Feature Friday: Jack Tavaglione Is Fit And Ready To Rip

After enjoying the sweet taste of success on the trails last fall, Jack Tavaglione is now hungry to chase down even faster times and bigger titles this cross-country season.

Tavaglione, a rising senior at Voorhees, emerged as one of the biggest stars in the state last year, winning all six of his XC races with several eye-popping times. His two biggest victories came at the Skyland Conference Championships when he ran 16:37 on the rugged course at Phillipsburg, and at the Central Jersey, Group 2 Championships at Thompson Park when he finished first in 16:24.   

For the season, Tavaglione ran the fastest time in the state on the P-Burg course, the fastest time at White Oak Park (a PR of 15:46), the No. 2 time at Thompson Park (16:11), and the No. 7 time at Garret Mountain (16:56). All of that added up to a spot on the NJ MileSplit First-Team All-State Team. Tavaglione also owns a Holmdel PR of 16:47 that he ran as a sophomore at the Shore Coaches Invitational. 

Tavaglione also had a very strong season on the track last spring by running PR's of 4:27.15 for 1,600 and 9:23.88 for 3,200, and he finished sixth at the Meet of Champions in the 3,200 in 9:23.99.

After building a very strong base by pounding out lots of quality miles this summer, Tavaglione is feeling very fit and ready to rip heading into his final high school XC season. 

NJ MileSplit recently caught up with Tavaglione for an in depth and enlightening Q and A. We learned a lot about Tavaglione, including what makes him tick, how he got involved in the sport, his summer training, the big goals that fuel his competitive fire, and the motivation he gets from the rich history of distance running excellence at Voorhees.  

So lean back in your recliner or beach chair and enjoy our latest installment of Feature Friday as we shine the spotlight on Voorhees star Jack Tavaglione. 

NJM: First off, congrats on all your great success in XC and on the track. You've had a lot of great performances, but which race do you consider your very best and are most proud of and why?

Although I have a lot of races that I'm proud of, my favorite one has to be the Skyland Conference race in XC last year. P-Burg is a really tough course but because James Ptack gave me such great competition, I was able to run a pretty fast time and win the race. The Pedretti twins (Dan and Brian), and Mike Fama from Warren Hills also had great races that day.

Take me through what summer training has been like for you, Jack? How many miles a week have you been running, where have you been doing your long runs, who have you been running with, and did you go to any XC camps etc?

So far, my summer training has been going great! I have been doing up to 50 miles a week mostly at Voorhees State Park, the Columbia Trail, or on River Rd. I have been running with my teammates, and James Ptack while he builds up mileage for LaSalle. I've pretty much been running where ever I am. I ran during vacations in Florida and LBI, and also ran at a few colleges while visiting campuses.

What's been the biggest difference in your training this summer compared to last summer? Increased mileage? More quality stuff in terms of faster pace?

This summer I've been putting in more miles than ever, getting a lot more quality out of every week. That includes double running a lot more this summer.

When is your first race of the season, and what's your goal for that race?

The schedule hasn't fully come out yet, but it's looking like the first race of the year will be the Roxbury Invitational on September 11. I am very excited about it because I know that it is a fast course and there will be great competition there.

How do you feel heading into this season? Is this the most fit you've ever been heading into an XC season, and what are your biggest goals as far as times you'd like to run at Holmdel, P-Burg, Thompson Park and some of the other courses you'll race on?

This summer I feel like I am more prepared and motivated than I've ever been. Some of my biggest goals in terms of time are to set the 5K school record which is Chris Romero's 15:28. I also want to break 16 at Thompson Park and Holmdel.

How about the conference and state meets, Jack? After winning the Skyland and Sectional titles last year, I imagine trying to win those again and winning a State Group title are huge goals this season? What would it mean to you to win the state title?

Winning the Skyland Conference back-to-back would be awesome, that is definitely a goal of mine even though it will be a big challenge. As far as Sectionals and Groups go, it is very important to me that I try to win both. I think that those are my biggest goals of the season. Winning the state title would be awesome, it would be so cool to have my name up on a banner at school, and to be mentioned alongside so many other great Group 2 State Champions. I'm also looking forward to Hunterdon Warren Sussex, since we didn't have the county meet last year, and I'm aiming to win it this year.

What about the Meet of Champions? Every runner in the state wants to drop a bomb and run a huge PR at the M of C and be in that lead pack for as long as they can. What are your thoughts on your chances of contending for that title, and what is your goal for that race?

My goals for the Meet of Champions are to be top 5, I know it will be tough with all of the great talent in New Jersey, but I think if I stick with the top pack for as long as I can, I can contend with the best.

What are your thoughts on how loaded NJ is with distance running talent? How much does the amount of talent in the state push you to work even harder?

