Salute To Seniors is a medium for "senior farewells". We invited this year's seniors to tell their stories from the past four years. We hope we can offer a chance to reflect on all the great moments these seniors were able to experience.
The series will run through July, please note that there is usually a large queue of submissions so there may be a wait until final posting.
What was your most memorable race? Why is that?
My most memorable race wasn't actually a race but a time trial at Holmdel Park the Saturday after Sectionals at the Dream Park my senior XC season. Coincidentally this happened on the same day Meet of Champions would've happened had there been a normal season. It was my first time ever running the course, and my only goal that season was to run Holmdel Park. Unfortunately due to the cancellation of Shore Coaches Invitational, States, and MOCs, I had to run the course on my own time, so my parents drove me up to the course. While I ran a rather slow time of 20:00, I wasn't worried about how fast I ran the course, and I was proud of the fact that I ended my high school XC career running my new favorite course (sorry Timber Creek Park)!
Who would you consider your biggest competition over your four years and why?
My biggest competitor throughout my high school career is Gabe Renninger from West Deptford. Because both of our schools are in the Colonial Conference and Group 2, we saw each other at almost every meet. Our PRs were very similar which meant we would often be in the same heat at track races, and we would push each other to run our hardest at each race. I'm glad we got to stay in touch as he started college at Penn State.
During my senior year, my biggest competitor was Tyler Wells from Audubon, another Colonial Conference school. We first met each other at the 2019 Moorestown Invite where we both ran the 5k. I stuck with him for the first mile, but I fell off the last eight and a half laps. During my senior season, we had a lot of close races in dual meets: I nearly beat him at a cross country dual meet, and I ended up beating him at the line in the 800 at a snowball meet this past winter.
Even though they're girls, I would consider Sarah Naticchia, and Allison and Linday Colflesh, all from Haddonfield, to be good, indirect competition for me. Their PRs were similar to mine over the past three years, and seeing them break my PRs at meets made me want to drop my PRs even further especially in the 800.
What was your personal greatest accomplishment?
I'd say my personal greatest accomplishment is not getting injured and being in a consistent shape over the last four years. Early season shin splints almost ruined my sophomore XC season, but I cutted back on the mileage and slowed down on the easy runs to recover.
If you are writing a letter to your younger freshman self, what are some items that might include?
Run on the weekends and do more core and lifting.
What were the most difficult obstacles you had to overcome?
- During quarantine, it was somewhat hard for me to get out the door and run. My sleep schedule was messed up, and my motivation to run dropped because there were no meets to train for. At one point, I nearly gave up running altogether. Luckily, I managed to run about 40 miles a week on average before I took a break between spring and summer training. I was definitely burned out during quarantine.
- Breaking 5 minutes in the mile took a lot longer for me than it should. I wanted to do so my sophomore season, but I only ran it once during the spring season. I didn't break 5 until spring my senior year, and my current PR is 4:57 which is barely under 5 and nowhere close to where I want to be.
- Distance doubles are one of my biggest weaknesses. This spring, I ran both the 1600 and 3200 at every single meet. At the big meets such as the Camden County meet and the Haddonfield Invite, running the 3200 was a lot harder than it should be as I would run it an hour after running a hard 1600.
- Probably the biggest challenge I had was the lack of teammates that pushed me for the past year or so. This wasn't a problem when I was on the JV team when we had about 30 guys on the XC team, but a big one as soon as I got promoted to varsity my junior year. I've had many teammates quit running altogether, and the ones that didn't quit struggled to keep up with me and fall back. This meant I had to do nearly all my easy runs and workouts solo with no one to push me. Hopefully there is a renewed interest in distance running at Sterling, so that the team is more competitive in the fall and not allowing other teams in the conference to score over 20 easy points in spring track duals.
What will you miss the most?
I will definitely miss cheering on and hanging with my teammates and friends at meets. This was honestly the best part of going to meets in my opinion, and hanging out with everyone would always make up for a bad race.
I will also miss getting opportunities to run a good 800 and 3200 this year. I didn't run the 800 this spring despite running it 4 times in the winter, and with all the speed work I was given, I probably would've broken 2:10. My 800 PR currently is 2:16. I wish I got to run twilight meets such as the Cherokee and Holmdel Night of 3200s as it's likely I would've broken 11 by now.
The one team tradition I will miss the most is the bus rides home from Pennypacker. We would roll down all the windows, play loud music through speakers, and start singing and dancing, but we stopped doing that my junior year.
What I won't miss is the Dream Park and the Bubble even though I met a lot of great people at the latter.
What advice would you give to younger upcoming athletes?
- Run during the summer, so that you start off the official season in shape.
- More miles doesn't necessarily mean faster times. Some people run faster by running 30 miles a week; others by running 70+ a week.
- Take the easy days easy, otherwise you'll be fatigued come meet day. There's a reason Hobbs Kessler runs 9 minute miles on his easy days.
- HYDRATE HYDRATE HYDRATE!! Drink a lot of water even when it's not hot out. Avoid soda and other sugary drinks unless it's Gatorade.
- Make sure you recruit incoming freshmen and other underclassmen. Also start new traditions with the younger runners while passing down older traditions.
