Episcopal Academy won the Inter-Ac League cross country championship for the third year in a row, but the top runner was from Penn Charter.
On the Belmont Plateau course in Fairmount Park on Oct. 16, Episcopal Academy won the Inter-Ac League cross country championship for the third year in a row, but this year the top individual runner did not come from the Main Line school.
Penn Charter junior T.J. Zwall, who had finished seventh in 2022, won the 2023 meet with a time of 16 minutes, 35.4 seconds, 15 seconds ahead of runner-up Dawson French, an EA senior. Zwall's older sister Emma, who also ran for Penn Charter, was the Inter-Ac girls' champion in 2017 and 2018.
After T.J. Zwall, the PC Quakers had two other top-10 finishers, with junior Nate Johnson placing fourth in 17:06.3, and sophomore Peyton Burnett coming in ninth in 17:45.6.
As a team, Penn Charter repeated as the second-place franchise, with 50 points to Episcopal's 28. The other individual scorers for the Quakers were sophomore Ben Berger (16th; 18:30.7) and freshman Matthew Dunn (20th; 18:42.0).
After third-place Haverford School, with its 62 team points, came Germantown Academy, with 98. Pacing the Patriots were two sophomores; Walter Mulroy came in 12th in 18:20.2 and one place behind was Evan Badami, with a time of 18:25.5.
Coming in 34th, with a time of 20:51.6, junior Jarrett Whaley led Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, which placed sixth as a team with 188 points behind number five Malvern Prep (116).
It was a fairly cool afternoon, and it had been overcast when the Inter-Ac girls' race began at 3:45 PM. The sun appeared shortly before the boys' event got underway at 4:15 PM. Part of a leading pack early in the race, PC's Zwall opened up a gap between himself and the others - including Episcopal's French, in the middle of the race.
Unlike some who run the Belmont course, Zwall did not look to make attacks or open up gaps on the several hilly sections of the circuit.
He related, "I focused on staying relaxed on the hills and making sure my legs were fresh for the flat parts, where I want to push. That's really where the time is made, not on the short hills."
In the weeks leading up to the championships, he'd been steadily increasing his training mileage each week and making sure he maintained regular sleep habits. His father, Tim, is the coach of the Penn Charter boys' team.
"I've been running Belmont since I was about five years old back in the CYO races," Zwall noted. "I feel that now I can take advantage of my experience on the course."
With his win, the EA Churchmen were not able to dominate the Inter-Ac race the way they had a year earlier, when they captured the top five places for a perfect team score.
Charter was still well behind Episcopal but wound up a dozen points ahead of Haverford, which was led by junior Will Suter with a sixth-place showing (17:32.6).
Germantown Academy ended up in a space of its own, 36 points behind the Fords and 18 ahead of Malvern. After their two 10th-graders led the way, the Patriots finalized their team score with a 22nd-place run from fellow sophomore Ethan Na (19:14.0), 24th from senior Andrei Vava (19:22.3), and 27th from junior Arjun Sood (19:51.3).
After Whaley crossed the line first for the SCH Blue Devils, the team's other six runners in the race came away with the last six places. The four scorers after Whaley, in 37th through 40th place, were freshman Amit Green (22:24.1), sophomore Reed Knoblock (22:33.4), senior Andrew Mahony (22:54.8), and sophomore Roman McNichols (22:58.9).
All the runners will be back on Belmont Plateau at the end of the month for the Pa. Independent Schools Championships.
T.J. Zwall's sister Emma, the two-time Inter-Ac League champion, is now on the team at Brown University.
"She called me after the Inter-Ac's to congratulate me, and I was very happy about that," the 2023 winner said.