BETHLEHEM >> Back in August, they were five unknowns.
They were unproven but possibly underestimated.
On Friday, they became champions.
“We definitely earned it this season,” said Solomon Thistle, leader of a tight Wissahickon pack. “Nobody thought we could do it. We came out as underdogs. We lost our top five from last year — all seniors. (Earlier this year), nobody was running in the 17:15’s or 17:20’s. We came down here and got all five guys in the 16’s. We really improved.”
Wissahickon defended its Suburban One League American Conference title, the Central Bucks West girls are champions again in the Continental, and the Upper Dublin girls defended their crown over in the American, as locals conquered the course at Lehigh University to get a much-anticipated postseason underway.
“Can’t wait until the awards ceremony,” Thistle said.
Only 21 seconds separated the Trojans’ No. 1 and No. 5 runners, as Thistle, Hanson Leung, Alexander Schultz, Josh Chaiken and Caymus Ruffner all placed in the top 10 and all cracked the 17-minute mark. Thistle set the pace with a 16:36, good for fourth overall.
“None of our runners ran under 17 this year — really came through in the clutch today,” Thistle said of his squad. “We wanted this really badly.
“We all knew that we relied on each other this year, a lot. It was a huge team effort. These guys are my family. Coach (Bill) Gallagher is a wonderful coach, a great, great state-of-the-art coach.”
Wissahickon overcame rival Plymouth Whitemarsh, by a count of 38-61, for top honors. Hatboro-Horsham was third and Cheltenham, led by Jason Cornelison, placed fourth.
Cornelison, cranking out a 16:20, raced to his second straight conference title.
“It felt great to come out here and do it again,” he said. “I was really excited to come out here today. I’ve been excited all season.
“I love it here, especially that second half — it’s a lot of fun. You just gotta stay strong on the hills and stay consistent on the flats. It felt real good coming down that final straightaway — people cheering on both sides. It’s a great feeling.”
The Panthers pulled off a sweep of the individual champs, as Janelle Williams (19:14) rose to the top spot in the American girls. Williams burst onto the scene last fall, placing second behind teammate MaryGrace Rittler.
“I was feeling it out last year. I really didn’t know my true potential,” Williams said. “I was just going along for the ride last year but this year was more about learning what I can do.”
Upper Dublin, led by a gutsy Elaina O’Toole, withstood a fierce effort by Wissahickon, edging the Trojans 39-40 in the team scoring.
“I pulled my hamstring about a week ago so I just wanted to get back under 20,” O’Toole said, and she did so, placing second with a 19:30. “(The final straightaway) didn’t feel real (laugh). I was just kind of moving — I didn’t feel my legs. It felt really nice.
“The whole team wanted to do well. We’re really happy to keep the title.”
Meanwhile, the Bucks weren’t letting go of the Continental trophy, taking five of the top nine spots. Julia Flood raced to the gold with an 18:53.
Said Flood: “I wanted a really fast first mile and our coach (Kiki Bell) told us to fight for the second mile. And the third mile was easy from there because it’s all downhill.
“The team title was our goal and now we’re just hoping to move onto districts and states. Just keep on going.”
Noah Demis kept a new tradition going in the Continental boys race: for the second straight year, a North Penn runner emerged with the top spot.
“It feels amazing. We had an individual (Brendan O’Toole) win it last year and it’s great to fill his shoes and win it this year,” said Demis, who ran the fastest time of the day with a 16:10. “I’m happy for my team. I think they all did really well.
“I feel confident for districts (next Friday). This is a great confidence booster. It’s gonna make us work harder and push each other harder.”
Over in the National, the Council Rock South boys dethroned perennial champion Council Rock North, grabbing the top four spots. Abington junior Amir Cubbage was the one to break up the Rock South pack, cracking the top five with a 16:45.
“I was a little worried about them at first because I know they’re a really good team and they would be hard to beat,” Cubbage said. “So I focused on getting a good distance from them so I’d be able to finish ahead, before they had the time to kick.
“Ever since I was a freshman and started doing high school track, I wanted to be a competitive person, and be able to compete against other runners.”
Cubbage went after it, and placed fifth in a field of 49.
William Tennent’s Makala Hansen also raced to a top-five finish, crossing in 20:01. The freshman is ready for the next one.
“I really wanna go to states,” she said.
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