WARWICK — Spring-Ford standout Paul Power raced out hard, charging well ahead of the pack the entire race, feeling that was the best way to inspire his teammates to victory Wednesday.
It worked perfectly, with Power easily winning (16:43) and the Rams boys sweeping the double dual, holding off Owen J. Roberts, 20-35, and Pottstown, 16-47 in a PAC-10 double dual meet at Warwick Park. OJR beat the Trojans, 15-48.
The Wildcats girls, the defending PAC-10 champion, had a different race plan en route to victory. They let the Rams girls set the pace early, then took the lead as a pack and promptly crossed the finish line as a pack of four with the winning time, as the OJR girls also swept the double dual, beating Spring-Ford, 16-45, and Pottstown, 15-50. The Rams girls beat the Trojans, 16-47.
OJR's Jill Weston, Megan Bernatos, Sarah Taylor, and Andrea Shade all posted a winning time of 20:51.
Power was followed by three Rams, with Josh Tupper second (17:24), Matt Heininger third (17:40) and Raghay Jain fourth (17:48).
Stephen Deloisio was the first OJR boys runner across, placing fifth (17:51). Trent Kancianic was first across for the Trojans in 10th (18:35).
In the girls race, Sam Christman was first across for the Rams, breaking through the OJR stronghold and finishing fifth (21:19). Tori Dugan was first across for the Trojans in 13th (23:07).
"My goal this season is for Spring-Ford to win our first PAC-10 title as a team,' Power said. "I just wanted to pull my teammates out with me and hopefully get the win today.'
Not that Power was really doubting it.
"I have faith in my teammates and that they would be following me,' he said. "We went one, two, three, four today, so I was happy with that.'
Power, a junior, is also one of the top contenders for the individual PAC-10 title this season.
"If that's what it takes to win as a team, I'll do whatever it takes,' he said. "I just really want to win as a team. We never won it before and we have some really good seniors this year, who will be departing. So this is the year and we have a good chance to win. I'm really happy with today's performances, personally and team-wise.'
One of those seniors is second-place finisher Tupper, who has been steady right behind Power this season.
"I've been on varsity for four years now. I'm looking for a big year,' Tupper said. "We've just got to put it all together. We want to win the PAC-10 this year.'
He sees defending champ Pottstove and Methacton as the teams to beat.
"We put a lot of hard work in practice, so if we go out there and run as hard as we can, put our heads down and just go, we can get them,' Tupper said.
Owen J. Roberts' Deloisio was determined to get into the front pack with the Rams frontrunners.
"So far, this was one of our bigger meets,' Deloisio said. "We were pumped to go against Spring-Ford today. I am really impressed with them this year. They improved a lot. And this is the most spread we've had in a long time. We have a pretty big pack in the front.'
But the OJR boys have some catching up to do with the OJR girls.
"Oh, yes,' Deloisio said. "We joke about that sometimes.'
It inspires the OJR boys to work even harder.
Kancianic has been the top runner for Pottstown this season, taking over as leader from Nate Smith, who graduated.
"I felt I had to take the leadership this season because Nate was gone,' he said. "The team is getting bigger and that's great. We're a lot bigger and better than the last couple of years. I'm not sure why. I love it, so imagine that ever since they kick-started it back up, people started to notice how much we enjoyed it and they wanted to come out and try it for themselves.'
Trojan sophomore Justin Beasley, second across for the Trojans at 15th, is one of those. He is the younger brother of former Pottstown football standout Aaron Beasley, who became a standout at West Virginia and played several years in the NFL, starting for the Jacksonville Jaguars and then several more NFL teams.
Little brother played football in middle school, then dropped it.
"I love this, I'm never going back to football,' Beasley said. "This is my favorite thing; I love running. I also do track, but I enjoy this more. It's more of a family sport, the team feels more like a team. When I got to high school I had to pick between band and football. I picked band and had to find myself another sport and this was it.'
Aaron Beasley was also a standout track runner at Pottstown.
"I just want to beat him,' Justin Beasley said. "I want to be better than him.'
It wasn't the OJR coaches who told the four Wildcats girls to win as a solid four. It was all their idea.
"We like to finish as a team when we're able to,' said Weston, most frequently their front runner. "It makes the win to be more proud of. It was all of our ideas. We didn't talk to the coaches at all about it, we just decided to finish that way.'
"I mean, we train together so much,' Taylor said. "It just happened this way today. To repeat, (as PAC-10 champ), that's what we're trying for.'
For Weston and Taylor, both seniors, it's their last chance to repeat. For Shade and Bernotas, both sophomores, it is only their second year. Bernotas was a key component on last year's win. Shade was on the OJR soccer team then, but made the switch this year.
"I did track, and track made me decide to do cross country because I really like running. I kind of fell in love with it,' Shade said. "This is a great team, all my friends are on it. That had a huge influence. I still play rec (recreational) soccer. But this is more fun.'
Bernatos was a newcomer to the area last year, her family moving here from Nebraska. But even as a freshman she instantly became an OJR standout.
"I'm really proud of my team and how we did last year, and really hoping we can do as well again this year,' Bernatos said. "We have a really good team, really strong team. We work together, which is really good. That will help us to repeat at PAC-10.
"I do have personal goals, but I'm mainly focusing on the team right now because I just want to win the PAC-10 again. That was so much fun last year. And I'm hoping we make states as a team this year, too.'
Christman has steadily been leading the Rams girls team this year.
"We weren't really planing on setting the pace at first, we were planing on just going after the Owen J. girls,' Christman said. "But their strategy was kind of to follow us, pass us once we got weak. And it worked really well for them. They're really good runners, so it was hard to keep pace after they passed.
"I've raced against them many times before and I knew they are all really good runners. So it was really hard at the end to pass them.'
Pottstown is only out there thanks to its volunteer coaches, Mary Ann Hill and Mark Agnew, after being dropped as an official sport by its district two years ago. Yet the team is much deeper in numbers and the runners are pumped.
"I finished 13th overall and I was two minutes away from my personal record at districts (last season), and I run my PR for the season so far,' the Trojans' Dugan said, sounding as excited as the four winners. "We're building our team, which is really good. We have a lot of new girls that are very excited to run, which helps a lot, especially when they are pushing you even harder than you want to be pushed. The best part is always finishing the race and knowing that you did better than you did last week.'
And after 36 years of coaching the OJR team, David Michael shifted his focus forward quickly after Wednesday's races.
"Oh, we have a lot of work to do,' Michael said. "We have big meets coming up, Methacton, Perk Valley next week. And they are both very, very good teams. We're working hard and we have goals just like, I'm sure, the other teams in the league.
"We're hopeful of reaching that high spot, working to do that. The kids are working very, very hard and their work is paying off.
"On the boys side, we knew the Spring-Ford boys are very strong. They ran very well. Our boys just have to keep working, go for a couple of wins and make that Final Four.'
The Spring-Ford boys upped their record to 4-1, with the OJR boys 2-2. Pottstown fell to 0-4. ... On the girls side, OJR remains undefeated at 4-0. Spring-Ford is 3-2 while Pottstown is 0-4.