In a historic season, the Princeton High School cross country team has set records and claimed gold. The boys swept their first four postseason meets, culminating in the program’s first Meet of Champions title.
The Meet of Champions pitted the state’s best teams against each other in a 5k run. Last year, the Princeton boys placed tenth with an average time of 16:59.5. The team of seven largely remained the same, with Acasio Pinheiro ’19, who placed 24th overall, joining its ranks. This year they averaged a run time of 16:31.2.
Beforehand, Co-Captain Alexander Roth ’17 said, ‘‘We’re excited to set a new principle for what’s attainable for Princeton.’’
Princeton edged out Colts Neck High School and six-time returning champion Christian Brothers Academy, with a score of 104, compared to Colts Neck’s 106 and CBA’s 109. The team was unsure of the results until they were recited by Head Coach James Smirk.
“Having our coach come up to us and read out the scores, it wasn’t that we didn’t expect to win, but we knew it would be close, and we knew how good the teams on the other side were. So to know that, out of the hundred or so teams in the state, that we were the best was incredible,” said William Hare ’18.
Princeton’s victory was possible because of improved individual performances from its returning runners. Co-Captain Alexander Roth ’17 placed third after finishing 21st the year before. Hare improved from 89th to 10th, and Alex Ackerman ’18 from 103rd to 48th.
Earlier in the season, the boys took home their first County Championship since 1992. They triumphed over West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South in a 29-point victory. The team lost by 3 points in the previous County Championships. This year they also took home the JV state title, which matches each team’s seventh to fourteenth fastest runners against each other.
“We weren’t favorites going into the JV State Meet, but we ended up upsetting a couple of teams, and it was great,” Roth said.
The team’s momentum and preparation carried it toward its first Group 4 sectional title and fourth Sectional Title overall. They set the new course record with a 16:05 average, with six out of seven runners placing in the top 17 of a group of four individual county champion runners.
The boys qualified for the Meet of Champions with a first place finish at States, which marks Princeton’s first Group 4 State Championship. They clocked three runners in the meet’s top ten and placed third in the state overall.
“[The biggest change this year is] the mindset that we belong with anybody else in the state, and that we have the people to run with anybody else in the state. It changed the way we practiced, prepared, and competed,” Hare said.
The team hopes to continue its string of victories at the Nike Northeast Regionals, which requires a top-two finish to advance to the Nike Nationals in Oregon.