- You can't PR every meet. You'll have good races and bad races. Weather can be a huge reason why you don't PR at a certain race.
- Comparing XC times from two different courses is like comparing apples to oranges.
- Times do not matter in dual meets and state meets. In those meets, it's where you place and how many points you score that matter more.
- Try to make friends with others at meets. The NJ XC/TF community is close knit, and everyone supports each other. You might end up becoming friends with one of the best runners, spinters, throwers, jumpers, etc. in the state.
What influence has your coach had with respect to your performance and overall life goals?
Coach Baynes and Coach Shep definitely had big influences over the past few years. Coach Baynes prepared my team for the trails in the fall by having us do many tempo and threshold workouts off the track. Every so often, we would warm up to Grand Avenue in Stratford and do speed hill repeats. These kinds of workouts made me appreciate running off the track and preferring hilly courses over flat courses.
Coach Baynes also got me into watching college cross country and track. At practice, he would often talk about a recent race or a story from when he ran for Iona College, which consistently has one of the best Division I XC programs in the country. He would talk about the NCAA Championship Meet, to his alma mater winning 30 straight MAAC XC titles, to Richmond's women's XC team winning the A10 Championship meet at their home course. These conversations are what made me become a fan of Furman University's cross country teams (GO DINS!).
Coach Shep taught me the importance of speed work as well as helping me appreciate other track and field events. Most of my fall and winter workouts were stamina building based ones while most of my spring workouts were mostly 200 sprints and 400 repeats. Speed work is important for distance races especially in the bell lap where many runners start going all out to the finish line. At practices and meets, Coach Shep would encourage the team to support and cheer on each other in every event, and this helps tremendously with our team bonding. This kind of bonding helped me appreciate the fierce competitiveness of the high jump and shot put at the end of dual meets and the awe everyone is in whenever someone clears over 14 feet in the pole vault. Team bonding is important because you'll have teammates that support and push each other every day as well as creating traditions.
Name the top New Jersey XCTF moment(s) you have witnessed. Can be by level of greatness or just something that really stood out to you.
I'm going to list my top 5:
- Jackson Braddock runs an 8:48 3200 at States - This was the fastest 3200 I've ever seen in person, and the first time I've witnessed someone break 9 in the 3200. It's always great seeing one of the best runners in the country race well. I'm sure he'll do great things at UVA where he will become teammates with fellow Sterling alum Sydney Coppolino. GO HOOS!
- Lilly Shapiro runs a 10:18 3200 at the 2021 Cherokee Night of 3200s - I didn't get to run the Cherokee Night of 3200s this spring, but I came to the meet after practice to show support to my friends that did race and to see some fast, early season races. This was the fastest 3200 I've ever seen in person run by a girl, and I'm confident she will break 10:00 before she graduates high school next year.
- The 2019 Colonial Conference All Star Meet at Pennypacker Park - This was a race I was in, but eight boys broke 16 minutes on this fast course which hosts mostly dual meets. Even though Pennypacker is a flat and fast course, there are seldom sub 16 efforts, and the All Star meet when it's held at the course is really the only time sub 16 efforts are guaranteed to happen.
- The 2019 South Jersey XC Sectionals at Delsea - While my team was heading back to the bus, I was able to briefly see the front pack of the boys Group 4 race which consisted of Jackson Braddock, Oliver Adler, and Ethan Wechsler, make their way to the track finale. While I didn't get to see how the race ended (Spoiler Alert: Braddock won.), it was great seeing three of the fastest runners in the state push each other to win a big meet. I also got to see Kevin Antczak set the course record in the boys Group 3 race that day too.
- Haddonfield girls go 1-2-3 in the distance events at the 2020 Indoor Sectional meet - The 72 points scored by the Lady Dawgs in all three distance events showed their continued dominance in the distance events. Distance alone is what carried them to victory, and it probably did for States that year too.
What are your post-high school or college plans?
My goal in college is to qualify for the Boston Marathon before I graduate and lower my track PRs. I also am planning to run a half marathon or two this fall.
Who would you like to say 'thank you' to?
Thank you Mom and Dad for always supporting me at my meets whenever you can. Also thank you for taking me up to Holmdel Park to help me achieve my senior year goal.
Thank you Coach Shep, K., Stanko, Jabari, Daniels, Baynes, Mack, and Strow for pushing me and my teammates to their fullest potential every day at practice.
Thank you to my teammates, past and present, for being very supportive of me and each other each and every day.
Thank you to Gabe R., Tommy, Jake Cobb, Zach R., Zach W., Tyler Wells, Makaio, Greta, Brady, Peyton, Hot Sauce, Sean, Caleb, Seth, Ian, George, Tobi, Rob, Sarah, Allison, Lindsay, Andrew S., Matt S., Luke, Josh, Sophie, Owen, Nikki, Dawson, and many more for being great friends and/or competitors.
Thank you to the NJ XC/TF community for being a very supportive and caring one.
Thank you to NJ MileSplit for always providing good meet day coverage, photos, and videos.
Is there anything else you'd like to add?
- XC > winter track > spring track
- Hoka Mach 4 is the best running shoes of 2021.
- Hilly courses are better than flat courses.
- Group 2 is the best group in NJ.