BETHLEHEM — Upper Merion's cross country teams have continually gotten better in recent years, and this year the UM boys and the UM girls both captured the runner-up trophy at the Suburban One League American Conference Championships last week at Lehigh University.
The Vikings return to Lehigh today to compete in the District One Class AAA Championships and appear ready to turn in another impressive performance.
Last week, Upper Merion's Austin Cooper captured the gold medal in the American Conference race with a time of 16:08. The Vikings' other scorers were Zak Khattabi (fifth), Jonathan Gross (ninth), Mike Hranek (13th) and Nick Tornambe (17th).
"Last year, they (Upper Merion's boys) won the league championship,' said Vikings' coach Lynda Newhart. "This year, I was pleased with how they ran but they just didn't run well enough to get the win.
"It was a five-man varsity last season. This year, we've had people move up. It's been interesting. It's been a good season. We even went out and ran in the Carlisle Invitational to get the feel of bigger races.
"We're still in Class AAA and still one of the smallest schools in Class AAA. Our philosophy is — go out there and compete. We've never let size be a factor.'
Upper Merion's girls placed second in the American Conference Championship race even though two of its better runners had an "off day.' The Vikings' talented group of scorers featured Jada Wilson (fourth), Zeinab Bakillah (sixth), Gab Hnatin (ninth), Coleen Butler (12th) and Ashley Anderson (17th).
The area's top runner heading to districts from the SOL American is Wisshaickon's Lotte Black. The speedy sophomore successfully defended her conference title this year and won the race by 26 seconds.
Upper Dublin won the American Conference team title with the quintet of Lucille Ionescu (third), Isabel Uribe (seventh), Emily Steart (eighth), Adelie Ionescu (10th) and Sarah Smith (13th).
The race for the team championship at the Girls' Class AAA district meet will be a battle between defending champion Unionville and last year's runner-up Pennsbury. Unionville is led by defending state champion Courtney Smith, who is an overwhelming favorite to repeat.
If Smith fails to live up to expectations, Methacton's Kara Steinke could be the first runner across the line at Lehigh today. Last week, Steinke won her fourth consecutive PAC-10 gold medal. Another strong challenger will be Pennsbury's Olivia Sargent, who is this year's Suburban One League National Conference champion.
Unionville's other top runners are Emily Fisher, Gretchen Mills and Olivia Young, while Pennsbury's other leaders are Hannah Molloy, Erica Gray and Meredith Twomey.
Other runners who will be serious contenders to win medals and earn state-meet berths are Spring-Ford's Sam Christman, Downingtown West's Aislynn Devlin and Michelle Myland,Central Bucks East's Tate Dawson, Central Bucks South's Kaitlin Poiesz, Councul Rock North's Kaelyn Heinicke, Central Bucks West's Maddie Villalba and Springfield-Delco's Grace Galligan.
In Boys' Class AAA, West Chester Henderson has won four consecutive district titles and there is no team fast enough and deep enough to keep the Warriors from making it five in a row. Henderson's top runners are Tony Russell, Reiny Barchet and Eric Stratman.
Top contenders for district medals from the SOL American are Upper Merion's Copper and Khattabi, Plymouth Whitemarsh's Dan Shalala, Wissahickon's Lukas and Tristan Marcelis and Upper Dublin's Andrew Stewart.
The PAC-10 also should get strong finishes from its top three runners this year — Spring-Ford's Paul "One Shoe' Power and Methacton's Jeff Kirshenbaum and Tom Duffy.
Other top runners from around this district who will be competing in today's meet are West Chester East's Chris Cummings and Eric Diestelow, Hatboro-Horsham's Casie Comber, Strah Haven's Chris and Matt Kazanjian, Council Rock North's Ross Wilson, Central Bucks East's Jake Brophy, Pennsbury's Sam Webb, Conestoga's Andrew Marston, Quakertown's Alex Balla, Avon Grove's Josh Smith and Bensalem's Kyle Francis.