3rd time the charm as Germantown Friends shows they are tops in PA and US power | 21st in race


3rd time is the charm as Germantown Friends
shows they are tops in PA and a US power.

GFS was 21st in the race on Saturday Dec 5.
Gus McKenzie was the top GFS finisher, getting 48th in 15:51.9.

We're not saying that if your team finishes 2nd or 3rd in the final PennTrackXC.com cross country team rankings the week after the PIAA state championship that you'll punch your ticket to the Nike Cross Nationals a few weeks later – but there is the beginning of a trend here.

In 2008, North Allegheny had a disappointing 3rd place state meet, and then ran well at the NXN Regional to get an at-large bid and eventually finish a quite respectable 12th at nationals.

(Photo by Tim Fulton, ArmoryTrack.com)

This year, MileSplit US#17 Germantown Friends - which is an independent school and can't compete in the PIAA meet - beat every PA team they faced; including Henderson, North Penn and LaSalle at the huge and competitive Manhattan Invitational on October 10th. Forward a month, and they get to watch their season-long PA#1 ranking go to 2nd after West Chester Henderson won the AAA PIAA title on November 7th.

Forward three more weeks, and they again beat Henderson and PA#4 LaSalle, along with PA #3 Altoona at the NXN Northeast Regional. In fact, their 2nd place guaranteed a spot at NXN this coming Saturday in Portland, Oregon.

"They got a little juiced about those rankings" shared head coach Rob Hewitt a few days after NXN Northeast. "Two years ago they felt they were the best in PA, and North Penn took the state title and #1. So yeah, it kinda stuck in their craw."

But the rankings issue is more of a footnote on the reasons that Germantown Friends is taking a trip to Oregon. Hewitt says, it's as simple as they got tired of losing at NXN regionals.

"Two years ago was a bitter loss."

Hewitt says that was a better one-four than this year's one-four, but they didn't race well that day, finishing 5th. (North Penn was 4th, by the way.)

2007 NXN Northeast Regional

5. 165 GERMANTOWN FRIENDS RC (17:01.5 85:07.1)
1 2 Max Kaulbach 16:01.5
2 13 Jake McKenzie 16:37.2
3 27 Gus McKenzie 17:03.9
4 51 Isaac Ortiz 17:29.5
5 72 Eddie Einbender-Luks 17:55.0
6 ( 90) Thomas Waterman 18:07.7
7 (108) Ross Wistar 18:30.4

Three members of that year's top seven were on the team that returned in 2008, and finished 12th in the regional... Gus McKenzie, Tom Waterman and Ross Wistar. While that team did not have the depth of either the 2007 or this year's squad, they nonetheless set very high expectations for themselves as a team.

2008 NXN Northeast Regional

 12.   270  Germantown Friends XC Club     (17:40.3  88:21.2)
  1     21  Tom Waterman       17:01.2
  2     22  Gus McKenzie       17:01.7
  3     71  fenn hoffman       17:59.1
  4     75  Ross Wistar        18:03.1
  5     81  Evan Caldwell      18:16.1
  6   ( 86) sam butler         18:18.7
  7   ( 89) David Waterman     18:30.5

From 2007 to 2008, Waterman improved over a minute. McKenzie by just a few seconds. And Wistar by 27 seconds. But the improvements were not enough to overcome the great competition.

The building of this team actually began after a less-than-stellar performance at Nike Outdoor Nationals in 2007. Hewitt went with more volume in the winter and less speed in the spring with more strength. Year-round staples are tempos and fartleks. Then, this past summer, they added what Hewitt calls "The Tour of Manayunk." Those that know the Philly neighborhood know that you're either going up or you're going down in Manayunk. They did mostly the former on some very tough climbs. (Read about the training in this September 2009 story on PennTrackXC).

The training is designed specifically for an aerobically challenging course like Bowdoin Park - which for those who don't know, is basically uphill for the first half and downhill for the finishing half.

Following their final season race on October 31st, Hewitt gave them two hard weeks of training. He followed that up with a 2-mile time trial with McKenzie leading the group in 9:29, and the 3-4-5 guys in 9:21-9:45 and 9:48. "They were pretty sharp."

The newfound strength and the addition of some key varsity members made this a changed team for their 3rd opportunity at NXN. There was no Max Kaulbach (Right in photo by Tim Fulton, ArmoryTrack.com). But senior Gus McKenzie came close, becoming a reliable #1 who could be counted on for a low score in any meet. More importantly, he started posting times that brought back memories of Kaulbach. His 16:18 at the pre-NXN meet this fall was within 17 seconds of Kaulbach's time there in 2007. Personally, it was an improvement of 43 seconds on the course - the kind of drop that can make a big difference in a big meet.

Instead of the 1-5 gap widening, it actually got closer.

Junior David Waterman improved a whopping 1:41 from his 2008 time. Older brother Tom ran virtually the same time from year-to-year. Junior Evan Caldwell dropped 1:13. And Wistar was 53 seconds under the '08 regionals.

More impressive was the team compression... because it's in big races that points add up rapidly when too many bodies go in between a team's runners. GFS's 52 second spread was the best of any of the top ten teams (LaSalle had another gaudy 35 second compression - but was back in the race.) "We had the strongest 5th man in Wistar" Hewitt stated.

According to the coach, the compression had been about 30 seconds when they started into the last mile. But he'll take 52.

And the race itself did not go as he had envisioned. "We flip-flopped some people... which is a good thing - a sign of a good team. But it does make it interesting."

The only sure thing was McKenzie as #1 man. After that, you couldn't find the 2-5 order in any other meet this season.


  2.   156  Germantown Friends XC Club     (16:53.5  84:27.3)
  1     10  Gus McKenzie       SR 16:20.0
  2     27  David Waterman     JR 16:49.1
  3     36  Tom Waterman       SR 17:01.9
  4     37  Evan Caldwell      JR 17:03.5
  5     46  Ross Wistar        SR 17:12.8
  6   ( 66) Sam Butler         SR 17:32.3
  7   ( 93) Cameron Mactavish  JR 17:52.7

David Waterman passed his older brother early. The amazing thing about his race was that it was his first since before the Friends' League Champs on October 20th. He had been sick with the flu, so Hewitt rested him for the PA Independent League Champs on the 31st.

Hewitt notes that there is a little rivalry between the brothers... but that in this case it was welcomed. "David stepping up was a big difference. Tom had a little bit of an off day."

Hewitt also pointed out that Caldwell's day was especially important, particularly as far up as he placed. And the coaches' statement that GFS had the best 5th man in the race - Ross Wistar - speaks for itself.

The team had plenty of on-course support as well, especially from alumni. Of the 2007-2008 group, only Max Kaulbach was unable to make the trip. Gus' older brother Jake, Isaac Ortiz, Eddie Einbender-Luks, Fenn Hoffman and other former teammates ran from spot to spot on the course to help keep the guys focused. "I could hear them screaming almost the entire race," Hewitt said. "It was big."

With the third time as the charm for Germantown Friends, the team and coach are characteristically not shy about setting a goal for NXN. "We want to get top ten," Hewitt says with no hesitation. "We'll see. We're going there to race."