This year’s boys cross country team hopes to develop its limited but experienced senior leadership to train and work with this year’s large group of freshmen. Head Coach Mark Shelley defines “the process” as “taking where you are and working to get where you want to go,” which has been the focus of the team’s preseason and early season.
Emphasis has been placed on building the depth of the team by developing this year’s group of nearly 20 freshmen while still keeping training enjoyable.
“Depth … is having a lot of people at the same level who are able to replace anyone in the top seven … when one of [them] can’t come through,” said Jacob Rist ’15. “We need to focus a lot on our number eight, nine, 10, 11, 12 runners because we know we have a strong varsity but … we [also] need the [other] guys to step up because they’re just as important as the top runners.”
Depth is crucial to the success of a team; Shelley once lost a state title when the gap between his first and seventh runners was too large. Shelley wants to develop a team without such a gap by emphasizing depth. With so many freshmen on the team this year, bringing them up to speed is a key part of creating the needed depth.
“A couple freshmen have run really well so far for us, and they may very well either earn varsity spots or push for varsity spots in a few weeks,” said Shelley.
Having freshmen perform at a high enough level to earn a place on varsity creates a foundation for years to come and increases the number of runners that can be one of the seven selected to run varsity in an invitational or championship meet; notably Alex Ackerman ’18, Jackson Donahue ’18 and Nick Delaney ’18 have broken 19 minutes, earning them a spot on intervals.
“I think the freshmen have been doing really [well] so far—they’ve definitely exceeded my expectation and all have a very good work ethic, and are showing a lot of talent and a lot of dedication to the team and willingness to learn our ways,” said Rist.
Intervals consist of running distances at varied pace to improve cardiovascular ability and improve muscle memory. At this phase in the workout, runners exert the last of their energy and run their fastest, even as they become more fatigued throughout the workout. In order to qualify for intervals, runners must run a sub-19 minute 5K, meaning only the faster and more experienced members qualify. The younger members of the team have been doing primarily pace workouts and hill workouts to condition them to compete at the varsity level.
“We have [the freshmen] do harder stuff with the stronger guys, … basically training with people who are more experienced and better [so] they end up running as well as those people and are able to catch up,” said Alex Roth ’17.
There is never an intense focus on meets because Shelley believes that it can throw runners off their game, but he realizes that there are some challenging local teams.
“In the county there are three other teams that are very good. In the divisional meet we run against [West-Windsor Plainsboro High School] South and [West-Windsor Plainsboro High School] North ,” said Shelley. “South [is] way out there [in terms of skill]. And North, we’ve been literally a point within them the last couple years back and forth so it will be really close.” The team will face both of these schools during the divisional meet, which takes place in the last week of their season this year.
Shelley is excited about the maturity and work ethic he believes the freshmen are exhibiting despite their relative youth.