HILLSBOROUGH: Frosh Skikus welcome addition for HHS XC

Raiders second at CJ IV meet

By Justin Feil, The Packet Group
   Courtney Skikus has been playing soccer since she was in second grade, but she also found a love for running when she was in middle school.
   When the freshman entered Hillsborough High School, she had to make a choice on what sport to represent the school in the fall.
   ”I ran both my years in middle school,” Skikus said. “I play soccer too. I was really distraught whether I should play soccer or cross country.”
   The girls cross country team is happy that she chose to run for it while continuing to play soccer for her club team, Bridgewater United Piranhas.
   ”I kind of figured since I had my club soccer team I could do cross country and soccer,” Skikus said. “The two soccer teams would be too much. I knew Hillsborough had a good cross country team and I could help them do well.”
   Skikus has consistently been in the top five for the Raiders, and was again at the Central Jersey Group IV meet at Thompson Park last Saturday. Paige Novak had a big breakout with an eighth-place finish in 19:10 to lead the Raiders, Molly Doyle was 12th in 19:29 and Skikus was two ticks behind in 13th place in 19:31. Olivia DeLorenzo was 24th in 19:58 and Kelly Cianciola was 31st in 20:16 to round out the Raiders’ scoring. Meredith Young ran 20:34 for 35th and Kathleen Lynch, the lone senior in the top seven Saturday, was 43rd in 20:51.
   ”It feels pretty good,” Skikus said. “We went into the race hoping to come out with a win or pretty close. And without our top runner, but we did well.”
   The defending champion Raiders placed second with 88 points, one point ahead of Freehold Township. West Windsor-Plainsboro South won with 49 points, but Hillsborough ran without its usual No. 1 runner, Stephanie Mauer.
   ”It’s definitely a big loss,” Skikus said. “We all knew we’d have to pick up the pace. Without her, we knew it would be difficult. We all knew we’d have to do our best.”
   As one of the top five teams at sectionals, the Raiders automatically advance to the Group IV state meet that will be held this Saturday at Holmdel Park. They hope to have Mauer back, though they showed their depth in finishing second even without her.
   ”I thought the girls ran well,” said Raiders head coach Rich Refi. “Stephanie was out due to injury on Saturday. It obviously hurts when you are missing someone of her ability.”
   Skikus was the second fastest freshman overall in the CJ IV race, and she has been pleased with the way things have developed for her in her first year of high school running.”I’ve been really happy,” she said. “At the beginning of the season, I’d never broken 20. Now I’m down around 19:30. I’m happy with my season so far.”
   Skikus is still juggling her soccer and running, but her focus has been on staying healthy for the championship part of the cross country season.
   ”I still do club soccer,” Skikus said. “We have practices during the week and tournaments coming up soon. I’m taking it easy for running. I’m trying not to be in the (soccer) scrimmages so I don’t get hurt. Anything can happen in soccer.”
   She has appreciated being a part of the Raiders cross country team and her addition has helped HHS maintain its status among the top teams in the state. She was looking forward to the challenges of running on such a talented team when she signed up, and happy to be in the top seven.
   ”I was hoping,” she said. “I wasn’t really expecting it. I knew I could run the times. I knew who I could beat.
   ”It’s been really good,” she added. “It’s nice being a freshman and being on varsity. It’s nice to get to know all the girls. They’re all inspiring and really good.”
   Being a part of such a strong team has helped to push Skikus, and her own improvements have helped to push those ahead of her.
   ”It really encourages me,” Skikus said. “I know who’s in front of me and who I want to keep up with in practices and races. I know who I want to catch.
   ”I think I’m definitely moving up. I’m definitely getting closer to them.”
   Skikus will be sticking with running through the winter as she is planning to run winter track, and she will play lacrosse in the spring.
   Her development this fall is helping as the Raiders try to close the gap from their first to fifth finishers. The gap was 1:06 at sectionals and put them firmly in the top three of the race.
   ”I think we were really happy about it,” Skikus said. “Without Steph Mauer, we were really happy.”
   Like more than half the top seven, Skikus was new to the sectionals race. Only Doyle, Novak and Young had raced in it for the Raiders last year. Hillsborough is looking for its usual improvement from Thompson Park to Holmdel Park, and the Raiders have traditionally done better at Holmdel than Thompson.
   ”It’s definitely not as hilly as Holmdel,” Skikus said. “We practice on a lot of hills. We go to Otto’s. It’s kind of all hills for us.
   ”I definitely think we can do better at Holmdel because we’re better at hills. I love hills. I think I can excel running up hills. I think it’s going to help us a lot.”
   The Raiders are gearing up for what they hope will be a big finish to their year. Skikus has always been a very competitive person, and she has been looking forward to the bigger races.
   ”We’ve been having a lot of harder workouts lately,” Skikus said. “It’s definitely been harder leading up to these races. It’s definitely been paying off. All of our times seem to be getting lower.”