It is crazy how talented NJ is, there are so many great distance runners from all around the state. This definitely pushes me to run harder leading to faster times. It will be interesting to see what kind of times I can throw down running with some of the top guys in the state.

How much does wearing the Voorhees uniform inspire you to continue the great tradition of distance running excellence at your school? I am sure you know all the great names that have come before you, and all the school records. How much does that fuel your fire?

Being a member of the Voorhees team, I know that a lot of great talent has come before me. I admire guys like Chris Romero, Chris Thompson, and Evan Minor and try to model myself and my role on my team after them. It definitely drives me more, chasing after the records that these guys have and trying to be in the conversation as an impactful Voorhees runner after I graduate. I have also been lucky to work with some great coaches and to be teammates with some really strong runners. I started my high school career with Coach (Jeff) Capone, who was of course the mentor for all of those championship runners, and he taught me so much. And now I'm really enjoying working with Coach (Dave) Giantisco, and I'm learning a lot from him as well. I was also fortunate that when I came into Voorhees as a freshman, there was a really talented group of varsity runners who took me under their wings and really helped make me be a better runner.

Let's rewind the clock. I know you competed in other sports when you were younger, so how and why did you get involved in running?

I've always been a basketball guy. My favorite sports growing up were basketball, baseball, and soccer. I was a pretty good athlete and I got a lot of that from my dad (Chris), who was a collegiate D1 soccer player at Central Connecticut State University. I really didn't get into running until 6th grade when I joined the middle school cross country team and realized I had some talent. After winning the middle school conference championships in 7th and 8th grade, I knew that I wanted to keep improving in high school.

What are your biggest running accomplishments before you got to high school?

Some of my biggest running accomplishments before high school were my first ever 5k race, through the Girls on the Run fundraiser. I think I was in 5th grade and I broke 19. That's when I sort of had the idea to get into running. Moving on to middle school, I came in 2nd in the 6th grade conference championship in my first ever cross-country season, then the following two years I went undefeated, winning the championship meet both years individually and as a team. I also came in 1st place in the NJ Rising Stars XC race in Jackson when I was in 6th grade.

When was your first big breakthrough race when you realized that you had a special talent in this sport?

My first breakthrough race when I realized I had some talent was in 7th grade when I set the course record on my middle school cross country course.

What do you love the most about running XC?

What I love most about running is the community. I like meeting different people from all around the state who have similar interests to me, and I like seeing and recognizing people and big races. Even though we're all competitive with one another, everyone is also very supportive and pushes each other to become better athletes.

If you could go for a long run with any pro runners (past or present) who would it be and why?

If I were to choose one, maybe I would choose a sprinter like Usain Bolt in a 10k to see if maybe I could have a chance at beating him - maybe he doesn't have stamina for distance.

What is the most impressive NJ XC/T&F accomplishment you've ever witnessed, and what made it stand out so much to you?

The most impressive NJ high school race I've ever seen was the 3200m at the Winter Track MOCs in 2020. I was there as a Ssophomore racing the 3200 in the 2nd heat. It was so exciting to watch Liam Murphy, Jack Jennings, and Austin Gabay battle it out in the 1st heat, and it had one of the craziest last couple of laps and finishes that I've ever seen.

Favorite running season and why?

My favorite running season is cross country. The 5k is my best race, and there are so many great courses and races.

Favorite subject in school and why?

My favorite subject in school is history. I think it is very interesting. I like learning about different historic figures, civilizations, wars, and events, and thinking about how past events have shaped the modern world.

If you weren't a runner, what sport would you be playing?

If I wasn't a runner, I would want to be a 3 sport athlete at Voorhees playing soccer in the fall, basketball in the winter, and for the baseball team in the spring (this year's Group 2 Champs!) 

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

In 10 years, I see myself with a college degree, and working in a career that I like and find interesting. I also hope to keep working as a coach with the Special Olympics of NJ basketball team, something I've really enjoyed doing the past couple of years, and missed last year due to Covid. And I'll definitely still be running!

What advice would you give now to the younger you when you first started running?

The advice I would give to the younger me would be to make sure you run a lot of miles over the summer, because that is where your base is set, and definitely to stretch after runs and workouts so you can be as flexible as possible. And also - cherish every season because I would have never guessed that something like Covid could derail everything.

How about the future, Jack? I know you took a visit to Boston University this week. What other schools do you plan to visit, and what are you planning to study in college?

There are definitely great schools that I have been visiting, meeting a lot of great coaches and athletes along the way. I'm excited to narrow the list down and land at the school that will give me the best academic and athletic experience. In terms of majors, I am currently undecided, however I am considering Marketing or Communications.