PHILADELPHIA, PA -- With any first race of the season, it's natural to experience some rust.
While the LaSalle College top three admitted to having some heavy legs during their first big meet Saturday, anyone watching the Explorers emerge from the woods at Belmont Plateau would not have noticed.
At the Briarwood Invitational in Philadelphia, LaSalle made their way up the final big hill -- Flagpole -- in spots 1, 2, and 4. When those three rounded the final turn to the finish, it was 1, 2, and 3. Tack on a sixth and a tenth place finish and you have one dominant season debut.
LaSalle scored just 22 points on Saturday to handily take top team honors, a rousing first major effort of the season for the team tabbed as PA No. 1 in our preseason rankings. LaSalle easily took care of a field that included some strong District 1 powers like North Penn and Haverford Township, along with New York's Monroe-Woodbury.
Vincent Twomey captured the individual win in 16:19. The senior took control of the race in the opening mile and extended his lead in the woods.
"That's when you either make or break the race," Twomey said of the woods portion of the course, which features the notorious Parachute Hill. "This was our first all-out race, so I was hurting a bit. The last loop was tough. I knew I had it in me and I had to keep digging."
With Twomey nabbing the win, he was followed closely by his fellow seniors Ethan Maher (second in 16:22) and Bradden Koors (third in 16:35). Zachary Brill, a sophomore transfer from Malvern Prep, made his invitational debut with LaSalle a successful one coming across sixth in 16:47. Junior Patrick Coyle rounded out the scorers for the team champs, taking tenth in 16:54.
Watch the Briarwood Invitational Championship Boys Race above
Showing off its depth, LaSalle also won the JV "A" race, the JV "B" race and the Freshmen 3K to make for a clean sweep on the day.
"It was a tough first race, but it's good to get something under our belt," Maher said. "It's good having my teammates in front and just going for it."
"I felt a little rusty on the hills," Koors added. "Coming out of the woods after Flagpole, I felt pretty good and tried to close the race down, and it went pretty well."
While many top teams already had races under their belt, LaSalle opened as it usually does in Week 3 at Briarwood. While those top runners appeared in a weekly PCL meet at the Plateau, it wasn't quite an "all-out" effort. Briarwood was their first chance to truly unleash.
LaSalle's Briarwood effort puts the squad in the conversation nationally. In the Speed Ratings National Merge, the Explorers find themselves at 16th. The season is, of course, young, but it's a terrific start.
It's certainly a driven LaSalle squad. The Explorers won the AAA state title in 2017 and were a close second last year to North Allegheny. Saturday's top three -- Twomey, Maher, and Koors -- were all sophomores on the championship seven from two years ago. After the defeat of 2018, the senior trio is looking to get back atop the podium this season.
"Over the summer, I've been really motivated," Twomey said. "After outdoor states and after we lost last year getting second, all that pain and everything, just motivated me to work hard this summer.
"I knew I had to grind this race," he added. "I wanted to prove that I'm really good and we're really good and we're going to go for it this year."
The Explorers are tweaking their schedule for the latter part of the season. The team will head to Wappingers Fall, New York on September 28 for the Bowdoin Classic. That will give the team a look at the Nike Cross Regionals course ahead of November's meet where the team will shoot for a spot in the top two and with it, a berth to Nike Cross Nationals.
After that, LaSalle will go to Lehigh for the Paul Short Run, followed by Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx for the Eastern States race at the Manhattan Invitational. Each step of the way, the Explorers will face some of the region's top talent before the postseason kicks off.
At those races, Twomey noted, they plan to go out hard to compete with the best of the best.
"We definitely have some room to improve," Maher said. "We have to work more leading up to states, but this is definitely a solid opener. I think we're happy with our performance today."
Saturday was as good of a start as LaSalle could have hoped for. It's a long way to Hershey, but the Explorers are fit and ready to roll as the leaves prepare to change colors.