When Wood-Ridge senior Christina Vazquez embarked on her first cross-country season a few weeks ago -- as a member of the school's first XC team in 25 years -- she had no idea what she was doing. None at all.
Vazquez, who had a few indoor and outdoor track campaigns under her belt, was a stranger in a strange land when she took part in her first jaunt through Darlington Park in Mahwah.
"It was a lot more difficult than I had ever imagined," Vazquez said. "I'm not gonna lie, it was just longer and totally different than track. At our first race we just ran and I had no idea where I was going. I had to run with the crowd and trust the person ahead of me."
Quinn Geraghty is the guy running ahead of the kids, carrying their trust.
As Wood-Ridge athletic director Marc Sinclair began searching this summer for a coach to grow this new program, he knew what he was asking of his candidates was no small task. The new coach would not inherit a cupboard full of experienced runners. The new coach would be building the program from the ground up, fostering a group of kids who knew literally nothing about the sport.
Of course, it didn't hurt that Sinclair already knew Geraghty before the 22-year-old sat down for his interview. Sinclair coached Geraghty on the Bogota freshman baseball team.
"I wanted to give the athletes the opportunity to compete, and Quinn gives our team the best chance to thrive," Sinclair said. "Running is in his blood -- he comes from a long lineage of runners -- so I knew he had passion. That's the biggest thing, it's contagious for the kids. There is definitely a buzz going through Wood-Ridge.
"So to have him working as a coach is huge for us. He's a phenomenal kid."
If the Wood-Ridge job seemed difficult enough, consider that Geraghty has no coaching experience and is still finishing his student teaching. Suffice it to say that accepting this post was a daunting proposal.
But not to Geraghty.
"The camaraderie is addicting. I fell in love with it at a young age and I wanted to extend that to others," Geraghty said. "Also, I wanted to watch these kids go from not knowing anything about the sport to doing well and reaching goals. It's a really exciting process."
The runners under Geraghty's guidance say he is honest and focused and excited when he's around them. The energy comes from his background, which includes many family members who ran cross-country and his grandfather, Joe Burns, who was instrumental in getting the first New York City Marathon off the ground in 1970.
Geraghty counts among his mentors two Hall of Famers. His cousin Pat Rochford ran at Bogota, guided Geraghty as a volunteer assistant and is in the Bogota Hall of Fame. Mike Glynn began the program at Paramus Catholic, he also coached at Ridgewood and is in the New York Armory Coaches Hall of Fame.
Armed with their vast knowledge, Geraghty said he never felt overwhelmed by his task at Wood-Ridge.
"I knew what I was getting into, but every once in a while I have to remind myself it's gonna take time," Geraghty said. "I remind the kids that they'll see improvement week to week and that's all I can ask for."
Junior Simon Santamaria said the team started a fundraising project on SnapRace (similar to Go Fund Me), and of this writing the team has raised more than $1,500, according to Sinclair.
The team's maiden voyage went off without a hitch. At the Season Opener Invitational on Sept. 7 at Darlington Park in Mahwah, Wood-Ridge pushed two runners into the top 10 in the JV girls small school race. Vazquez placed sixth overall (24:14) and junior Callie Negro was ninth (24:25).
Geraghty's energy and spirit have unquestionably inspired his runners, a group which numbered four when the team began training. Now the team is 14 strong, and the good news is spreading around school.
"He is the best," Santamaria said. "His workouts make him a really good coach, the way he pushes us and encourages us. And he's everywhere. You see him on every corner. I thought I was running fast and he's around the corner cheering for us.
"People around school are definitely talking about coach and our new team."