Tyler Clifford played a hunch with his athletic endeavors several years ago.
It proved to be a well-played one for the Perkiomen Valley senior. The hunch led to a prolific time as a member of the boys cross country team, and ultimately selection as The Mercury All-Area Boys’ Runner of the Year for the 2019 season.
Clifford’s final high-school season was highlighted by a championship run in the Pioneer Athletic Conference meet, followed by a Top 5 finish in District 1 Class AAA competition. That came on the heels of a regular season that saw him win all the Vikings’ dual meets, helping the team go 5-0 in its Liberty Division races.
And the foundation of that success was laid three years ago, with an after-school checkout of the sport.
“My freshman year, the first time I went to one practice,” he recalled. “I tried it to see what would happen. I found something, and it worked out.”
Another high point of Clifford’s regular season was a fifth-place finish in the Sept. 21 PIAA Foundation’s Gold race. He covered the Hershey Parkview 5K course in 16:40, the highest finisher from a PAC school in the event.
Conversely, Clifford had a “downer” of a day at the Oct. 5 Paul Short run. Dealing with a bout of the flu around that time, he finished far off the pace at Lehigh University’s Goodman course, clocking a 16:52 in the high-school Boys Brown race where the winning time was a 15:15.
“It was tough to come back,” he recalled. “I was on the couch a full week. The first week was rough.”
Happily, Clifford recovered sufficiently for the PAC Championships. He ran a 16:16 at Heebner Park, outrunning 2018 champion Christian McComb of Boyertown (16:28) and the Owen J. Roberts duo of Thomas Damiani (16:34) and Andrew McGonigle (16:35).
“I thought Chris and I were in control,” he said. “I held out in front … just hang in the top pack, then in the last mile pick it up. We were obviously running at a faster pace.”
At districts, Clifford placed fifth with a time of 15:41.70.
“A Top 5 finish is awesome,” PV head coach Ryan Sullivan said of Clifford’s district run, “and his time was where we wanted it to be. We were happy with his accomplishment.”
Returning to Hershey Parkview 5K for the state meet, he clocked a 16:16.50 in 48th place, making him the second-fastest PAC runner behind Damiani.
“I wanted to do a lot better at states,” he said.
While working toward his own high finishes, Clifford carried hopes for his Viking mates to do well as a team, building on its perfect run through regular-season duals. The PV boys finished second to Owen J. Roberts at PACs, but in districts they placed 13th to quash any designs for reaching states as a unit.
“We came in thinking we’d be up there and we could win the PACs,” he said. “Dylan Danowski and Ethan Ribelin worked as leaders. They pushed the pace in practice. Ethan was good at doing that.”
Clifford honed his distance-running skills on the Vikings’ home course at Perkiomen Valley Middle School-West, one he described as “one of the most difficult” he’s run.
“Our course is the second hardest … side hills, tough on footing,” he said. “The last 200 yards is a nice, straight shot.”
For his future after high school, Clifford is waiting to see how his options may expand as a result of his cross-country success. Temple and Monmouth universities are on his short list of college at present.
“The last year of cross country, that’s when you get your name out,” he said.
For the remainder of his senior year, Clifford will focus on running with PV’s track teams. He figures to continue competing in the two-mile and mile, and possibly the 4×400 relay.
Although Clifford was left disappointed by the final note of his cross country season, Sullivan believes it will only stoke the fire.
“He got boxed in and buried,” Sullivan said of Clifford’s state meet. “The end result, I think, will give him a lot of motivation for track.”
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