Will Alston, who had been an assistant girls cross-country coach at Ridge for the past two years, has been elevated to girls head cross-country coach, Ridge Athletic Director Rich Shello has announced.
Alston takes over at Ridge for Tim Mooney, who recently retired from teaching at Ridge and was forced under a NJ pension law to step down from coaching after building a powerhouse XC program during a legendary 33-year run as head coach at Ridge. Mooney is now an assistant XC coach at Union Catholic.
Alston inherits a Ridge team which last year won its fourth straight Somerset County title, placed second at the Skyland Conference Championships, second at the North 2 Group 4 meet, second at the State Group 4 Championships, and capped its season by placing ninth at the Meet of Champions. Ridge has now finished in the top 10 at the MOCs 14 times, all since 2003. Ridge won the MOCs titles in 2015 and '16.
"It's one of those things that I wasn't really expecting, but it's a great opportunity that came my way,'' said Alston. "I won't lie, it's a little intimidating at first when you enter a program that has had a lot of success for so many years and has done something pretty special. So you want to make sure you do right by it. I'm looking forward to the road ahead.''
This isn't Alston first head coaching job. Alston, who ran at Matawan High School (Class of 2009) and Rowan University (Class of 2013), served as the head men's and women's XC coach at Brookdale Community College from 2013-17. Additionally, Alston was a volunteer coach at Matawan from 2014-18 under his former high school coach, Hall of Famer Sam Turner.
Alston said he's received lots of support and guidance from Mooney and Nicole Gilhuley. Gilhuley has had a lot of success as the head coach of the Ridge boys XC team.
"I've been talking with Coach Mooney about what's worked for him in the past, and with Coach Gilhuley, who has had a lot of success with the boys team at Ridge,'' said Alston, an instructional aide in the Special Education Department at Ridge High. Coach Gilhuley has been a major force with helping me right now.''
Alston said it's disappointing that the Somerset County, State Group Championships, and Meet of Champions have all been canceled this season for safety concerns due to COVID-19, but he's still focused on having a great season and hitting certain goals.
"Obviously the setting for this season is different than what it's been like before, but the goals are the same in terms of having the athletes compete at their highest level,'' said Alston, who has four of the top seven runners returning this season. "It's a bummer that the big meets like the Meet of Champions won't be held, so it's disappointing that the kids won't be able to experience that this season. This is the hand we've been dealt, but we are going to still work hard and do what we can to improve and have as successful a run as we can at whatever meets we have. At least right now we have something in front of us to work toward.
Alston is confident that Ridge will once again be among the top packs in the state this fall.
"There is no reason why we can't go after teams like North Hunterdon (the Meet of Champion winner the past three years), Ridgewood (2nd at the MOCs last year), Middletown South (the Group 3 champs last year), Haddonfield, Colts Neck, and all the other great teams in the state. But I also want my team to have fun and enjoy the season. I'm really excited to see what we can do.''