Cross country teams ride momentum through eventful postseason

photo by Aaron Wu

For the girls and boys cross country teams in the post-season, it’s all about overcoming obstacles and finding new energy.

Before sectionals, the girls cross country team was suffering from major injuries which kept them out of training and meets. These injuries affected some of the top varsity runners such as third runner Charlotte Gilmore 21, who suffered from a small tendon pinch, and fourth runner Erica Oake 21 suffered from problems with her Achilles heel.

“Two of our runners got injured a couple weeks ago. They haven’t been able to put in that much training … One of them hasn’t run in two weeks, and the other one is barely able to run a mile or two a day, which is kind of a scary question mark [and] creates uncertainty every time we go into a race. But everyone has been training super hard,” said co-captain Chloe Taylor 18.

However, an influx of newer runners to the team has helped to propel it to success at the Mercer County Tournament on 10/20, where they placed second overall behind West Windsor Plainsboro High School South and at sectionals on 11/4, where the girls team took fourth place in their group to qualify for states.

photo by Aaron Wu

“We lost a lot of runners from last year. We were a bit nervous coming into this year but we have a lot of freshmen. We also have [Siena Moran 19 who] moved here from London … so our team is full of new faces …  Our freshmen are running super well and we didn’t expect that,” Taylor said.

At sectionals, Taylor led the way, placing 9th to give Princeton a total time of 1:41:12.80, right behind powerhouse schools such as WWP-S, South Brunswick, and Hunterdon Central.

“For a team that’s been unranked all year, and in a section as deep and as challenging as Central Jersey, Group 4, we’re what we call a bubble team. [We were] not guaranteed to get through for sure, and probably had to have a really good day to even place fifth. Taking fourth, and taking a commanding fourth place really showed that we compete at a high level,” said Smirk.

On 11/11, with newer talent, such as Chloe Ayres ’21 and Emma Lips ’21, the girls cross country team competed in states and placed 14th to conclude their season.

Similarly, the boys team has been adjusting to different developments in the championship season.

“Last year was all about consistency, but this year [the question] is how do we race at an even higher level?” said Smirk. “This is part of the program and what we want for our athletes. [It is] definitely a different identity, [and] we’re more mature than we were a year ago.”

As part of reaching a “higher level,” the boys are looking to repeat their accomplishments from last season. On October 20, the boys cross country team won its second consecutive Mercer County Tournament title. Will Hare 18 and Acasio Pinheiro 19 secured first and second respectively in individual results to help PHS win the overall meet. This was a back-to-back individual title and team title, after recently graduated Alex Roth ’17 claimed first place last season. Teammates Alex Ackerman 18, Tucker Zulo 19, Jackson Donahue 18 and Nick Delaney 18 finished 12th, 17th, 18th and 24th, respectively, to help the team finish at the top.

The team then set their sights on sectionals, which took place on November 4th. PHS won its second consecutive Central Jersey, Group 4 sectional title, beating WW-P South and Hopewell, who they previously defeated during the MCT.

Throughout the season, the boys team has been focused on maintaining peak condition for championships.

“Every season as we get towards championships we start to taper, so we basically run less miles in order to do our best at these major championship meets,” said Ackerman.

On November 11th, the boys cross country team took second place at the NJSIAA/M-F Athletic Group 4 championship race. Hare took first by a five second margin, beating runners from Freehold Township and Howell Township.

This qualified the team for the Meet of Champions on 11/18. The team was looking to repeat their Meet of Champions title from the previous year, but they were still able to take fourth place. Individually, Hare came in fourth with a time of 15:55 and Pinheiro came in 14th with a time of 16:16.

After states and Meet of Champions, the boys team is also looking to qualify runners for the Nike Cross Nationals in Portland, Oregon. This meet takes place annually, and on average, a total of 25 to 35 teams participate. The top five runners of each region, as well as the top two clubs from each region compete at this national event.

“A big part of this season has been to peak and perform at the Nike Cross Nationals because the only question we left unanswered last year was, ‘Could this team compete at nationals against powerhouses in the Midwest, like Utah and Illinois?’” said Delaney. “Even though Roth qualified individually, we didn’t have enough left in our legs at the end of the season to compete against teams from New York and Pennsylvania at the Nike Cross Regional meet. Right now … we certainly have our eyes set on Nike Cross Regionals.”

For many of the varsity runners on the boys team, this will be their last season.

“Winning titles has attracted us new runners, and we had about 120 runners on the roster, which is a record for us,” said Delaney. “Once I graduate, I don’t want this program to decline, I want us to keep fighting for titles. I don’t want us to be a team of the past.”

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