GFS Cross Country Meets On Their Own
Philadelphia - To be the best, you have to put in the effort. Any high school athlete who has ever had championship aspirations knows that.
You work hard. You play hard. Hopefully, everything pays off in the end.
Then there is the Germantown Friends boys' cross country team, which takes it to a whole new level.
Like any other team in the area, the Tigers train after class every day - except for those days they have meets.
But they take it a step further. Sundays, apparently, are no longer days of rest for the Quaker school boys. But there's more to it than just running.
After the run, we all just sit around in a circle in silent worship, said senior Isaac Ortiz, referring to the Quaker meeting the team holds after practice every Sunday to balance out the fact that they are working on the Sabbath. A few guys stretch, no one really says anything. In a Quaker meeting, you just, when the light of God moves you, you get up and speak. I think it's more relaxing than it is during school because it's everyone you know. It's kind of like a small worship gathering.
The Quaker meeting is not a practice observed by many cross country programs. In fact, this past Sunday was the first time the team has held one. But it seems to be working for the Tigers, who enter the 2007 season as No. 2 team in the state and the No. 4 team throughout the entire Northeast region.
And with a tandem of three seniors leading the way - Max Kaulbach, Jake McKenzie and Ortiz - GFS is looking to not only take the state and region by storm, but the entire nation as well.
We didn't even really know what sort of potential we could have, McKenzie said. Our freshman year, the focus of the year was to just win the Friends League championship because that's all we really knew. Then in 10th grade, we started to think about our potential on a national level.
But even four years ago, first-year coach Rob Hewitt had a vision that they could be one of the best in the country. It's why he told his new batch of freshmen that their goal would be to qualify for Nike Team Nationals by their senior year.
I've known since they were freshmen, the top three kids, that this was a special group, Hewitt said. I knew from the first time I watched them, and each year they got the confidence that it was all really coming together.
Kaulbach is the backbone of the three-time defending Friends League and defending Pennsylvania Independent Schools champions, having finished only 10 seconds (15:54.5) out of qualifying for the Foot Locker Nationals last year.
This season, he is the fifth-fastest runner returning in the Northeast region, but decided to forego the individual qualifier for nationals. Instead he will focus on the team event - both races are scheduled for Nov. 24 - because he knows how much a team championship would mean to the squad.
It's just because the team is more important than my personal success, Kaulbach said. I guess I do have a better shot at making Foot Locker nationally, but it's really just because the team is more important. I can't take away that opportunity from everyone.
The Tigers have already showed their strength locally by defeating some of the top teams in the area in a 4x2 mile relay event last weekend. The team of Jake McKenzie, his sophomore brother Max McKenzie, Ortiz and Kaulbach defeated such teams as La Salle, West Chester Henderson and Upper Dublin with a time of 43:40.5. It was more than 45 seconds ahead of the second-place team.
The Tigers are so deep that their B squad came in sixth place out of 28 teams with a time of 46:48.
We've been proving year after year, since our freshman year, that we're this strong, Kaulbach said. But it's not just three deep. It's not just that we have a few stars. It's also the depth.
And now the runners will face one of their toughest challenges of the year this weekend as they venture up to Connecticut to compete in the Hartford Cross Country festival against the top two teams in the Northeast - Danbury (Conn.) and Glastonbury (Conn.).
A win there would certainly catapult them to the top of the rankings and bring them one step closer to achieving that goal they set four years ago.
If we do really well this weekend, that will definitely show them that we're not just kidding around, Ortiz said. We're for real.
But until then, the Tigers will keep training. And maybe during their Quaker meetings, their prayers will be answered with a trip to nationals.
The only thing I'm worried about (with the Quaker meetings) is the winters, Ortiz said. I don't know what we're gonna do. Are we gonna go inside? We need to figure something out.

eth Goldstein can be reached at