Boys cross country wields depth and mindset to succeed historic season

photo by Aaron Wu

Last spring, the boys cross country team took the Meet of Champions title for the first time, capping off a historic season which included winning county, sectional, and state titles to accompany the Meet of Champions trophy.

While the beginning of the season compared to last year’s is certainly very different, the team does not feel that many adjustments have to be made to maintain and exceed this level of success.

“The only thing that’s changed is [that] we’re on the radar now,” said Head Coach James Smirk. “I don’t think it’s really changing our approach to success. It’s always been built upon good hard work, patience, and commitment to each other as teammates. People are going to keep an eye out for us, [but] that doesn’t change our approach.”

This sentiment was echoed throughout the captainship, with Co-Captains Nick Delaney ’18 and Will Hare ’18 emphasizing the  straightforward “just another season” mentality in the context of that historic win.

“This season obviously means a lot to us. We have a target on our backs now. Last year, we could stroll on[to] the field with our uniforms, not feel too much pressure, and win the day. We’re going to have to pull through with a lot of fire and confidence this time, instead of sneaking our way onto the podium,” said Delaney.

“We [have] to prove ourselves again. We want to repeat, we want to qualify out of the region. Nothing’s really changed for us, other than the fact that we have a lot more confidence this year,” said Hare.

Although the team might have the same rugged, hardworking mindset, the inevitable aspect of high school sports is that students graduate and must be replaced by new blood. Former seniors Alex Roth ’17 and Cy Watsky ’17 were both on the winning team that day, finishing third and 86th, respectively. With two of the top seven runners gone, the efficacy of the running program will show as these spots are filled.

“I think with our maturity and our racing experience, and having been able to compete at the top level, we have a lot more confidence in our ability to perform there,” Delaney said. “It just means that the guys who were hangouts in the middle of the pack last year, like me, Jackson Donahue [’18], and Alex Ackerman [‘18], will really have to step it up and be right there with [Hare], as some of the top guys in the state. It’s really important that we fulfill that and give Will some support.”

And with the varsity runners increasing their responsibilities, the new members of the squad are appearing to be promising to the team as well.

“I think this year it’s going to be important that kids like Carter Serxner [‘20], Hunter [Pormilli ’18], Tucker Zullo [‘19], and Will Ratner [‘18] are going to step up and be varsity men going into their upperclassmen and senior years,” Delaney said.

The roster has depth beyond those aforementioned runners as well, with runners on the second team such as Nick Trenholm ’20 and Miles Harrison ’18. This also provides the team with insurance to continue the season in case of injury.

“We compete at a level where our ‘junior varsity’ [runners] are all varsity-level runners, that would all be top seven runners at other programs,” Delaney said.

Smirk believes their win at the Meet of Champions provided the team with a learning experience on how to perform during important meets, and gave an insight about how the team, as well as the program, can maintain such a high level of performance.

“Here’s the thing about our win last year. A lot of people called it a fluke, [and] a lot of people called it good luck. As a coach, I don’t really believe in those things. What happened was we had the day we needed to have on that day,” Smirk said.

As the season progresses and the postseason gets closer, Smirk feels that repeating as winners of the Meet of Champions is a real possibility for the team this year and for years to come.

“I think that how [Meet of Champions works] is you put yourself consistently in positions where you can take advantage of [good days]. You do that through planning, good hard work, [and] building a strong team. So, if we’re looking at, ‘can we repeat?’ Yeah. Because we’re doing those things. And if it shakes out our way, then that’s great.”

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