[ngg src=”galleries” ids=”23″ display=”basic_slideshow”]EAST MARLBOROUGH >> Finishing nearly a minute ahead of her nearest competitor Wednesday, West Chester Henderson junior Jenna Mulhern captured the Ches-Mont Girls Cross Country Championship for the third year in a row.
Mulhern’s winning time on the Unionville High School course was 18:55.3 – the second-place finisher, West Chester East junior Sonia Piombino, clocked 19:44.4.
While Mulhern ran a faster time (18:14.6) on the Unionville course at the 2019 Ches-Monts, the course was wet with morning dew Wednesday and competitors were running slower as a result.
In this year of the COVID-19 pandemic and uncertain sports schedules, the runners weren’t complaining about the wet course conditions.
“It was definitely muddy and wet today, and I was trying to keep it conservative, [preparing] for Districts and States,” said Mulhern. “It was fun to race on a real cross country course again.”
Led by Mulhern, Henderson captured the Ches-Mont girls’ team title for the third straight year Wednesday.
“I’m very excited for our team – I think we’re going to have a good postseason,” said Mulhern, who finished in third place at the PIAA Class AAA state championships last fall and received the Daily Local News Girls’ Cross Country Runner of the Year award for the second consecutive year.
Mulhern enjoyed a strong indoor track season last winter, then faced the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic starting in March.
“My coach sent out a training plan every week, and I’d get up early and do all the runs and workouts,” said Mulhern earlier this month. “It’s not easy training on your own but it really tested my motivation and showed me how much I wanted to invest in this sport. For summer training, we were allowed to meet in very small groups. The time away from everyone really made me appreciate getting to be able to go to practice with a few of my teammates.
“COVID has brought many challenges but it has also made me appreciate the little things like working out with my team and lining up on the starting line. When life finally starts to go back to normal, I will never take that for granted again.”
Like Mulhern, many of the other participants at the Ches-Mont Cross Championships repeated how thankful they were to be competing at Unionville Wednesday.
“We’re just grateful to be out here for the opportunity – it’s a privilege and an honor to show the passion and work that our runners have displayed the last 6-7 months,” said Downingtown West cross country coach Scott Burns, whose Whippet boys captured the first two individual places Wednesday as well as the boys’ team title.
The Ches-Mont boys’ race was a down-to-the-wire affair, with Downingtown West seniors Declan Rymer and Aiden Barnhill running shoulder-to-shoulder down the stretch and crossing the finish line almost simultaneously.
When the two Whippet runners crossed the finish line, they gave each other a celebratory slap. It turned out that Rymer’s clocking of 16.25.6 edged out Barnhill (16.25.8) for first place.
“I felt really good out there today – our strategy was to sit with the leaders and kick it in with a mile to go,” said Rymer.
“We’ve been training hard,” said Barnhill. “I think our team is ready [for the postseason].”
Last fall, the Whippet boys finished first in the team competition at the PIAA Class AAA championships with four runners in the top 26, and three of them were underclassmen who returned this fall to run for Downingtown West (Barnhill was sixth at States, Rymer 12th and Holden Betz 26th).
Wednesday, Betz finished eighth at Unionville, and other top Whippets in the Ches-Mont boys’ race were Henry Debuque (15th), Zack Yaros (29th) and Nick Piergiovanni (31st).
Burns said, “I’m proud of our team. They’ve believed in each other, supported each other, and they ran exactly as I hoped they would today.”
The Whippet boys totaled 55 points for first place, followed by Downingtown East (63 points), whose fastest runners placed 10th through 13th (Brendan Flynn 10th, Caiden Leen 11th, Jacob Lawson 12th and James Smith 13th).
West Chester Henderson placed third in the boys’ team competition, with 78 points, led by senior Jack Davidson, who finished third (16.35.5).
“This was my first cross country race,” said Davidson, who played soccer the previous three falls for the Warriors and ran indoor track in the winter (800, mile run).
“Coach [Kevin] Kelly encouraged me to come out for cross-country,” said Davidson. “I had a strong indoor track season last winter.”
The Unionville boys were fourth in the team competition, with 107 points, led by seniors Ethan McIntyre (16:46.6) and Sam Elsen (16:47.5), who placed fourth and fifth, respectively.
Great Valley seniors Michael Search (16:48.1) and Matthew Dietrick (16:59.0) placed sixth and seventh, respectively, in the boys’ individual race as the Patriots were fifth in the boys’ team standings.
Henderson, which finished first in the girls’ team competition for the third consecutive year, had three of the top four individual finishers in Mulhern, senior Liesl Scherrer (third, 20:05.8) and sophomore Weronicka Ziemniak (20:15.01).
“It felt great to be racing today,” said Scherrer, who placed 14th at the Ches-Mont Championships last fall. “I could feel the grass cake on my shoes today, but we train on courses with long grass, so it really wasn’t a problem.”
“My teammates encouraged me and pushed me through the race – I tried to keep pace with my teammates,” said Ziemniak.
“Liesl and Weronika are really coming on,” noted Henderson cross country coach Kevin Kelly.
Henderson had five runners in the girls’ top 16, as junior Amanda Kelly was eighth and senior Caroline Miller placed 16th.
Downingtown West finished second in the girls’ team competition, with 66 points, behind Henderson (32). Whippet leaders were sophomore Carolyn Tarpley (sixth, 20:36.8), sophomore Taylor Rochon (10th), senior Aliza Thir (12th) and junior Jess Wogram (14th). Avon Grove was third in the girls’ competition, led by junior Anika Pfaff (fifth, 20:34.6).
West Chester East was fourth, led by junior Sonia Piombino, who placed second in the individual race. Senior Michaela Schiele finished 13th. Both girls enjoyed a strong postseason last fall, as Schiele finished fifth at the District 1 Championship last fall, then 41st at the PIAA state championship, while Piombino placed ninth at the District 1 Championship last year and medaled at the PIAA Class AAA state championship with a 21st place finish.