Boys cross country only Mercer County team to advance to Meet of Champions

As one of the strongest teams Head Coach Mark Shelley has seen in the past several years, the boys cross country team bested the average team finishing time set in previous years at every invitational meet it attended. The team’s season culminated in a postseason run, in which they won the Colonial Valley Division for the first time since 1993 and beat rivals West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South four times over the course of three weeks.

Alex Roth ’17 leads the race at the NJSIAA Central Group IV sectional meet at Thompson Park on November 7. Photo Illustration: Nathan Drezner

Alex Roth ’17 leads the race at the NJSIAA Central Group IV sectional meet at Thompson Park on November 7.
Photo Illustration: Nathan Drezner

“It was a very loaded divisional meet and to be able to beat West Windsor-Plainsboro South and everybody else was a really big deal for our kids,” Shelly said.

The Little Tigers went on to finish second in the Mercer County Championship, losing by three points to Robbinsville High School. The team regarded its performance at the NJSIAA Central Group IV sectional meet as subpar despite its third-place finish.

“The fact that the race was so slow gave us the false impression that we weren’t feeling good that day so it kind of killed our confidence as a team,” Hare said.

As part of the top five teams in Central New Jersey Group IV the team earned a spot for the NJSIAA Group Championships also know as states, held at Holmdel Park. The course, infamous for its rigorous terrain, would be the site of the NJSIAA Meet of Champions.

Going into the state meet the team began to taper, lowering the top seven runners’ mileage in order to have fresh legs going into the big meet. The varsity team was comprised of Alex Roth ’17, Will Hare ’18, Alex Ackerman ’18, Jeremy Taylor ’15, Cy Watsky ’17, Nick Delaney ’18, and Eli Wasserman ’19. With only one senior running on the varsity team, it was up to junior star Roth to motivate his teammates, and he delivered. Roth shattered the school course record, running the five kilometers in 16:11 and beating the previous mark of 16:23. He finished twelfth out of the hundreds of other runners that raced that day. Along with finishing fifth in the fastest group at the meet, the Little Tigers set a new team average time record, averaging sub-17 minutes at the course for the first time in PHS history.

“Today we took a big step forward. Before this, we seemed like we were a bunch of individuals running rather than a group. Today we put it all together and got in a pack,” Hare said after the state meet.

Early in the race Roth created a gap, running with the top group. A close pack formed consisting of Hare, Watsky and Ackerman with Taylor and Delaney close behind.

“The race went out at a pretty moderate pace. I kind of tucked into the second pack but the opening pace was pretty moderate,” Roth said.

By the second mile, Roth had distanced himself from the main pack, running in fifth overall. With Hare in second Taylor, and Ackerman traded the lead of a smaller pack further back. As the finish neared, Roth emerged from the woods in fifth but was nicked at the line to finish sixth. Hare crossed next, in twenty-eighth place. Ackerman exited the woods as third for the team with Taylor following closely going into the final two hundred. Watsky rounded out the scoring points as fifth for the team with Delany having to drop out after pulling his hamstring. Freshman Eli Wasserman had only raced once at Holmdel before the meet, yet was less than thirty seconds away from the freshman record at the course which Roth had set in 2013.       

“Our goal was to get space to work. Cy did a good job in the first 800 to get separation, then it was my turn so I led from the 800 to the mile mark and from then we all had the amount of space needed to make our moves,” Hare said.

Qualification for the Meet of Champions required a top three finish in a group. The Little Tigers finished fifth in Group IV, and qualified as one of the wildcards—the two fastest non-qualifying teams. Princeton advanced as the second wildcard with the tenth-fastest time heading into the Meet of Champions. The qualification was the first for the Little Tigers since 1986. At the Meet of Champions, the team hopes to finish within the top ten by using its pack-running strategy early in the race. They are currently ranked tenth in the state by NJ


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