LOWER POTTSGROVE — Just when it looked as if the Pottsgrove boys would have a fight on their hands winning their first cross country dual meet of the season, the Falcons proved nothing has changed from their success from the past two years.
Then as now, the Falcons strategy has stayed constant — let the opposition set the pace early, then crank it up over the last mile and pull ahead.
That is how the Falcons boys won the Pioneer Athletic Conference cross country championship the past two years, and that is how they beat visiting Boyertown, 39-17, on Wednesday to kick off the 2013 season at their home course.
Led by Derek Lopez, Evan Cook, Josh Toth and John Garges, the Falcons crossed four runners before Dylan Eddinger broke their stronghold as the first Bears runner across.
In the subsequent girls race, Boyertown, a former three-time PAC-10 champion led by league standout Emily Schumaker and freshman Gillian Kasitz, reversed the trend by running away with a 45-18 victory over the Falcons girls, though Pottsgrove sophomore Dyani Hairston showed she will be someone to reckon with, crossing third.
The Falcons boys may have lost a number of their front runners from the last two championships seasons, and last year's district and PIAA Class AA championship team, but the younger ones, who were, after all, also part of those teams, showed they are ready to keep the streak going.
At the two-mile mark the Boyertown boys pack was actually leading comfortably. But when the time came to crank it up down the stretch, the Falcons did just that, with Lopez leading the charge.
Lopez posted a time of 17:53, Cook finished in 18:27, Toth at 18:30, Garges at 18:33, and the Bears Eddinger at 18:41.
Schumaker finished a good 200 yards ahead of the field at 21:04, while Kasitz posted a time of 22:11, and the Falcons Hairston a time of 22:51.
This isn't the first good year for Lopez, a junior who switched over from football last season and instantly did well. He has emerged as the Falcons front man this season.
"It's team mentality,' Lopez said. "To win the first meet feels good. We all worked so hard this summer to get better. I see my team as a group that works hard every day, gets there for every practice. I just want to be a good role model for my teammates and push everybody to the limits they are capable of.
"Losing Ian (Yanusko), Mike (Rossi) and Morgan (Moonan), that's very hard for us. But we still have a lot of depth and I feel we can still do great things this season. Boyertown was not easy. I know a bunch of kids that go there, they work their tails of every day.'
And the goal from day one is to repeat as PAC-10 champs.
"Coach (Larry Rechtin) was talking about that today,' Cook said. "He wants us to just try and maintain and repeat. Boyertown has some pretty good runners, and they have a lot of kids. We let them take the lead to just kind of get the feel for the pace and everything. We don't particularly try and lead. Coach always wants us to kind of get a feel for what's going on first. And it's still try and stick together, run together and cheer each other on. It's a nice opportunity for us now to lead the team this year and take on that opportunity.'
"We're all, across the board, working hard and pushing ourselves toward our ultimate goal,' Toth said. "Some of us went through the preseason talking about personal goals. As a team, we want to have that success that we had last year. And get better too. We didn't lose that much and we gained some. It's more of a cohesive group. We're all friends, love to hang out with each other, and work together very well.'
There have been standout Eddinger's on that Boyertown team. Now it's Dylan Eddinger, a junior previously concentrating on ice hockey and spring track, who has joined the Bears cross country team this season. He was instantly the front runner in his first dual meet.
"This is my first cross country season so I am still getting to know everything,' Eddinger said.
He placed second in the 800-meters at the PAC-10 track championships last spring. That's what made him add cross country to the sports he participates in.
"To get in condition for spring track,' he said. "Pretty happy with my finish here. Not as good as last week (which was only a scrimmage), but I heard this course is longer. Sure, I've heard about Pottsgrove and was worried a little bit. I just want to go out there and run my race every time. I don't like to lose when I run.
"Oh, yes, our team is going to be better this year, for sure. Tons of kids are here. I wasn't here last year, but from what I've been hearing from the coaches, we're looking good right now.'
And Eddinger, for one, feels the Bears will do better than 3-6 PAC-10 last season.
On the girls side, Schumaker, a junior, has been a standout since her freshman season. If Wednesday is any indication, this will be her best season yet.
"To be honest, first meet of the season, I had a little bit of nerves going,' Schumaker said. "My adrenalin just suddenly kicked in. And it was, why not? I was trying to go for time. I know this course runs a little bit slower. I was basically trying to go as fast as I could. I knew there were a lot of down-hills, so I pushed all the up-hills. That worked.
"I definitely wanted to win today, wanted to start off right. To win the PAC-10 again as a team is definitely the number one priority for Boyertown, for the whole team.'
The Bears won three straight titles, before Owen J. Roberts beat them last season. And, of course, Schumaker will try to beat Methacton senior standout Kara Steinke, the only one to top her last year in league meets.
"I don't know if I'll beat her, but I want to make her sweat a little more,' she said. "Honestly, my top priority is to do much better at states this year, really get my time down at states.'
For Kasitz, a shy youngster, it was all new, this first varsity meet.
"I was kind of nervous,' Kasitz said softly. "I was feeling really bad because I had a really bad side-stitch. It was a like a stabbing pain.'
But she still finished second.
"I did track in middle school, but my mom was a cross country runner. (She) was first in the county, I guess. She got me started in cross country,' Kasitz said.
Her mom's maiden name was Angela Holstein, for those who remember the Bears cross country team from a few years ago.
And the Pottsgrove girls certainly have themselves a promising lead runner again in Hairston.
"I think we've always had great runners,' Hairston said. "As a team, for the girls side, we're still trying to really rebuild right now. But we have a really good team, honestly. We're all really pushing ourselves this season. I can tell, it's going to be really awesome.
"Actually, my freshman year was my second year of cross country and I plan to do it the next two years of my high school career and, hopefully, run in college. I really love the sport. It's such a team sport. People say, ' Oh, I hate running. Running is like a punishment.' I think running is just one of the greatest things and I hope to do it for the rest of my life.'
That's what cross country coaches like to hear.
And, not surprising Falcons coach Larry Rechtin and Bears coach Steve Fegely both loved what they saw in this first dual meet.
"Boys ran well,' Rechtin said. "We accomplished some things we wanted to get done today. (I liked) the way we organized ourselves, organized our pack. Kids followed the instructions, ran well. Boyertown looked good. They set the pace early on, hung in there. And when we started to accelerate, they hung on, hung on well. They made some nice strides this year. We didn't run away from them. Our front pack looked good. Derek is ready to race. He looked strong. We got a nice pack. It's a good start to the season.
Girls, Dyani looked great. She worked so hard this summer. I'm really proud of her. Competitive runner. A calm, nice person, but really tenacious. You don't expect that from her. The girl likes to race. But Boyertown is just hard to beat. They are talented, deep, strong. You really have to have a deep squad to compete with them.'
That's what has made the Bears girls team so hard to beat for the past few years.
"Emily is not just a great runner, but she's a great leader,' Fegely said. "We picked up a great freshman in Gillian. We return a lot. I think where we need to be, but there's still work to be done.
"As for the boys, Dylan decided to run cross country because he saw the success he had in spring track and he is a great pickup for us. I'm very pleased that he made the decision to come this way. And I'm pleased with my boys. They are deep, show a lot of heart and character. The older runners are bonding with the new runners. It's going to pay off in dividends in the end.'