The Westfield girls cross-country team, already one of the state's top returning squads, just got a whole lot stronger by adding some serious firepower to give the Blue Devils a potent pack for the upcoming season.
First-year head coach Joe Berardi, who has taken over at Westfield for longtime coach Jen Buccino (she's now an assistant at Westfield), said on Thursday that Katie Hamilton, who won the 1600m at the indoor Meet of Champions last March, and Isabel Boufarah have both joined the XC team.
This will be the first season of XC for the two seniors, although Hamilton did have a sparkling XC debut at the Nike NE Regionals last fall. Hamilton gave up soccer to run XC, and Boufarah has converted from volleyball.
Berardi expects Hamilton to be the No. 1 runner on his team and lead a fierce frontal attack for Westfield's deep pack. which returns its entire top seven from a team that was fifth in Group 4 and 12th at the Meet of Champions last year.
"Adding Katie and Isabel makes us stronger not just from a competitive standpoint, but they join a group of returning varsity seniors in Caroline Collins, Sammy Salz, Grace Endy, and Elizabeth Bielen that represent all the right stuff to keep building this program,'' said Berardi.
Berardi said Hamilton and Boufarah have fit right in, and their presence has made the whole team work that much harder.
"Katie and Isabel are easy to coach and have really embraced the sport in the first month or so of training,''' said Berardi. "They bring a very competitive edge and attitude to the team that as a coach you love to see. What I've seen at practice is everyone's game raised a little as a result of these two joining the team. They are such a positive influence on those around them and compliment what we're trying to build and sustain here so well.''
Berardi said he's hopeful that Westfield can compete with the top teams in the state.
"The goal is to compete wherever we end up and hopefully that serves us well as it has the past few years,'' said Berardi. "There are so many good programs out there. By getting Katie and Isabel it's exciting and speaks well of what we're doing in Westfield.''
Hamilton is coming off an electrifying indoor track season.
She became Westfield's first indoor Meet of Champions girls winner by capturing the 1600m in 4:57.15. She also won the Group 4 title in an NJ#1 US#14 4:56.05, an indoor PR, and split 4:56.98 when she anchored the DMR to victory in 12:03.36 at the North Shore Pre-Nats in February at the NY Armory. The 12:03.36 is a Westfield school record, No. 2 in Union County indoor history, and was NJ#2 and US#6 for the season.
Hamilton's 1600m PR is 4:53.16, which came from placing third in the 2019 Group 4 outdoor meet. She also owns an outdoor 800 PR of 2:12.85 from winning the 2019 North 2 Group 4 Sectional race.
Hamilton said her experience at the Team Nationals Northeast Regional at Bowdoin Park last November when she placed 17th in 19:24, and watching Westfield run at the state XC meets last year, convinced her to make the switch.
"After attending States last year to cheer on my teammates, and then having the opportunity to race at NXR, I was able to get a taste for cross country,'' said Hamilton. " When I finally decided to make the switch from soccer to XC, not only did I realize that I was itching for a new adventure in my life, but I had completely fallen in love with the atmosphere of cross country. My teammates have always said that XC is their favorite season, and from the brief exposure I had to it, I could finally understand their point-of-view. I will be forever grateful for all the memories I've made playing soccer, but I could not be more excited to continue to race this fall.'
Boufarah comes into her first cross country season with some impressive times on the track.
She ran her 1600m PR of 5:10.02 when she placed seventh at the State Group 4 meet last winter, and dropped her 800 PR of 2:19.23 at the 2019 Outdoor Group 4 Championships. Boufarah also ran a 3:46.26 1200m leg on Westfield's school record DMR (12:03.36) at the North Shore Pre-Nats meet.
Boufarah said there were multiple factors that went into her decision to run XC.
"There were a couple of things that went into the switch, but mainly I knew the cross country team was where I belonged,'' said Boufarah. " While we were quarantining during the spring, my running group stayed connected and motivated each other to keep working hard, even though it was tough doing all of our training alone. I realized this was the group I wanted to spend my senior year with. Although I love playing volleyball and have made some amazing friends from playing, I knew that I would have the best experience running cross country for my last year in high school. In addition, after losing the spring track season, I realized I wanted to keep running and have the ability to race, whether it was on a cross country course or a track. Finally, I do want to run in college and running cross country will help me achieve that goal. I'm most excited to compete as a team because track is more individual than cross country.''