Throughout the month of November, the Princeton High School boys and girls cross country teams have been tapering and preparing for their final meets of the season.
Their first championship meet was the Group III Central Jersey Sectionals, held on November 9. At the meet, the boys and girls teams placed second and third, respectively, qualifying for the State Meet on November 16.
“We have a pretty strong tradition here of cross country. We’re going on over a decade of qualifying for the state group meet, so I think it was pretty safe to say we had seen we were going to qualify for states,” said girls cross country head coach James Smirk. Smirk’s team could still have qualified even with a team score 120 points higher.
Conor Donahue ’14 led the boys team with an eighth place finish, an eight-place and 30-second improvement from last year. “I didn’t have as great of a season last year,” said Donahue. “I was really hoping to get back up to the top of the team [this year] and lead us to some really great things, and that’s how it’s been.” With last year’s top sectional finisher having graduated, Donahue and Jacob Rist ’15 have taken turns running the first spot for their team this season.
The top individual Princeton placement of the day came from Lou Mialhe ’16, who ran a personal best time on the course of 19:21 and placed sixth in her race. Although Mialhe was happy with the way the team raced, she was disappointed that it could not pull out a team championship. “One of our goals was to win Sectionals, which we didn’t exactly do, but we got pretty close,” she said. The girls team finished three points from Middletown North High School, who placed second, and ten points from now three-time sectional champion Middletown South High School.
A week after placing at the sectional meet, both the boys and girls teams competed in the NJSIAA Group Championships. The boys team placed 11th of 22 teams, with Alex Roth ’17 finishing in 17:16, the fastest freshman time on the Holmdel course in PHS history.
The girls team placed 9th of 22 teams, posting a 20:29 average—also the fastest of PHS history on the Holmdel course.
In addition to these final meets, some members of the cross country teams are going to Wappinger Falls, N.Y., to compete in the Nike Regionals the weekend after Thanksgiving.
“We’ve given the kids the option to run in the Nike Regional Meet,” said boys cross country head coach Mark Shelley. “It’s a really good opportunity for them to run some competitions and train for a couple more weeks.” The teams that race at the Nike Cross Northeastern Regional meet are some of the best in the nation; indeed, the race is one of eight held across the country that determine the qualifiers for the Nike Cross Nationals. Although qualifying for Nationals is not a hope for Princeton this year, competing in this race will give them valuable experience running a tough course against fast competition spread through hundreds of runners.
Although the boys team was invited to run in the Championship last year, this will be the girls’ first time qualifying in three years. Additionally, the teams will enter some of their JV runners in the open races. This year, there are 31 runners going to the Nike Cross Northeastern Regional meet, a sizeable increase from last year.
For the final meets of the season, Shelley tries not to put too much pressure on his runners, but works to motivate them by focusing on one race at a time. Additionally, he looks to the team morale to keep the boys going through the stress of the season.
“I think there’s a lot of chemistry and attitude; it’s been real[ly] positive,” said Shelley, “Just the camaraderie—[the boys] cheer for each other. There’s a healthy competition on varsity, but there’s not a jealousy, which is what you want to see.”
As other teams say their goodbyes and clean the turf out of their sneakers, in the season that never seems to end, cross country keeps on running.