Mark Dennin, Boyertown
My freshman year, Jason Weller had established himself as one of the clutchest performers in the state’s history. It didn’t take long for his teammate Mark Dennin to join the same group. After spending most of the XC season stuck behind Chris Aldrich and Vince McNally in the state rankings, Dennin entered the state meet an underdog. But he pushed the pace hard from the gun and broke the spirit of all his competitors en route to a 29 second victory at the state championships. By the way, it wasn’t a fluke. Dennin doubled down on his accomplishments with a 2nd place finish at the Footlocker Northeast Regional and a 13th place finish at the National Championships.
When he stepped on the track, Dennin did something that even Weller hadn’t done. He won the Penn Relays individual title at 3,000 meters (8:30.11). Capitalizing on that momentum, Dennin cruised to district and state championships in the 3200 and ran a very quick 9:03 for 3200 meters.
But ultimately my biggest Mark Dennin memory will be the time I met him on the bus at my first ever district championships. Apparently our teams were getting in some type of fruit throwing fight during a rainy day and Dennin came on board with Dave Moyer to talk with us once a treaty had been brokered. At the time, he easily passed the “Felix is probably wetting his pants right now” threshold that teammates used to determine how good a runner was. And isn’t that the most important testing of all when determining defining runners?
Max Kaulbach, GFS
From my perspective, Max Kaulbach was the first great independent leaguer. And Kaulbach’s achievements marked the first time (of many) that I would lament not having a PA Meet of Champions. I knew Kaulbach was good. He led a strong GFS team to one of the top spots in the Northeast Regional during XC, was top PA at Paul Short and had run very fast over 4,000m at Van Cortlandt (12:27). But Kaulbach didn’t truly become generation defining (to me) until his mile at indoor states.
Kaulbach, more of a longer distance type, entered the mile against Vince McNally and Nick Crits, the top two individuals returning from the previous year’s outdoor state meet. He was a big underdog against the speedsters and, as he sat back in the early stages and allowed a slow pace, it seemed like his chances for gold were increasingly unlikely. But on the last lap, Max sprang into action, handled an early surge from Crits and then blasted home the final 100 meters for the state gold. A short while later, Kaulbach won the indoor national championship for 2 miles at NSIC, defeating the reigning indoor state champ from the 3k in Josh Izewski. His time of 9:02.65 was also an indoor state record for the two mile.
Outdoors, Kaulbach joined the sub 9 minute club with an 8:58 for 3200. He also anchored GFS to a Penn Relays championship in the DMR and ran 3:54 for 1500. It would have been fun to see him go head to head with Dennin when both were clicking, but we never got that match up at either XC Regionals or a major outdoor meet.
Nick Crits, Wissahickon
Crits and I have the same birthday. It’s not really that important to the conversation, but I just wanted to throw that out there. The fact that I know that (and it was a huge deal when it was brought to my attention) should indicate how significant Crits was during his senior season.
Nick ran for our rivals in Wissahickon and was the first elite runner I saw up close and personal. His kick was lethal and no one within the Suburban One league could hang with him when he made his move. But Crits proved himself outside our small bubble of achievement. He was 5th at states for XC, 2nd indoors in the mile (while sick) and then 1st at states outdoors in the 1600. That race forever made him a legend-but we’ll get to that.
Crits is also a member of the sub 1:55, sub 4:17, sub 9:20 club, speaking to his range across a variety of distances. He has PRs of 15:26, 9:15 (basically solo), 4:11 (1:56 last 800) and 1:53 (on the double to win districts).
Vince McNally, Conestoga Valley
McNally is one of the greatest talents that we have ever seen come through PA. From his freshman season, he was a star. Lost in the shuffle of a loaded Lancaster-Lebanon, McNally took 13th at XC states as a frosh. He followed that mark with an outdoor state title, splitting 1:55 as the third leg of a 7:40.06 4x800 relay. By the end of his sophomore season, McNally had clocked 15:02 for 5k, taken bronze at XC states and set himself up as the favorite to take over the state once the Miller boys graduated.
