Champion Lopez leads Pottsgrove boys to AA team title

Bethlehem — Derek Lopez tried hard to hold back the tears. But it was just too emotional a victory for the Pottsgrove senior who had just won the District 1 Class AA cross country title with a 16:39 Friday at the Lehigh University course.

“Words can’t describe how I am feeling right now,’ Lopez said. “I knew I was sixth in the race and started running hard because I knew I wanted to win that race. It’s overwhelming.’

Lopez is the Falcons’ first-ever district winner in their storied cross country history.

In the process he also led his Pottsgrove boys team to their third straight District 1-AA team title.

Just as crucial to the Falcons’ team three-peat was Pottsgrove junior Brandon Wurtz finishing a surprising second with a 16:48.

In Class AAA, Spring-Ford senior standout Paul Power again ran the fastest time of the day among local runners, crossing fifth with a 15:31.

Power, who won his second straight Pioneer Conference title last week and has been the PAC-10’s fastest runner for two years, took a big step up from his 10th in District 1 last year.

Perkiomen Valley sophomore Annie Glodek, last week’s surprise PAC-10 winner, proved that win wasn’t a fluke, leading the area girls as the highest Class AAA finisher in 13th with an 18:46. Boyertown senior Emily Schumaker was not far behind in 16th with an 18:56, and Perk Valley sophomore Michele Daniels took 18th (18:59).

But the happiest group was easily the Falcons boys team, the recently-crowned PAC-10 champions who have won every AA district team title since moving to the classification three years ago.

“We worked so hard,’ Lopez said. “Every morning at 7 a.m. we’re out there running, doing the work. Me and Brendan pushing each other. We wanted this so bad, so much. We came in determined today.’

The Falcons team easily won with 29 points, ahead of Holy Ghost Prep (64), Bishop Shanahan (82), and Pope John Paul II (106).

“I was just trailing the Holy Ghost Prep guy (third-place finisher Lennon Callahan) the whole race and I had a lot left in me the last K (kilometer),’ Wurtz said. “So I used what I had left and hoped I could catch him. And I did. But winning as team again was our goal from the beginning of the year.’

It looks like next year, when Lopez has graduated, the Falcons will have a good new leader in Wurtz.

“I’m just so proud of these guys,’ veteran Falcons coach Larry Rechtin said. “They had a great run today. They just worked so hard all the time. I keep saying it over and over again, but it’s so true.’

Most of first district championship group graduated two years ago. Then, more of them last year. But the Falcons keep filling those gaps with fresh faces.

“They keep coming out and buy into what we want them to do,’ Rechtin said. “They don’t ask questions and just respond. Obviously, we got some talent there, but it’s also a lot of hard work. I’m proud of them. But, we have another race to go.’

That race is next week at the PIAA Championships at Hershey, where the Falcons won AA two years ago and finished runner-up last year.

Of course, the AAA race is even tougher with 379 runners going for it. For Power to finish fifth was quite an accomplishment.

“I’m very happy with the result,’ Power said. “I was going for top five and I got fifth. I tried to push it with a mile to go, got in the lead and held it until 1,000 or 800 to go. And then a couple passed me, and another couple on the straightaway.’

And to run the locals’ fastest time does mean something to him, “It means that I’m consistent,’ Power said.

In the boys AAA race, Boyertown senior Dylan Eddinger, second at PAC-10s last week, crossed 24th with a 16:20, Owen J. Roberts freshman Liam Conway placed 27th with a 16:21, and OJR’s Abe van Helmont crossed 34th at 16:27. All three qualified for states.

“Last year I finished in the mid-70s,’ Eddinger said. “This year I qualified for states. I’m very happy, it’s exciting.’

Especially for a runner who only took up running as a junior last year.

“It’s been great,’ Eddinger said. “In spring track, I’m a mile-runner now and went to states in with the 4×800 relay. It feels good to also make it as an individual qualifier.’

Conway might be only a freshman, but has been a standout since his first race.

“My teammate Abe making it to states makes it all the better,’ Conway said. “I’m really proud of everyone on the team because we all had great races. This district race is so much more competitive. But that’s also good because you’re never going to run alone.’

For van Helmont it will also be his first time at states.

“I’m so excited,’ van Helmont said. “Honestly, I can’t believe it. I’ve been working really hard throughout this season and it’s paying off now.’

