ROYERSFORD — Going into the 2013 cross country season, Paul Power appeared to be a top contender for the Pioneer Athletic Conference title.
With the way the Spring-Ford junior had been improving the previous season, and seeing that four of the five runners finishing ahead of him in the title race last year had graduated, Power sure looked to be a good bet to win this year's PAC-10 championship.
Turns out, that wasn't first and foremost on his mind at the start of the season. What was on Power's mind from Day 1 was leading his Rams to team wins.
"I really was trying just to do the best for my team because I knew we were going for the team championship,' Power said. "And I knew that to help my team out the best that I could, I'd probably have to win. That's what was in the back of my head. I wanted the team win, wanted to pull my guys along, knew that if I did the best it would help the team win. And then I wanted to finish it also for myself at the end.'
The team championship wasn't to be for his team this year, though the Rams were in the hunt and one of the top contenders all season. Instead, Methacton pulled out the team win at the PAC-10 Championships at Heebner Park.
But on that same day Power did capture his first PAC-10 individual championship and against all odds. Power had his right sneaker knocked off his foot right at the start and ran that rugged Heebner course with just one shoe, not only to win the boys title but also to close out the season undefeated in the PAC-10.
Blistered foot and all, Power also went on to medal at the District 1 Championships and was the area boys highest finisher at 10th, and then closed out his season medaling at the PIAA Championships, again as the area's highest and fastest finisher placing 20th with a time of 16:29. He was the Rams' boys first medalist at states in Class AAAA/AAA and the first one in over three decades to medal at PIAA, with former Rams standout Jim Franey winning the PIAA Class AA title in 1966.
And Power is The Mercury All-Area Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year.
"It means a lot,' he said. "It means that all my work that I put in over the summer and throughout the season paid off. It was a great season for me.'
And behind the team goal there was also that drive for individual achievement. Rams head coach Brian Sullivan, formerly the St. Pius X cross country coach for more than two decades, had planted it there before the season even started.
"I remember early in the summer my coach told me that he wanted me to medal at states, and that kind of became my goal,' Power said.
Along the way Power won every dual meet, as he had wanted to.
"I knew it was going to be a challenge,' he said. "Going into the Methacton meet, it was early on in the season and they took it out really fast. But I had the faith in what coach Sullivan had me doing all summer, knew it would make me the best that I could be. Coach Sullivan is the best coach ever. He just knows everything about cross country. He's been around the sport for so long.
"I just try to do whatever he tells me. If he tells me to run a race a certain way, I'll just try to do the best that I can to do what he tells me to do. I have absolute faith that whatever he tells me to do is the absolute right thing.'
But there was one thing even Sullivan hadn't prepared Power for, and that was losing his shoe at the PAC-10 championship meet. Power handled that one all alone. A teammate was pushed into him at the always chaotic start, stepped on his foot, and the sneaker was coming off. It had to enter Power's mind right then and there he couldn't possibly win after that mishap.
"No, I never thought that I was ever out of the race,' he said firmly. "As soon as it started to flip off, I was like, ' OK, I'm just going to have to change my mind-set a little bit.' I knew it was going to be a lot tougher race than I thought it would be. I just had to put it out of my mind and run with whatever happened.'
What happened was that the sneaker didn't completely come off, but was dangling off his foot.
"I tried to flip it off to the side,' he said. "I just wanted to get it off my foot because I was running with a half shoe on one foot. But it was a pretty bad flip and flew straight up into the air and I caught it.'
A good thing he did, because the timing chip was embedded in it.
"Yeah, I was pretty lucky with that,' Power said. "But by the end of the race, with the crowd all cheering, I could feel my leg going numb. I didn't feel so good after the race.'
His father had to walk him around, very slowly and badly limping, for more than half an hour to get some feeling back in that right leg. But it never made Power think ahead to the following week's district meet, or worrying that his blistered right foot and numb leg would slow him down at districts and states the week after.
"If anything it helped me,' he said. "It prepared me mentally that anything can happen. Like going into PAC-10s, I knew I was the favorite and almost took it a little too easily. But then, with the shoe coming off, I knew that I had to race as hard as I could. That prepared me mentally for districts and states, knowing that anything can go wrong and that I had to be absolutely prepared for anything.'
The foot was still healing, but Power did great at districts and states.
"The best part of the season was when I got to states and won the highest medal since Jim Franey,' he said. "He has the two-mile record, 9:29.7, still up in our high school gym.'
And Power is going after it. His coach thinks he can get it.
"This was Paul's second full season of cross country and things usually come together after going through the sport once,' Sullivan said. "He has a great amount of natural talent that I recognized from back in middle school. He also has a great work ethic. Paul always shows up for practice ready to go, works hard in practice, is very coachable. He looks to get the most out of his body, whether it is going hard when we need him to or resting on easy days as we prepare for a big upcoming rest.
"He has also attended several distance camps over the summer in a effort to learn more about the sport and train with others of his caliber. Personally, I think the biggest part of Paul's success is the fact that's he's fearless. He has no trouble going to the front in any race and pushing the pace. I first noticed this quality last spring in many of the two mile races he ran when he would look down and out, and just at that moment he would pass, take the lead and push the pace. He has brought that same attitude to this year's cross country team.'