However, things weren’t easy for Vince. He had to battle injuries during the next fall and settled for 5th in the state. During indoor track, he was well back from the leaders in the mile. Eventually, though, he rounded back into peak form and he hit his stride for the outdoor season. Vince entered the state 1600 feeling confident and strong for perhaps the first time all year and the results reflected it-he clocked 4:11 with about a 2:01 second half for gold. Then, extending his season out to nationals, he ran 4:08.99 for a full mile, or 4:07.55 converted for 1600. Vince is still in the top 10 ever for PA high schoolers in the event. If you don’t count indoor times, he’s even higher on the list as Josh Hoey, Noah Affolder and Sam Ritz drop out from ahead of him leaving only Vandegrift, Lowry and Magaha.
As a senior, Vince didn’t eclipse that 1600 PR, but he continued to add to his legacy. He qualified for Footlocker Nationals in XC, ran another 15:02-this time at LLs, placed all-state for the indoor mile and dropped 4:13-1:55-9:05 marks on the outdoor oval. It would have been interesting to see McNally shift his focus to the 3200 outdoors. He ran 9:05 very early in the season and beat Dennin head to head. However, McNally decided to stick with his original success at 1600 and try to defend his title. Ultimately, he didn’t have the kick to hold on and win another gold in the event. But we will get to that.
Led by the aforementioned Max Kaulbach, GFS rolled to back to back independent league championships in XC. They also represented the state proudly in some marquee invitationals including Paul Short where they took home the gold. Germantown Friends was 5th at the first ever Nike Team Northeast Regional championships, one spot back of PIAA champs North Penn. Kaulbach was 2nd in the region and Jake McKenzie was 13th.
On the track, the GFS boys impressed as well. After running some fast times in the DMR, they decided to focus their energies on individual events at the indoor state championship. Kaulbach set the tone winning the mile and was joined by teammate Isaac Ortiz on the medal stand (6th). In the 3,000 meters, Kaulbach doubled off his 4:15 for 3rd in a time of 8:37. This time, it was Jake McKenzie who accompanied him at the awards, placing 6th with a time of 8:48.
Because they loaded up on the individual events, GFS decided to run a completely fresh DMR without any of their big three legs. Despite the absence of their seniors, a young squad competed valiantly with the deep field and clocked a time of 10:41 for 7th overall and another round of state medals. Their point total placed them 5th in the state and was made up completely of distance events. At indoor nationals, Kaulbach added an individual national title in the 2 mile and their 4xMile relay took 3rd in the same meet, dropping a very quick 17:34.
Outdoors, the focus shifted back to the relays where the team could shine. They dropped an early season 4x8 at 7:47.50 at the CB West Relays and asserted themselves as an early PA #1. Then, they rolled to the Penn Relays Championship of America in the DMR. Ortiz set the tone from the jump, running 3:07 on his 1200 leg, while Kaulbach brought it home with a 4:15.1 anchor. Their final time was 10:11.54 and they had a winning margin of exactly 5 seconds over indoor state champs LaSalle.
The Knights in blue had already labeled themselves a “Dynasty” before the 2007-2008 season was underway. The team’s 4x800 relay had won 8 of the previous 10 indoor state championships, including the most recent three seasons. In the spring of 2007, after a drought in their favorite relay, a team of Justin Bookheimer, Brian Quintrell, Steve Franks and Zack Montijo brought the outdoor golds back to North Penn, outdueling a talented squad from Baldwin with a 7:43.22. All four of those guys were set to return in 2008 to defend their title.
During the indoor season, North Penn quickly established their dominance. Montijo, Bookheimer and Franks all entered the open 800 meters at the indoor state championship and took down 2nd, 5th and 6th respectively. They entered the 4x800 relay with tired legs-with the exception of lead off runner Brian Quintrell. But any doubts about their victory were quickly erased as Quintrell handed off at the front of the field, clocking a 1:57.08 split on leg 1. North Penn’s final time was 7:48.99, a new state meet record. Montijo soloed the final leg with a time of 1:55.45. The team clinched the state title with over 40 points. To cap off the indoor season, North Penn broke their own indoor state record by clocking a 7:47.48 at the indoor national championships to roll to the national title at the Armory by nearly 5 seconds.
After their electric indoor performance, it was on to outdoor track. They had bested records on the short track, but taking down the fabled 7:36 4x800 record would be much tougher. Things didn’t start great for the Knights at the Penn Relays either. After cruising through the preliminary round, North Penn entered the finals hoping to win the Championship of America against top Jamaican squads Calabar and Manchester. Quintrell held his own on the crowded lead off and handed off in third at 1:58.7. Steve Franks dropped a huge 1:53.4 to keep them at the front on the second leg and then Justin Bookheimer opened up the lead with a 1:54.9 split. That meant Zack Montijo had the stick in his hand with a lead. Up until this point, he had been money in that position.
