ZIEGLERVILLE — Methacton senior Kara Steinke hasn't lost a cross country dual meet yet in her entire high school career that is now starting to wind down.
That certainly didn't change Wednesday.
As everyone had expected, Steinke once again charged out early and then crossed a good 200 yards ahead of the field with an 18:08 to win the Pioneer Athletic Conference double dual cross country meet between the Warriors, Owen J. Roberts and host Perkiomen Valley at the PV's Middle School West course.
The bigger question was who would come away with the team wins in this high-powered showdown between the Warriors, Wildcats and Vikings. And, with no clear-cut favorite, who would win the boys race in this wide open field.
Individually, Methacton made it a sweep with Warriors' sophomore Jeffrey Kirshenbaum winning comfortably enough with a 16:01.6, looking much like he will be a contender in the years to come.
But Steinke alone can't pull the Warriors into a team win, and it was a pack of Wildcats, led by Jill Weston and Megan Bernotas, that carried defending PAC-10 champ OJR past Methacton, 22-37, and Perk Valley, 20-35. The Vikings managed to hold off the Warriors, 28-31.
The Wildcats remain undefeated at 6-0, with Perkiomen Valley 4-1 and Methacton 3-3.
The boys team victory did go to Kirshenbaum and Methacton, with the Warriors beating Owen J. Roberts, 15-48, and Perk Valley, 16-42, thanks to four Warriors crossing ahead of the field. Perk Valley beat OJR, 17-44.
The Methacton boys remain undefeated at 6-0 while Perk Valley went to 4-1 and OJR 2-4.
The Vikings moved the meet away from their high school course to the middle school here this season because they felt all the school bus and car traffic there had become a danger to the runners.
"I was more worried about our team than myself today,' Steinke said. "We're struggling a lot on our team. A lot of girls dropping out, a lot of girls getting injured. Just for all my teammates to come out every single time and just race, given the circumstances, makes me really, really proud of everyone today. I was a little nervous about my knee because I had pain in it recently. You have to push that aside, get out there and run.
"It was different today because we've never ran on this course. So everything was new. But I liked it. Footing was very, very loose, there were pockets of holes, so it wasn't the best footing. But I loved how secluded the whole course is. It's nice to just get in touch with your surroundings and it's beautiful back there. It was a very peaceful run.'
And Steinke thrives on that. Running all alone, only surrounded by nature. That's what has gotten to her at districts and states over the years, she can't just race away and run most of the course by herself.
The OJR girls, meanwhile, are determined to keep finishing as a pack, though Weston did beat Bernotas by an inch, with Bernotas limping badly and in pain right after crossing.
"It's hard to compete with Kara individually. She's in a league of her own,' Weston said. "We like finishing together. We work as a team the entire race, so we like to finish as a team.'
As the halfway mark of the season passes, the league championship meet is inching up and the dual meet wins are getting more crucial.
"Yes, they are,' Weston said. "We have to finish in the top four to be able to win the title again. We knew PV is a pretty big threat to us. And (Morgan) Faust was very strong throughout the entire race, worked very hard.'
Perk Valley's Faust did finish fourth (19:28), behind Steinke, Weston, and Bernotas.
"I hurt my hip before and I pulled it again,' Bernotas said through the tears from the pain. "It was hurting a lot yesterday. I calmed down and didn't run as much. But today it got really stiff.'
Faust was determined to get into that OJR mix.
"This was a really important dual meet for us,' Faust said. "I just wanted to go out there strong and for us to win. I went out a little bit slower than I usually do. And with that I just ran with the pack that was behind Kara. I'm very happy with my time. We now train here, so when we run, it gets easier every time. And like every year, we're going to go for that title again. If we still work hard, we can get it.'
Last year, as a freshman, Kirshenbaum sure wasn't on anybody's radar screen. In the few weeks this season he has come of age, having multiple dual wins so far this season.
"I knew PV was good, knew they had (Dave) Garton, who is really good,' Kirshenbaum said. "I just wanted to do well for my team. So I was pretty pumped for today. It was definitely a hard win. Obviously, I want to win and do well individually. But the team is the most important thing for me.
"The most important thing is that we win PAC-10 and a lot of our guys get to states. It's going to be between us and Pottsgrove and I definitely think we can beat them.'
The Warriors couldn't last year, when the championship came down to those two. Kirshenbaum wasn't so much of a factor for the Warriors then.
"I got like ' freshman-itis' last year,' he said. "That's what my coaches called it. I'd get really nervous, didn't think I could stay with the older kids. This summer I trained a lot harder, got more mature dealing with my nerves. I didn't think I could beat the guys on PV, so I was really happy with that today.'
The Vikings' Garton, a standout in the 800 during the track and field season, was off his usual pace, finishing fifth (16:45.1).
"That was not a good race for me,' Garton said. "I've had a rough week. Things haven't been going well in my training. I just feel pretty weak, feel I was stronger at the beginning of the year than I am now. I feel a little drained right now. My training hasn't progressed like I thought it would. I was beating these (Methacton) kids at the beginning of the year. They are just in really good shape now. They definitely have a chance to win the PAC-10. I haven't seen Pottsgrove yet, but I think they (Methacton) definitely have a chance to win.'
Freshman Connor Murray was the first boy runner across for OJR in 11th (17:08.3).
"I had a good day,' said Murray. "I was pumped. Last race I had a side stitch, so I had to bounce back from that.'
He is new to all this.
"I ran a few 5K's before I started cross country practicing this past summer,' he said.
Though running isn't his only sport, Murray hopes to make a name for himself this season.
"I play baseball and basketball,' Murray said. "But at PAC-10 Championships I want to get up there, want to make sure my name is out there for next year.'
The OJR boys could use that depth on their team.
For Warriors coach Steve Savitz, this was a crucial team win on the boys side.
"This is just a very dedicated, cohesive, fun group to coach,' Savitz said. "I've never been so deep in runners. And that's fun. There's eight runners that are interchangeable, four seniors and four underclassmen who are feeding off the seniors. Pottsgrove, they're the reigning champs, so sure, they are the ones to beat. And that's our goal. Right now we're on a great pace to make a statement.'
Perk Valley coach Ryan Sullivan admitted it took some convincing to agree to moving to the middle school course.
"Initially, I wasn't too excited about it,' Sullivan said. "But it's beautiful out here, it's safe, there's no chance of being hit by a car. And we embraced it. Today was our last meet here for this year and it was the most exciting one. I was proud of our girls. Owen J. really took it to us at Chris Fretz (Invitational last weekend), beat us easily. Today we closed the gap a little bit. And, hopefully, we can make a run for it at PAC-10s.'
OJR coach Dave Michael is cautiously optimistic about the championship chances of his unbeaten girls team, but he's certainly not getting ahead of himself.
"PV beat us by one in the dual last year,' Michael said. "After we beat them at Fretz (last year), they came back on our course and beat us by one. Their girls have a very, very nice team, very strong. They ran well and I felt we ran well. Methacton ran well. It was a very, very competitive race.'
"It's always nice to be 6-0. But it's back to the drawing board. We still have work to do.'