Where did they come from?
On Saturday, the Episcopal Academy boys left several of the best teams in the region scratching their heads. Episcopal Academy scored a huge second-place finish at the Team Regionals Northeast final, lifting the squad to a first-ever National Berth.
They finished just 40 points behind CBA; the Nationally Ranked No. 3 squad.
By now, you'll know that Episcopal won the PAISAA (PA Independent School) Championship after a strong season that featured a PAISAA title and a win over Monroe-Woodbury (NY) at Paul Short.
But the real story behind the squad's 2022 campaign rests at an individual level. The progression of EA's starting seven has been unworldly this season. In an unfathomable year-over-year progression, you can see the incredible gains EA has made since 2020.
|Aidan McHugh - Episcopal Academy||15:25.70||17:05.80||19:27.50||18:49.80|
|Michael Woolery - Episcopal Academy||15:29.00||16:01.58||17:28.10||-|
|Dakin Ebmeyer - Episcopal Academy||15:43.90||17:41.30||18:21.30||18:30.00|
|Dawson French - Episcopal Academy||15:56.20||17:36.90||17:55.30||-|
|Connor Hanrahan - Episcopal Academy||15:57.60||17:32.90||18:01.40||17:51.00|
|Ethan Zhou - Episcopal Academy||16:30.00||18:31.90||-||-|
|Eli Engelman - Episcopal Academy||16:35.80||19:31.80||-||-|
Episcopal did it the hard way. They didn't receive a high-end transfer or return a stud from injury. Simply stated, they got better.
"Last year, we experienced success winning our Inter-Ac league championship and our Independent school state championship (PAISAA)," said Head Cross Country Coach Jim Farrell. "We were very young and knew we could be an excellent team this year if we continued to work hard."
"We tried to find great competition in the winter and spring track seasons. The kids were put in uncomfortable situations at times, and you learn from them, and it prepares you to succeed in high-level competition," he added.
Characteristically, the key to Episcopal's success in 2022 has been a slim 1-5 spread. Over the five races since Paul Short (9/30), they've logged compressions of 31, 28, 43, 36, and 54 seconds. Meaning they've averaged a 38-second compression over that span.
But there are other factors in consistent success.
"We have five very strong runners at the top of our lineup, and their 1-5 split at times was less than 35 seconds," said Farrell. "We put in good work over the summer, and our preseason training went well. We have good depth and great leadership, so every team member was challenged in practice. Depth makes a huge difference because kids always have someone to chase after every day. We had five individuals who won different races throughout the year, so our kids were always challenged by opponents and their teammates."
This week, they'll shift their attention to Portland, Oregon. While the team has goals they want to accomplish, they keep those close to the vest. For the seven boys toeing the line on Saturday, a Cinderella season has already been a dream come true. Nationals is just the icing on the cake.
"We are very excited about this opportunity and feel privileged to be competing. We want to enjoy the experience and soak it all in, but we also want to race our very best. I am not in a position to give you a prediction, but if we run our best, I will be very proud," Farrell added about the opportunity.
We'd be remiss if we didn't give our PA MileSplit prediction. The No. 23 ranked team will be competing against the best programs in the nation this weekend, but they could easily finish in the Top-15, if not better. We are predicting a 17th-place finish for this Newtown Square-based team. But what do you think? Make your vote in the MileSplit Picks Poll above.
The Line Up
Dakin Ebmeyer - Senior
Ebmeyer won the PAISAA Championship this year with a decisive effort in the race's waning moments. He is consistently towards the front of races, and that consistency makes him a valuable asset for Episcopal. He ran his personal best 15:43 to place seventh at Paul Short. He finished 25th at Team Regionals as the team's third runner.
Aidan McHugh - Senior
McHugh has enjoyed a breakout 2022 campaign. Before this year, he had never broken 17 in the 5k. This year, he has run as fast as 15:25 and finished second at Paul Short (White Race). He has become a steering force for EA and consistently runs in the Top 3. At the Northeast Championship, he finished in a very impressive 12th and beat some of the best runners in the Northeast.
Michael Woolery - Junior
Speedster Woolery, ran a 4:14 mile on the track last season and has carried that success onto the Cross Country course. He won the Inter-AC League Championship and finished 18th at the Northeast Region Championship. Like Ebmeyer and McHugh, he has demonstrated stoic consistency and ran a season-best 15:29 to finish fourth at Paul Short. He is a poised athlete with speed in the tank for homestretch situations.
This individual has been integral to EA's success, yet he continues with intriguing notes. For example, he ran just two XC races last year and not one track race, Indoor or Outdoor. Yet, he has dropped his 17:36 personal best to 15:56 this year. He is consistently in EA's third or four spots and finished 40th at the Northeast final. He tends to run near teammate Connor Hanrahan, and those two have been like peanut butter and jelly for their squad.
Typically the team's fifth runner, Hanrahan was supposedly feeling under the weather last week and finished in 142nd as the team's No. 7. But to this point, he has been a fixture in Episcopal's Top 5, and we expect a similar result this weekend. Like his teammates, his growth over the last year has been remarkable, and the senior has been the model of consistency over the previous four years. He'll look to end his High School career on the highest possible note this weekend.
Zhou picked up the slack for an ailing Hanrahan and filled the five slots in his steed. The sophomore has been steadily learning lessons over the season and put those lessons to the test on Saturday to deliver his best finish of the year. To add context, Zhou's best time of the year was 16:30 on a swift Lehigh University XC Course. But this week, he managed to run a 17:10 on a very challenging Bowdoin Course. That 17:10 was his second-fastest time of the season.
Engelman has been a vital depth piece for Episcopal throughout the season. He has been a fixture of the Top-7 and has run near or better than Zhou on several occasions. If he can muster a performance like Zhou put forward this past weekend, EA may be able to knock off some quality opponents.