Salute To Seniors is a medium for "senior farewells". We invited the 2020 seniors to tell their stories from the past four years. With the loss of the spring season we hope we can offer a chance to reflect on all the great moments this class did get to experience.
We have a few more to post and look to wrap the series up with July, if you would still like to submit you are welcome to do so before July 21st.
What was your most memorable race?
My most memorable race was sophomore year, winning the JV race at PTXC in 2017 . My freshman year I wasn't even an alternate for our varsity team, who didn't make it to MOC that year. On time I was the 9th runner at the start of the season, but my coach knew my potential. I had been staying with the top 7 in all the workouts and beating a few of them, but nonetheless I ran JV. Little did I know that would be my last ever JV race.
I have never seen so many guys stop dead and walk over mud as I did during this race. With a mile to go, it was just me and a kid from Loudoun Valley battling through the mud pits. The last mile was a blur but I remember pulling away through the mud and up the final long hill to the finish. I wanted to win so badly I used all my kick up the hill and practically crawled the last 200m. It didn't matter, he died on the hill and I was home free.
That wasn't the memorable part. I remember hearing the seniors scream for me as I crossed the line. As an underclassmen, there's no greater feeling after a race than having the seniors and captains bombard you telling how great you did. I finally felt like I had been accepted and that I proved myself. This race was the confidence booster I needed to become the fourth runner later that season in the state championships.
Who would you consider your biggest competition over the past four years?
My biggest competitor was definitely my own training partner Zach Hodges, we're pretty much the same at the same level in practically every event. No matter what race I was running I always knew I was doing pretty good if I was within striking distance of him, and we often worked together to move up. We also had our fair share of rivalry fighting for spots and medals, but never hate. I credit him with some of my best performances.
As for my overall biggest competitor over my 12 years of running without a doubt was Jack Jennings. He's the one who told me about track in 1st grade, and we've been teammates ever since. He may have left me in the dust in high school but before then we were always about the same speed. It felt like every year we'd take turns being half a step in front of the other leading each other through every race. When I see him run all these amazing times in high school, I know I have the capability to do the same.
I personally think teammates are always your biggest competitors, but it keeps you motivated and focused everyday at practice.
What was your personal greatest accomplishment?
My personal greatest accomplishment was earning the very last medal at cross country MOC's this past season. Ever since freshman year when I watched the race I pictured myself on the podium. After 3 years of imagining that race in my head probably a thousand times, I got pushed into a tree at 1k. Clawing my way back to a medal position after being knocked back around 60th, would make this by far the most painful race of my life.
I had given up coming down the last steep hill of Holmdel, I was in 24th. When I saw the guys in front of my practically collapse over the last tiny hill, I knew that medal was mine. With 400m to go I gave it everything, passed all four guys and dove for it. I'll never forget that moment.
If you are writing a letter to your younger freshman self, what are some items that might include?
I wouldn't tell myself a thing. I may not have had the greatest high school running career but to me the memories I've made and the things I've accomplished are all I could ask for. Everyone has bumps or mistakes in their career that they wish they could change, but its those mistakes which make us better.
Although this isn't the ending any of us wanted there's still nothing I'd change about how we got here. If I didn't have all my failures or bad races, I wouldn't have made it this far.
What were the most difficult obstacles you had to overcome?
My Most difficult obstacle was getting over my back injury Junior year. I was injured all of sophomore track and I was finally healthy for XC. The injury didn't just affect my back though, my confidence was at an all time low. I was so afraid of the pain that I just wouldn't push myself in races.
I had a long talk with Coach Merrill, our throws coach, at the end of my Junior year and he told me to not dwell on it. He said work on your strength and your kick, it'll teach you to push through the pain when you have nothing left. Finally, the first race of my senior year, I toed the line with my head held high and my mind made up that I will run fast.
What will you miss the most?
I'll miss the bus rides. From the late nights at Ocean Breeze and Drew to the celebrations on the way home from Holmdel, they never failed to be entertaining. The scream as we go over the speed bump every time on the way back into the school. However the meet went, I always knew I'd be smiling on the ride home.
I'll miss Hamblen's mid workout stories. We'd be in the middle of 400m repeats and as we're on the line he'll start giving a history lesson, or a story about his childhood. I always appreciate a good Hamblen story to make us laugh. No matter how bad we were hurting or how out of breath we were I could count on coach to make us smile.
What advice would you give to younger athletes?
ALWAYS listen to your coach. Without Coach Hamblen, I don't even know how fast I would be or even who I would be. Your coach does what they believe to be best for your growth and the team's success, there's no other reason. They know whats best for you and they have designed a training plan that will make you better.
To my Mendham boys, you guys have the talent to be great next year, you just need to put in the work. We're lucky enough to have Hamblen who is like an XC guru, he knows how to make you all better now matter how fast you are going into the season. If you guys all start running in the summer and work hard, I can see more championships in your future.
What influence has your coach had with respect to your performance and overall life goals?
Coach Hamblen has done so much for me I wouldn't be who I am today if it weren't for him. He never stops believing in his athletes and he fills us with hope and makes us see our potential. He spends countless hours doing research to help us, and buys us new equipment if we hurt. No one cares about the team as much as he does, and no one has been able to motivate me more than his speeches at practice.
Coach Pacelli, my rec coach in middle school, was the one who prepared me for actual training. He began working with us in 7th grade and had us doing workouts and longer runs just like in high school. My freshman year I could hang with the seniors in the workouts and stay with them on the easy runs, thanks to his preparation.
Name the top New Jersey XCTF moment your have witnessed. Can by by level of greatness or just something that really stood out to you.
By far the greatest TF moment I witnessed was Jack Stanley winning the 800m at the Morris County Championships. What made it so great, was that he did it alone in the unseeded heat. Being an All-American in XC, he had only run the longer distances and had no official time in the 800m causing him to be unseeded.
The second the gun went off, he was instantly separated from the pack. Although there was another fast unseeded kid in the heat, he still blew away the field and ran a 1:54. The seeded heat, having watched the race and know the time to beat, didn't even come close. The 800m is the most painful race in my opinion, and running it alone with no one to chase makes it even harder. The level of mental strength and focus I witnessed in those 2 laps I don't think I will ever see again.
What are your post-high school or college plans?
I'll be competing at Monmouth University for the next few years. The potential All-American and Penn Wheel that were robbed from me this year, I'll be fighting for that on the college level.
Who would you like to say 'thank you' to?
Coach Hamblen, thank you for believing in me since freshman year. I hope I can continue to make you proud in the years to come.
Coach Merrill, thank you for bringing me out of my shell freshman year. I was a pretty quiet kid but it's impossible not to laugh and joke around with you.
Jack Stanley, thank you for being my idol and role model throughout my career. I'll be happy if I can even come close to your times someday.
Jack Jennings and Tim Lanahan, thank you both for all the memories over the past years. You two were the only constants through every year and season, I'll never forget it.
Zach Hodges, thank you for being my training partner and one of my closest friends. You better learn how to pace your own runs now.
Mom and Dad, thank you for only missing 3 of my countless races over my long career. I appreciate all the pictures and videos.
Past captains and seniors, thank you for all your guidance and memories. You guys were like coaches to me, I owe you all so much.
Anything else to add?
We will never forget this lost season, but we can't dwell on it. If there's one thing I learned at Mendham it's to use your losses and turn them into future successes.