrabano (DW) 16:39.0
- Pash (WCH) 16:40.4
- Barnhill (DW) 16:48.5
- Driver (U) 16:51.1
- McIntyre (U) 16:54.3
- Chamoun (DW) 16:55.7
- Wagner (DW) 17:03.2
- West Chester Henderson (43)
- Unionville (79)
- West Chester East (85)
- Downingtown West (98)
- Avon Grove (136)
- Downingtown East (170)
- Oxford (189)
- Great Valley (220)
- West Chester Rustin (228)
- Bishop Shanahan (230)
- Coatesville (213)
- Kennett (261).
- Mulhern (WCH) 18:32.2
- Clarke (WCE) 18:42.4
- Alexander (WCH) 19:42.4)
- Thir (DW) 19:30.5
- Kitchen (WCH) 19:40.0
- Coates (U) 20:15. 2
- Miller (C) 20:17.9
- Lanier (O) 20:18.5
- Krautzel (U) 20:20.1
- Schiele (WCE) 20:24. 3
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