Cross Country leaves last season in the dust

The Lions have their eyes locked on a spot at Nationals. (Photo courtesy of the Sports Information Desk)
The Lions have their eyes locked on a spot at Nationals. (Photo courtesy of the Sports Information Desk)

By George Tatoris                                                                                                      Staff Writer

Last year, the men’s and women’s cross country teams dominated their competition in the New Jersey Athletic Conference, but were unable to secure a spot to nationals after the women’s team took 10th place and the men took 13th in the Division III Atlantic Regionals.

At regionals, only the top two teams receive automatic bids to nationals.

The top runner in the women’s race that day was then-senior Megan Stack, who placed 23rd with a time of 22:35.9, nearly 20 seconds faster than what she placed a week before at NJACs, where she earned third place overall.

Last year’s regionals saw junior Andrew Tedeschi place the highest in the men’s race at 23rd place with a time of 25:47.7, improving on his NJAC time of 26:44.14, which earned him ninth overall.

Despite the effort and improvement, it was not enough to go toe to toe with the nation’s toughest cross country teams.

Stack is one of many talented teammates who graduated the previous semester, a list which includes Tara Nealon and Jeremy Garrell, who coach Justin Lindsey called “strong leaders.”

Coming back, the cross country team is looking positive.

“I really feel not going to nationals last year has really motivated everyone to work extra hard this year and that hard work is definitely paying off,” junior Brandon Mazzarella said.

The men’s and women’s teams are both returning NJAC champions — the men’s team with a 21-year streak holding the title.

After a summer’s worth of training, cross country is ready to go at it again this year.

Each runner was given a training regimen this summer based on what they needed to improve, and it looks like they’ve been doing their homework.

“Both teams should have a significant chance” of getting to nationals, Lindsey said.

At a time trial held this week, the top five runners on the men’s team finished faster than last year’s fastest time.

At the head of the mens team’s pack was Tedeschi, who Lindsey said has the potential to be a leader this season along with seniors Scott Savage, Roberto Guiducci and Tyler Grimm.

Tedeschi praised sophomore Connor McMahon’s performance at the time trial, saying he almost beat his personal best time in the 5k.

“McMahon ran an excellent time trial,” Tedeschi said.

The women’s team saw freshman Erin Holzbur lead the pack by three-quarters of a second, showing promise for the upcoming freshmen.

“They look strong and excited. I think all of the freshmen will make great contributions to the team,” Tedeschi said. “They worked hard over the summer to put themselves in great shape. I’m excited to see how they handle the 8k and the tough training college brings.”

According to Tedeschi, the team’s mileage — how many miles the team runs per week — increased “exponentially” over the summer.

“Everyone seems to be faster than they were last year and it’s going to make it real hard to take us down this year,” Mazzarella said. “We are all focused on going to nationals and we are counting on each other to continue working hard until that point in the season.”