Upper Perkiomen senior Jake Keiper qualified in AA for the third straight year, finishing fifth with a 16:54, with Pope John Paul II junior John Connor in at eighth (17:09).

“I’m ecstatic. Getting fifth was great,’ Keiper said. “I’ve been having problems breathing and with fatigue this whole season, and knowing I can go faster was frustrating. This race I really focused on my form, felt great, and I went for it. States three times, I’m really happy.’

Maybe being so loose and relaxed makes the PV’s Glodek, a sophomore who was injured all season last year, suddenly the girls fore-runner in the PAC-10.

“It was fun,’ Glodek said. “I was trying to focus, but mostly just going for it. For states, but, yes, but more time, going for the 19 (minutes). Being the PAC-10 girls’ first runner across, that’s cool.’

Glodek will have a partner at states in teammate Daniels.

“Really, really hard race,’ Daniels said. “Last year I was in the 120s, maybe 130s. This year I just ran with Annie. That’s what changed. She is the one who pushes me.’

“Annie is one of those kids that comes along once every 10 or 15 years,’ Perk Valley veteran coach Ryan Sullivan said. “She’s quiet, leads by example. She’s just an absolute dream to work with. Not only for the coaching staff, the other girls are inspired by her. She never complains, never makes excuses. She had a stress fracture last year and to come back this year and be 13th in District 1 is awesome.’

Schumaker did take a huge step up from 44th last year when she just made it into the state qualifier. She was more relaxed this year.

“Even during the race, I thought, ‘ Wow, I made it,” she said. “I just wanted to go out with a bang. I just went out happy, didn’t want to put so much pressure on myself because I’ll still be happy no matter how my season went. The toughest part here is always in the middle. Because you want to have a fast start and a fast finish and in the middle is when your adrenaline settles down. You have to tough it out and push through it.’

Boyertown sophomore Gillian Kasitz moved up from 66th last year to 26th to also qualify for states, as did Spring-Ford freshman Gabby Bamford at 27th (19:08).

“Last night I was really nervous, but then today I didn’t feel so nervous anymore,’ Kasitz said. “We were walking the course with my coach and that helped me overcome the things in my head. So today I wasn’t so nervous and more driven.’

“I’m ecstatic for both of them,’ Bears coach Steve Fegely said. “After PAC-10’s (where Schumaker finished third), they just picked themselves back up and put forth one outstanding race today. They showed heart.’

And with one of the OJR girls front runners Ally Brunton out sick, it took a freshman to lead the recently-crowned PAC-10 champions to lead them here in Alex Glasier to lead them and become their only state qualifier at 43rd (19:31). The OJR girls were again the area’s highest finisher in 13th, up from 17th last year.

“The whole team just pushes me really hard,’ Glasier said. “And without the coaches, I wouldn’t be where I was. I just ran my race and didn’t worry about the people around me.’

Pottstown’s Justin Beasley Turner and Torry Dugan, and Pottsgrove freshman Amia Slade didn’t qualify for states in AA, but still made a statement for their teams.

Beasley-Turner finished 14th in AA (17:29), taking a big step up from last year (25th) and is playing a key role in keeping the Trojans cross country going. He credits his improvement to training with the Falcons runners last summer.

“Derek Lopez came over and asked me if I wanted to train with them and that helped me immensely,’ Beasley-Turner said.

Dugan (27th, 21:45) has been the Trojans leading runner this season.

“I’ve been the leading runner for the past four years,’ Dugan said, with a smile. “The motivation from coach (Mary Ann) Hill and coach (Mark) Agnew has really helped. Also going to middle school for talks, trying to push the program forward. And we finally had seven varsity runners, a full girls team this year. We have 10 girls now, which is really nice after having just two my freshman year.’

For the Pottsgrove girls, Slade finished 12th with a 20:41, crediting her dad and a teammate for her promising first go-around at districts.

My dad. He’s just always by my side, helps me train in the off season. I have aspirations of wanting to be a good overall runner,’ Slade said. “He wasn’t a runner, he was a football player for Ohio State.

And Dyani Hairston, (long a top Falcons runner, who took 32nd in 21:58) also inspired me.’

With the largest group in quite some time qualifying for states it seems the PAC-10 is making a statement it is back on the rise.

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