Every team from the New England region and the Southeast showed up last week in Manhattan for the New Balance Invitational at Van Courtland Park. Three teams beat Hilton, which shouldn't have been that much of a surprise. The Hilton girls had to drive six hours through a snow storm (uh, two feet of white stuff is probably a "blizzard") just to run on a 2.5 mile course that is narrow and nasty. Not the best place for our friends from Rochester to shine.
They're our friends and we respect them, so here's a little more if you think Hilton is history. In the last two close races that the Hilton girls have won, they were actually losing at the 2.5 miles mark, and only in the last part of the race did their #5 runner, Sarah Ritchie, explode and pass so many runners from the other team that they won in the end. They have shown that they are true full course Cross Country runners, 5K, and seemed to be at a disadvantage against the SE teams on the 2.5 mile course at Manhattan. They'll be back, believe me.
Anyway, we Radnor girls couldn't go. It wasn't the "terrorist" incidents at Radnor High that kept us from traveling to Manhattan or the lock-down and metal detector checks at the school. Here are a few stories if you want to read more about that.
As distracting as all that was, the reason why we stayed home was the Delaware County Cross Country Championships or 'DelCo's, as everyone here calls them.
Photo of the construction at 200 meters after the start at Rose Tree Park
(photo by Ryan Comstock)
What's the big deal about a County Championship race? Well, in this County, the Delco's is the only place where Parochial and Public schools face-off. In case you didn't know it, Delaware County outside of Philadelphia may be the capital of Parochial school education in the country. Major event, I'm telling you, to be the Delco champion. Radnor has won it several times the last few years but it was a very big deal the first time they did - and it would have been a major withdrawal from the "Collegiality Bank Account" around here if we had skipped out to run in New York.
Were we pumped for it? Of course. Was it Warwick Valley? Well, not really.
This showed in our day of race preparations. Last Saturday was not our usual race-day morning ritual. Four of Radnor's top six runners got up with the sun very early last Saturday when the race wasn't going to start until late in the afternoon. What we were thinking?
That's right. It was SAT SATurday. Which means we were obliged to sit in a classroom (in Liz Milewski's case, a refrigerated room in which she swears they hung meat from the ceiling) and try to come across to the ETS mavens as somewhat intelligent by filling in the right answers, and writing an on-the-spot essay for about five hours. All that while thinking of the Delco's race later in the day. Let me tell you, some people may be able to pull it off. I'm not looking forward to getting my scores back.
How did we do at the race after lunch? Radnor repeated as the Delco Team Champions with their third win in four years. We didn't shut-out the County by finishing 1,2,3,4,5 as one Coach (off his meds?) predicted we might on this website, but we did finish with a 40 point lead over runner up, Cardinal O'Hara, despite having a mixed day.
First, we had a few spills and not-so-thrills in the beginning. Because of the construction and the massive ditch being dug right through the middle of Rose Tree park, there were parts of the course that were a little uneven and just asking for a crash. While we were walking the course, Coach Flanagan was really worried about this area that we had to run over in the first 200 meters on the way into the horseshoe. We were thinking, "Whatever, Mr. Flanagan, it's cross country, we'll be fine. We're big kids now. Don't worry about us so much." Many people call him a brilliant coach, but he is convinced if we run in the rain we'll melt. No kidding. Telling a Washington runner not to go outside when it's raining, is comical, and we've got in some pretty funny arguments over how many layers I have to wear so I can skate out of the treadmill/stationary bicycle workouts.
So much for knowing better than our coach. As things turned out, we did have a runner down right where he said we would if we weren't extra careful. Even though Katie Lally is not a graceful ballerina in the first place, Coach Flanagan had a point after all. Katie completely crashed right at the start and fell into this huge dirt pile. Ouch. She then tried to get up and push on, of course, but was pushed down to the ground again by another runner. Nice. Not. By the time she was up and running again, more than half the County was down the hill and running away from her. Incredibly, Katie caught up to our pack by the mile mark and ran a tough race to the end. Props to Katie, taller than I am by almost a foot, for not giving up after all that falling down to where I live, and even holding off three girls right to the finish line.
If anyone of us was really pumped for this race, it was Liz Milewski. She was second as a sophomore at Delco's, didn't run well there last year, and, as a native to this area, she wanted a Rose Tree course PR and a Delco's win as a Senior. She finished #1 for us, the third one of us to lead the Radnor pack to the finish line this fall, and shattered her Rose Tree and Delco PR by forty seconds. But still finished 2nd. How crazy fast has it gotten in two years?
But a freshman rocket beat her. Not our freshman rocket, Kellyn, but an Archbishop Carroll freshman who came out of nowhere to lead and win Delcos from starting gun to the chute. The good news is just how strong Liz is running. Liz has been recovering from a spring injury and the work right through the summer has paid off. Folks at the finish line told us later, if the course had been just a tenth of a mile longer, the race would been Liz's.
A real highpoint of our race, the event that had Radnor dads and moms dancing, was Shannon Holm finishing fifth overall. Shannon was Radnor's lead dog last year, the runner that pulled the sled and came in third at the AAA meet, peaking perfectly with an 18:35. It looks like she will be stepping up onto the podium at Hershey again. After a few invitationals of running as a solid #5 for our team, she picked it up at Delco and ran #3. I know how fast she was going; she came by me after the big hill like I was standing still, and said "C'mon! It's time to go, girl!" I couldn't keep up. I did, however, get a great view of Shannon taking on the #1 girls from Marple-Newton and Chester and passing them. This surge when it mattered meant Shannon was named All Delco for the fourth straight year. Very awesome. We'll have to wait and see if the Archbishop Carroll phenom can pull off that trick.
Coming into the race, we all knew that this was our chance to show New York and the folks that put on the show in Portland that, even though Radnor wasn't racing out of state, especially at the Manhattan Invite that same weekend, we are still working hard and running fast. We'd been ranked NorthEast#2 in the NTN regional rankings the week after Warwick Valley, and US#5 in the Harrier ranking Marc Bloom puts together. While our Delco times weren't earth shattering, we're hoping our dominant finish in a huge county where Cross Country is not a "new" sport for girls was good enough to stay #2 or #3 on the NE rankings. Hilton actually finished 4th overall at the Manhattan Invite, while the outstanding squad, Midlothian, from Virginia won the title and becomes the new US #1. At least for this week. As I said above, you're nuts if you think Hilton is out of the race.
How was my race? Well, before Shannon passed me and gave me the hand signal to fall in behind her and just hang on, I knew this was not going to be a race I would want to remember. As a self-directed learner ("homeschooler"), standardized tests are new and weird to me. On top of that "fill-in-the-bubble fatigue," I was still feeling flat from flying back and forth from Virginia earlier in the week to look at a school recruiting me. Coach said the school visit was a bad idea and I'm learning the hard way how Flanagan is usually right. I managed to hold on for twelfth place, just in front of Katie, who without the falls, would have easily been top ten and well in front of me (I'm still running in the rain, though, Coach).
Oh, well. I've finished first for Radnor and now what should have been #5. Two of us had a flat day and two of my teammates stepped up and carried the ball. Yes, I do think that kind of flexibility is the sign of a great team. Watch what we do at the Central League Meet this Saturday, also at the Rose Tree course.