But in a stunning turn, Montijo faded on the last lap and Machester soared by on the anchor leg. Montijo clocked an uncharacteristic performance, dropping a 1:57.4 split and North Penn had to settle for 2nd-7:44.39 to 7:43.22.
However, North Penn did not let it get them down. The Knights demolished a strong field at the District One Championships, clocking 7:44.81 and winning by nearly 8 seconds. In the finals at states, with heavy pressure on their backs, North Penn did not disappoint. Quintrell started things with a 1:57.54, then Steve Franks dropped a 1:53.68 on leg #2. Even with those fast times, North Penn still had company from CB West who had run arguably their best two legs in the 1-2 position. Once again it was Justin Bookheimer’s job to break things open and he did just that, opening up a big lead with a 1:54.16 carry. Now it was down to Montijo. Running completely alone and vulnerable, Montijo launched right into action. Unlike the Penn Relays, he ran strong and composed the entire way and torched the track en route to a 1:53.08 carry. The clock stopped on North Penn’s epic relay with a time of 7:38.79. It wasn’t faster than Wissahickon’s state record, but, at the time, it was the 2nd fastest 4x800 relay in the history of the state. Note-at the time.
Oh, by the way, the 2007-2008 North Penn Knights were also the state champions during XC earlier that fall. After not even qualifying for states the year previously, North Penn decided to turn it up a notch. Montijo and Quintrell were both integral parts of their XC success, each breaking 16 minutes at Lehigh. Montijo was the team’s #1 runner at states with a 6th place finish. However, the big lift came from sophomore Brad Miles. In one of the best sophomore performances ever, Miles clocked a 15:24 at districts and went on to take 10th at states and 7th at regionals. Miles, Montijo and Zach Hoagland (posted all time marks at Carlisle and Briarwood) all were medalists for the state and district champions.
Overall, North Penn came just 10 points shy of winning the triple crown-XC, Indoor Track and Outdoor Track. The Knights won both the 4x8 and the 4x4 relay (3:15.54) with their middle distance prowess and also had medalists in the 400 and 800. But it wasn’t enough as Altoona, led by sprinter Aaron Nadolsky and timely field events, scored 44 points and knocked off the D1 powerhouse.
Best “The 11” Story
The 2008 season was the last year before the PIAA let the PCL in to race with the rest of the state so we never got to see Dan Lowry go for an individual state championship in cross or outdoor. During the indoor season, Lowry decided to skip any individual events to focus on the DMR. So again, no individual title.
But Lowry was unquestionably strong. After winning the PCL championship, Lowry took 12th at the Footlocker Northeast Regional and came just a few spots away from joining PA’s big three at nationals. During indoor track, Lowry ran a 4:12.51 anchor leg to win the DMR championship by 14 seconds. His squad ran a meet record 10:15.89 that stood all the way until Carlisle’s national record squad was able to knock it off the list. Lowry also split 4:12.2 on the anchor at the Penn Relays, the fastest split of the meet. It was good enough to move his team past 8 others and into 2nd place overall.
Outdoors, Lowry ran 4:13.49 at the PA Distance Festival in the full mile distance to cap off his racing career. Although he had a rabbit in coach Greg Bielecki, Lowry ended up winning the race by some 6 seconds over the next closest competitor. That time converts to 4:12.02 for 1600 and would be in line with PRs from Nick Crits, Greg Kareis and TJ Hobart (the top 3 at states). Lowry was a team player, a gutsy anchor runner and a talented individual athlete. He went on to become a sub-4 miler and one of the fastest PA-native 5k runners ever (maybe the fastest?). I’m sure he would be a fascinating story, but also an under told one.
Khalif Featherstone is one of the most interesting runners in state history. Although he’s more sprinter than distance runner, the Simon Gratz grad could really do it all from the time he first stepped on the track as a freshman. After producing big times his first season, the sophomore led Simon Gratz to state championships in the 4x1, 4x4 and 4x8 relay. He anchored the 4x8 in a time of 1:52, knocking off title hopefuls North Penn, and brought home the 4x4 title with a carry of 46 seconds. Both wins were come from behind victories by the sophomore. Featherstone also split a 1:52.2 on an indoor SMR that got Simon Gratz near the national record.
