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Cross Country: District 1 titles for Owen J. Roberts’ Zubey, Pope John Paul II’s Cagliola

UPPER SAUCON >> One runner had an encore performance Friday.

Another took the first vital step toward staging an encore one year from now.

The Pioneer Athletic Conference found itself in the unique position of having two individual champions from the District 1 Cross Country Championships. Pope John Paul II’s Gianna Cagliola repeated as the front-runner in Class AA while Owen J. Roberts’ Claire Zubey ascended to champion status in Class AAA.

Cagliola, whose first title came last year against the backdrop of Tyler State Park in Newtown, marked the district’s return to the more-familiar Goodman Complex at Lehigh University with a 30 second-plus win. The PJP senior clocked a 19:16.1, putting her comfortably ahead of Lower Moreland runner-up Siri Hellenbrand’s 19:51.5 run.

“I would have liked to be closer to 18:45,” she said, “but there was a headwind, and I have a cold. That made breathing harder.

“But I wanted to repeat, and I did that.”

Her efforts set the tone for PJP qualifying its team for next weekend’s PIAA Championship Meet at Hershey’s Parkview Course. With Lower Moreland narrowly won the team title (80-81), the Panthers were the second of the district’s two state-qualifying teams, nosing Gwynedd Mercy Academy (83) out by two points for the honor.

Zubey, a runner-up to West Chester Henderson’s Jenna Mulhern at the 2020 districts, became the race’s favorite with Mulhern attending another school outside the district. The OJR junior ran the race’s lone sub-18 time, crossing the finish line in 17:58.5 for a 15-second lead on Bensalem’s Shana Kearney (18:139).

Like Cagliola, Zubey noted the headwind proved a challenge. Another concern was having enough kick at the end.

“It was strong,” she said. “I kept my head down because it was blowing straight in my face.

“The plan was for me to be up at the top, but I moved earlier because it felt good. Shana did a good job pushing me.”

Though Zubey was her team’s lone Top 20 finisher, Roberts still emerged as the AAA runner-up in the team standings. Finishing eight points (213) behind Strath Haven made the Wildcats one of three PAC schools to qualify teams for states. Phoenixville (242) was fifth and Perkiomen Valley (252) sixth.

In the boys AAA race, Methacton’s Vaughn Lackman flipped the 1-2 finish he had with Owen J. Roberts’ Andrew McGonigle in the PAC meet. The Warrior senior placed fourth in a school-record 15:34.2, crossing the line ahead of OJR’s Thomas Damiani (15:37.1) and McGonigle (15:39.7).

“I got by McGonigle with 300 yards to go,” Lackman recalled. “Also Damiani. I tried to get the third-place guy (Caiden Leen of Downingtown East), but I ran out of room.”

His time goal was 15:30, so that remains Lackman’s target. He will have a shot for that at states, joined by his teammates by virtue of their fourth-place (220) finish in a team field that will advance six teams to Hershey.

“We never made states as a team before,” he added.

The local highlight in the boys AA competition was PJP’s Jason DiMarco finishing eighth in 17:49. It will be his third state-meet qualification for the Panther senior, whose team placed fourth (96) with help from the Top 20 finishes of teammates Oscar Luna (13th, 18;08) and Max Anderson (20th, 18;37).

The Phoenixville girls’ team added another laurel to its breakout 2022 season. The Phantoms qualified for states as a team, their fifth-place (242) standing headed by the Top 10 showings of Anna Carruthers (seventh) and Kenzie Padilla (10th).

“It was a good day, not our best,” head coach Eric Sprenkle said. “A big part was making states. Anna’s had big races for us … she let it all out.”

The Perkiomen Valley girls were the district’s sixth-place qualifying team even with their top finisher, Summer Watts, 27th. The PJP girls’ state qualification was bolstered by Kathryn Todd placing fifth (20:21.4) and Colleen Schiele 20th (22:16.5).

On the boys’ side, the 5-6 finish of Damiani and McGonigle helped Owen J. qualify for states in the sixth spot. Methacton, in turn, got medal finishes from Chris McGlynn (17th) and Bryan Landsberg (23rd).

For the Phoenixville boys, Yash Agnihotri claimed a medal for his 20th-place finish.

NOTES >> The boys and girls’ top 30 non-team individuals and six teams in District 1’s Class AAA qualified for the PIAA Championship Meet Saturday, Nov. 6, at the Parkview Course in Hershey. In Class AA, the numbers are 5 boys/10 girls non-team and one boy/two girls teams make the state cut. … The state meet will kick off with the Class A girls at 9:30 a.m., Class AA at 10:15 a.m. and Class AAA at 11 a.m. The boys’ races will start with A at 11:45 a.m., AA at 12:30 p.m. and AAA at 1:15 p.m.

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