Asked which he likes best, cross country or track, Power said, "I'd say they are pretty even.
"If I had to lean to one more than the other, it would probably be cross country. Just running different courses every week, and that you never know what's going to happen. Track just has this whole different atmosphere, which I do like a lot too.'
He actually started out with track in fifth grade for his Holy Family CYO team because his parents wanted him to try it because some of their friends' kids were running it. Once he tried it, Power stuck with track through eighth grade.
"In ninth grade I went out for the winter team and the spring team,' he said. "Most of the distance kids on the winter and spring teams ran cross country too. When they asked me why I didn't run cross country, I told them because I played soccer. But I really liked those winter and spring track guys, so I stuck with them and ran cross country my sophomore year.'
And one year later Power was the premier cross country runner in the league. And he still has a year left, which is certainly on his mind.
"I know I need to work on my speed and kick at the end of the races,' he said. "Track will definitely help with that. I'm trying to focus more on mile and the 800 this winter to really work on my kick. I'll also definitely run 3K's and 3,200's this winter and spring, but more evenly spaced out. That will definitely help me out in cross country come next year.'
For which he has high goals.
"I'll be chasing for the top spot,' he said. "Coach Sullivan has already put it out there that he wants me to be state champion. So I'll definitely be gunning for that. Anything is possible.'
BOYS XC ALL-AREA
Tom Duffy, Methacton
Senior ... Placed fifth at PAC-10 Championships with a time of 16:51 ... Placed 45th at District 1-AAA with a time of 16:15, area's third highest AAA winner at districts ... Placed 29th (17:24) at PIAA Invitational.
Dylan Eddinger, Boyertown
Junior ... Placed third at PAC-10 Championships with a time of 16:39 ... Placed 75th at District 1-AAA with a time of 16.40 ... Placed 14th at the Centaur Invitational at DeSales and 30th at PIAA Foundation Invitational at Hershey.
Dave Garton, Perkiomen Valley
Senior ... Placed sixth at PAC-10 Championships with a time of 16:53 ... Placed 39th at District 1-AAA with a time of 16:12, qualified for states ... Placed 155th (17:54) at PIAA-AAA ... One of only two area AAA state qualifiers ... Placed second at Chris Fretz Invitational and fifth at DeSales Invitational.
Jeff Kirshenbaum, Methacton
Sophomore ... Placed second at PAC-10 Championships with a time of 16:34, front runner for PAC-10 team winner Methacton ... Placed 71st at District 1-AAA with a time of 16.38 ... Placed 31st (17:27) at PIAA Invitational.
Derek Lopez, Pottsgrove
Junior ... Placed fourth at PAC-10 Championships with a time of 16:45 ... Placed fourth at District 1-AA with a time of 16.35, second runner across for District 1-AA team champion Pottsgrove ... Placed 22nd with a time of 17:10 at PIAA-AA to medal individually and was lead runner for Falcons team that placed second at PIAA-AA ... Placed third (17:10) at PIAA Foundation Invitational at Hershey.
Paul Power, Spring-Ford
Junior ... The Mercury All-Area Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year ... Captured PAC-10 Championship with a time of 16:30 ... Placed 10th at District 1-AAA/AAAA with a time of 15:36, qualified for states ... Medaled at PIAA-AAA/AAAA, placing 20th with a time of 16:29, was area boys highest AAA finisher and posted area's overall fastest time at PIAA ... Won the Chris Fretz Invitationall (15:57), also leading Rams to team win ... Ran one of the fastest legs out of all the schools in the Quad Cross Country Relays at the Belmont Plateau in Philadelphia, leading his team to a fourth-place finish.
Josh Toth, Pottsgrove
Senior ... Placed seventh at PAC-10 Championships with a time of 16:55 ... Placed third at District 1-AA with a time of 16.31, lead runner for Falcons as Pottsgrove captured second straight District 1-AA title ... Placed 23rd with a time of 17:13 to medal individually and was second across for Falcons team that took second at PIAA-AA ... Placed 11th (17:40) at PIAA Foundation Invitational at Hershey.
John Bennett, Boyertown
Evan Cook, Pottsgrove
Ray Friend, Perkiomen Valley
John Garges, Pottsgrove
Pat Hopkins, Methacton
Jacob Keiper, Upper Perkiomen
Jared Kline, Methacton
Boyertown: Dalton Meredith, Elijah Mercado, Lance Kokonos
Hill School: Luke Andersen
Methacton: Jacob McCubbins
Owen J. Roberts: Kevin Lutz, Christian Wood
Perkiomen School: Henry Yan
Perkiomen Valley: Solomon Barth
Phoenixville: Adam Yosua
Pottsgrove: Brendan Wurtz
Spring-Ford: Chase Parr, Josh Tupper
Coach of the Year
Larry Rechtin, Pottsgrove
His Falcons team captured its second straight District 1-AA title. Pottsgrove team also took second at the PIAA-AA Championships. Won the PIAA Foundation Invitational at Hershey and took second at PAC-10 Championships.
Compiled by Rosemarie Ross
Follow Rosemarie Ross on Twitter @RoseRoss31