But ultimately Khalif ended up more of a 400 runner than an 800 runner. It would have been interesting to see him truly test himself in the 800, but he ran the 4-8 double his junior season (the great “what if” open 800 from a post ago) and left himself out of gas for the second race. As a senior, he won long coveted state titles at 400 meters and skipped out on the 800 yet again. Not sure if it is a “what if” or a “the 11” kind of storyline, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t include Featherstone in with this class of guys.
And for added controversy, Featherstone graduated high school in 2008 at the age of 19 years old, making him on the older side for a high schooler.
This was another interesting storyline. Norristown, not known for their distance prowess, caught momentum at the right time and earned the silver medals at states for the 4x800 relay. In the fall, Norristown was 52nd in the district for cross country. Even the individual results for their 800 legs in the 2 and 4 lap races were lacking. But when the pressure was on, Norristown ran 7:45.44 with a balanced line up and took 2nd behind only one of the greatest 4x8 relays of all time in North Penn.
I’m just going to leave that here. It’s the #1 race from my PIAA all-decade races list for a reason.
Biggest “What If”
What if Tom Troxell didn’t lose his shoe?
For those of you unfamiliar with minor details from 4x8s that happened almost 10 years ago, allow me to fill you in. Tom Troxell of Cedar Crest entered the 2008 outdoor state championships as one of the sport’s biggest rising stars. He had run 1:52.61 at his district championship in the middle of a triple and rolled to the individual title. That time made him the #1 seed in the open 800. Cedar Crest was also the district champs in the 4x8 (#6 seed) and 4x4 (#3 seed). For most, they were a compelling sleeper pick in a variety of events.
On Day One, the Cedar Crest relays qualified through to the finals with relative ease and Troxell won his section of the individual 800. Everything was going well. Day two for Troxell would start with the 4x8. He got the baton in the mix with a pack of teams competing for the silver. However, during his leg he was clipped from behind and lost his shoe. Despite this loss, he was able to gut out a carry around 1:53-1:54 and help his team to 5th overall. However, he was rolling when he lost the shoe and it’s not crazy to think he could have put together something heroic and chased down a higher position. Then, in the 800 finals, Troxell was feeling the effects of running a hard race without a shoe. He had to DNF the open 800 opening the door for a surprise state champion … Tom Mallon, a sophomore from CB South, stunned everybody with an epic 1:52.35 carry for the gold medal. That race set the stage for big things to come from Mallon and his CB South teammates. But, unsurprisingly, we will get to that later.
What if other teams cared about the 2008 Indoor DMR?
As mentioned earlier, a huge carry from Dan Lowry helped LaSalle absolutely roll to the indoor state championship in the DMR in a record setting time. But LaSalle was not necessarily favorites entering that meet. The top seed was Engineering & Science, led by state champion hopefuls in Elliot Rhodes (won the indoor 800) and Terrence Lee (won the outdoor 1600) along with speedsters like Austin Perron. However, E&S was doubling everybody, including anchor Terrence Lee off the 3,000 meters.
Germantown Friends was stacked (as evidenced by their DMR title at the Penn Relays), but they opted to load up the individual events and skipped out on the relay. Archbishop Ryan, who went on to become national champions at NSIC, chose the 4x8 over the DMR. Sean Mallon would have been their anchor. He ran a 4:15 anchor split in his best race at NSIC and also medal indoors at the mile, taking 3rd overall. Ryan was the Last Chance Meet Champions in the DMR and runner-ups to LaSalle at Meet of Champs.
CB East, who took 2nd in the 4x8, had the potential to unleash a dangerous DMR. If you combine their 4x8 pieces with the indoor state 3k champion in Josh Izewski you would have a pretty loaded squad. North Penn could have done damage (but they were always gonna pick the 4x8) and HG Prep or Wissahickon had nice squads as well. Out of the top teams that did actually enter (Baldwin, Upper Dublin, E&S) basically everyone was doubling (or tripling) a key leg.
Ultimately, this ended up a little bit of a one team race as LaSalle won big. If they had more competition, maybe they could have been pushed to an even faster time. Who knows what we could have seen from Lowry on a more urgent anchor leg? We have to give major props to Penncrest for impressing with their silver medal performance. That is one of the more unlikely DMR rises we have seen in recent years and they put it together perfectly on race day. Could things have been different if the race was more crowded out front?
