ROYERSFORD — This was the double dual meet the Spring-Ford coaches had circled as the special one at the beginning of the season.
The Rams were finally going to be home again, running on their own course after four weeks on the road. Making it all the more special was the tough PAC-10 competition they would be facing, with Pottsgrove and Perkiomen Valley the visitors.
The Rams celebrated their homecoming in style with two individual wins and a team upset Wednesday.
Rams standout Paul Power easily won the boys race with a sizzling 15:38 in the sudden summer heat. And Spring-Ford's Sam Christman just as easily won the girls race with a personal best 19:19, holding off a very tough group of Vikings runners.
But the big shocker came when the team scores were added up and the Spring-Ford boys had beaten Pottsgrove by one point, 27-28, snapping the Falcons (6-1) dual meet winning streak of nearly three years.
The Rams boys (7-1) made it a sweep, also beating Perk Valley (4-3), 25-31, with Pottsgrove beating the Vikings, 25-30.
The Vikings girls (6-1), led by Morgan Faust crossing second (19:54), got a bit of a revenge making it a team sweep by holding off the Rams (5-3), 22-39, and beating Pottsgrove 15-50, while Spring-Ford (5-3) beat Pottsgrove (3-4), 17-45.
"When the schedule came out, we really circled this date,' said Rams head coach Brian Sullivan. "Not only because of Pottsgrove being the defending champions in the state (AA) and being undefeated for so long, but we were on the road for four consecutive weeks and this is our first opportunity to run at home. We do a lot of practicing on this course, do a lot of workouts on the course, and were just itching to get on our course for once and not having to take a bus ride somewhere.
"And with Pottsgrove and PV both quality teams coming in here, we really wanted to make it a statement today, go out there and run well. And we did. Being home was a tremendous advantage for us, absolutely. I think had this meet been either at Pottsgrove or at Perk Valley we might be looking at a totally different score. Cross country is one of the only sports that has a real home court advantage. Because you can go from week to week and run on totally different courses each week, unlike a football field, which is always 100 yards. Being home is an advantage in cross country.'
But Pottsgrove, the defending PAC-10, District 1-AA, and PIAA-AA champ, had beaten that home court advantage of every one else for nearly three years and 20-plus dual meets.
"Twenty, 23, I'm not sure,' said veteran Falcons coach Larry Rechtin. "We hadn't lost a dual meet since, oh gosh ....' and he had to think a while. And then it came back.
"Our first meet of 2011, we lost to Methacton,' Rechtin finally recalled. "Oh, it hurts (to lose this one). You want to win; you're competing. But you keep everything in perspective the entire season. And we got a wake-up call today. Spring-Ford ran and wanted it worse than we did. They were much more aggressive than we were. They beat us. So we have to regroup and run better. I think we can. I know we can. This was not one of our better performances.
"If you're aspiring for the goals that we're aspiring for, if you're looking to be competitive at the state level again, then you have to take care of business. There are no excuses.'
It was the Rams' Josh Tupper who ultimately pulled out that team win, nipping the Falcons' Josh Toth by a nose at the end, with Tupper crossing sixth (16:41), and Josh Toth at seventh (also 16:41). One of the Falcons top runners, Ky'lif Underwood, was unable to finish the race after getting ill along the way.
As for the individual winner, nobody was going to take that away from Power, who is the spark plug of this Rams boys squad. Power hasn't lost a dual yet this season and is the clear favorite going into the championship meet.
"I always go out with the mindset, it's going to be a close race,' Power said. "So I try to go out my hardest and run a good race. And try to win it for the team. It was really nice running at home finally. We had a home scrimmage but this was our first official PAC-10 meet at home.
'Beating Pottsgrove feels really good. This is a nice win, but we still have to look forward to the rest of the season. Our job isn't done yet; we still have the PAC-10s. But we knew that we can do it now. We have the confidence.'
Power had his work cut out for him last year, running against all those now-departed seniors. This year he knew there was a possibility to go undefeated in duals this season.
"I just try to run my best and see what happens,' he said. "I don't really pay attention that much to how far the other guys are behind me.'
The Falcons' Derek Lopez, who took second with a 16:18, sure was paying attention.
"I felt like I could run with him (Power) for most of the race,' Lopez said. "I feel like we're on the same level. He's kind of like my rival because we're both in the same grade (juniors), so every time we race it's competitive. I wanted to pull my team along, so I then let him go so my guys would see me and I would pull them along. I know we all ran really hard.
"It's a really flat course, and we're not really used to that. These are two every good teams; they have good runners. I feel like every race gets you better for next race.'
Next up is Methacton, with the Warriors boys now the only undefeated team left at 7-0.
The third boy runner across was the Vikings usual top man, Dave Garton (16:22). After early-season difficulties, Garton was finally happier with his race.
"I feel healthier and I think I raced pretty well today,' Garton said. "I just kind of came out and did what I wanted to. I would have liked to beat Derek Lopez, but he ran a great race, came back and got me. But I was happy, feel good again. Healthy and fast.
"I think the PAC-10 team championship is going to be closer this year than ever since I've been in high school. Every year there has been a clear favorite. This year I thought Pottsgrove would be it, and Spring-Ford won today. Methacton will contest both of them. And our team — if we run well — we could be up there. Individually, I think the top five will be really competitive this year. Except for Paul (Power)!'
The upset on the boys side stole some of the limelight from the girls race.
That couldn't take away Christman's excitement though.
Christman admitted it was the best race she has ever run, storming away from the field and finishing way out front after managing to fend off a tough field, the heat, but also an asthma attack.
"I can't even put in words how happy I am,' Christman said. "It was a big win for me. I do have asthma and it makes it hard. But there's no excuses, you've just got to push through it. Everyone has different problems. It was really hot, but that kind of goes away when you're focusing on the race. I was focusing on the win and that really helped getting the weather out of my mind.
"I came into this race really pumped up. I paced off the top PV girl (Faust), and she is really good, and she really helped pace me early. But I was very surprised with the gap that I got. I'm happy now. This race was kind of a preview of what's going to happen and I'm really excited that I ran well today.'
And she gave a big shout out to former Spring-Ford and Rider University standout Heather Giovagnoli, who returned this year as an assistant Rams coach.
"Heather helps train me and I wouldn't be where I am without her,' Christman said. "She definitely made a big difference.'
"I have to be running with Sam, otherwise she'd be out there doing the workouts by herself,' Giovagnoli said. "So I just kind of tag along for the ride.'
Because Christman has really moved to the far front on her team.
With this double win, the Perk Valley girls, once a PAC-10 powerhouse, are right back in the team race again.
"It was a good win,' Perk Valley coach Ryan Sullivan said. "The girls continue to improve. It's a very young team. The times are a little disappointing just because it was so hot out today. But I was happy. We're coming along. We still need to improve a little bit to have a chance of beating Owen J. (Roberts) at PAC-10. We just have to get a little bit better each week.'