WEST WINDSOR: Margiotta return a key for Pirates

North boys win CJ III XC

By Justin Feil, Assistant Sports Editor
   Max Margiotta didn’t feel the pressure going into his final Central Jersey Group IV meet on Saturday.
   The West Windsor-Plainsboro South senior had already faced the prospects of running his final scholastic cross country race the week before. Margiotta had to win back a spot on the Pirate boys varsity at the Mercer County Championships by running in the junior varsity race. He did by winning it.
   ”It was pretty tough because I’ve been varsity for the past three years since sophomore year,” Margiotta said. “It was almost a reality shot to me that this could be my last race of the season if I don’t race well. I happened to race well and got into varsity for this (CJ IV) race and raced well. I’m going to keep momentum going.”
   Margiotta was the Pirates’ third finisher, 15th overall, to help defending champion WW-P South come in second, just two points behind East Brunswick, at the CJ IV meet at Thompson Park on Saturday. Sam Macaluso was second and Brian Schoepfer was third for the Pirates.
   ”It’s the most solid race we ran all season,” said Pirates head coach Kurt Wayton. “Schoepfer ran incredibly. It wasn’t Macaluso’s best race, but he’s in second place. Dan Riff is just a freshman and he ran well. Nick Schmidt had an off day, but we still finished second and (East Brunswick) is good. They’re ranked top 10 in the state.
   ”It’s a dramatic improvement over last week. Hopefully we’re getting our wits about us at the right time. We have a shot to win next week and that’s been our goal all year.”
   The Pirates aren’t the only ones feeling good as they head to the state group meets Saturday at Holmdel Park. WW-P North won the CJ III race at Thompson Park led by the 1-2 finish of Joe and Jim Rosa, both in 15:56. Jon Squeri was sixth despite pacing the Knights’ back of the pack runners early in the race.
   Princeton High School ran to second place, 16 points behind WW-P North, in CJ III. The Little Tigers were impressive with their front pack tightly bunched. Julius Gertz rebounded from an off day at the MCC to finish eighth, Zaid Smart was ninth, Sean Pradhan was 10th and Aaron Thomas was 12th.
   In CJ IV, Montgomery finished 14th. Mike Stanley was 11th for the Cougars, just one second out of 10th place and a wild-card spot at the Group IV state meet. The Pirates are going as a team thanks in part to Margiotta bouncing back from illness and a slow start to the season.
   ”He just wasn’t running well,” Wayton said. “He wasn’t in our top seven. He was in the hospital in the middle of the season.”
   Margiotta came down with a tonsil infection that cost him a week of school and training. He rushed back from the infection to enter the Shore Coaches Invitational, but he dropped out of the race.
   ”That was a real eye-opener,” Margiotta said. “That was one thing I prided myself on. To do that in front of everybody, it was almost embarrassing. I wanted to prove myself at some point in the season. I guess I did today.”
   Dropping out wasn’t the sort of thing the Pirates had come to expect from Margiotta. Quite the opposite.
   ”He’s been one of our toughest runners,” Wayton said. “It’s been hard to watch him go through this. He’ll be a key runner for us down the stretch.”
   The Pirates need to finish in the top three to automatically qualify for the Meet of Champions or advance to the MOC by earning a wild-card spot. Margiotta understands as the Pirates’ third runner that he will be important to the team chances, but he is avoiding putting too much pressure on himself or the team.
   ”It was kind of part of the problem at the beginning,” he said. “We had such high expectations. We put too much pressure on ourselves. Guys tried to put in 110 percent instead of what they could do. It was getting in their heads that we have to be the best team instead of running to best of our ability.”
   Max Margiotta and the Pirates didn’t thrive with the early pressure, but they are coming together in time to finish where they have always wanted — at the top of the state.
   ”We’ve been humbled being one of the more mediocre teams,” Margiotta said. “The whole middle part of the season, from Shore Coaches to counties. We finally got ourselves together (Saturday). We finally showed some pride and guts.”