It's not my favorite “what if”, but it’s something I think about from time to time.
My Personal Best Running Moment
Yes, I’m doing two moments again. Sorry.
The Quarter Bet
This was my first breakthrough moment in track. I think there’s a chapter on this in All My Friends are Runners that might sum it up best, but basically I ran a 56.9 in the 400 the day after a workout when I had never even broken 60 before that race. It was the race that first made me feel like I could actually be kinda decent at running.
The Best Race of My Life
Even now, having run for a decade since this race happened, I still feel that the 2008 Suburban One Conference Championships slow heat of the 800 meters is the greatest race I have ever run. It’s not the fastest, but it’s the best. I got the most out of myself that day that I can ever remember getting. Maybe it was just the first time that I really pushed myself (I was a young kid who didn’t know much about racing) and that makes it feel like the best race I’ve had, but regardless I’m sticking with it.
I didn’t even know if I was going to make it into the race. To that point, I had only run 2:07 in the 800 (hand time) so I was a bubble guy just to get into the meet. If I wasn’t running the 800, I was going to be entered in the 3200 (quite the difference) because my time stacked up better in that event. So it was hard to prepare. I warmed up with our other 800 guys and checked in to see if I would be accepted. By my count (and I could be way off on this) I may have been the last guy in. But I got the chance and I didn’t look back.
The first 400 I went out hard in about 61 seconds (my PR prior to the quarter bet). That was quick for a 2:07 guy, but back then I used to do stupid stuff like that all the time. I didn’t learn how to even split for another 6 years. The difference was, this time I was able to hang on. I pushed hard the third 200 meters and, when it seemed like I had nothing left, I found another gear for the last 200. I ended up gradually moving up through the heat, passing some guys who I knew were faster than me and nearly kicking down the top guy for the win in the slow heat. My final time was 2:04.82. A year earlier I ended my season running 2:21.
My legs actually kinda gave out as I crossed the line (I tried to do a lean for no real reason and fell over) and I just laid down on the track for a while as one of my friends (shout out Ryan Desch) ran over to the side of the fence and yelled “Felix-2:04!” to which I responded with a small wave of appreciation. Later on, I threw up a peanut butter sandwich and a hot dog in the stands at PW High School. Sophomore year was a simpler time.
PA’s Fastest Seniors
1. Elliot Rhodes, Germantown Academy (E&S) 1:52.43*
2. Tom Troxell, Cedar Crest 1:52.61
3. Brian Fulton, Malvern Prep 1:52.77
4. Nick Crits, Wissahickon 1:53.47
5. Joe Capecci, CR North 1:53.48
T-6. Tyler Golden, Central Dauphin 1:53.55
T-6. Ben Scheetz, Manheim Township 1:53.55
8. Chris Pregler, CB West 1:53.73
9. Dave Farina, Norwin 1:53.82
10. Steve Franks, North Penn 1:53.88*
11. Ben Hatch, Bellwood-Antis 1:54.05
12. Zack Montijo, North Penn 1:54.12
13. Eli Weeks, Owen J Roberts 1:54.25*
14. Trevor VanAckeren, Liberty 1:54.39
15. Max Kaulbach, GFS 1:54.7h
1. Vince McNally, Conestoga Valley 4:07.55c*
2. Nick Crits, Wissahickon 4:11.69
3. Dan Lowry, LaSalle 4:12.02c
4. Greg Kareis, Red Lion 4:12.94
5. Terrence Lee, E&S 4:14.25ic
6. Max Kaulbach, GFS 4:14.32ic
7. Jake McKenzie, GFS 4:15.44c
8. Trevor VanAckeren, Liberty 4:15.91*
9. Chris Aldrich, Henderson 4:16.43*
10. Sean Mallon, Ryan 4:16.59ic
11. Dave Adley, Baldwin 4:16.63
1. Max Kaulbach, GFS 8:58.69e
2. Mark Dennin, Boyertown 9:03.63
3. Chris Bodary, Bishop Shanahan 9:03.83ic
4. Vince McNally, Conestoga Valley 9:05.1
5. Chris Aldrich, Henderson 9:07.53
6. Nick Crits, Wissahickon 9:15.62
7. Greg Kareis, Red Lion 9:15.74*
8. Josh Izewski, CB East 9:16.03ic
9. Chris Cipro, Seneca Valley 9:19.19*