WEST WINDSOR: Pirate boys remain best of Group IV

Maher helps South cross country wrestle back title

By Justin Feil, Assistant Sports Editor
   Nick Maher went to watch last year’s Group IV state championship cross country race at Holmdel Park.
   This year, the West Windsor-Plainsboro South sophomore was there to run in it, and it was every bit as memorable as he had anticipated.
   ”It was really fun to go and watch,” Maher said. “And to do it this year, and be a part of, it was more exciting.”
   When Maher crossed in 46th place overall as the Pirate boys’ fifth finisher, it gave WW-P South its second straight Group IV crown Saturday at Holmdel. The Pirates’ 80 points was 34 better than runner-up Westfield.
   ”It felt really good,” Maher said. “We were unsure after the race. It was nice hearing we won.”
   The Pirates’ first three runners all finished in the top 10. Tom Vinci ran 16:03 for fourth place, Nikhil Pulimood was seventh in 16:22 and Karn Setya was 10th in 16:25. Tim Bason took 19th, a huge difference from Westfield’s fourth finisher, and Maher sealed the win in 46th. Zabih Kotecha was 95th and Zach Crossey was 109th.
   ”The guys ran OK, but left a lot of meat on the bone,” said Pirates coach Kurt Wayton. “Hopefully they come hungry next week.”
   In the Group III boys race, the Princeton High School boys finished 11th. Conor Donahue was the Little Tigers’ top finisher in 40th place in 17:06.
   The Pirates will have a chance to show they belong among the top teams in the state when the best from all groups gather for the Meet of Champions. National powerhouse Christian Brothers Academy is the favorite.
   ”I think we can do a lot better next week,” Wayton said. “The goal is to move forward. We’ve never gotten second. The goal is to go there and move up the chain a little bit. Don Bosco has a great team and there are a bunch of great Group IV teams. At this point, if we can run with CBA to the best of our ability, that should carry us along to the upset of the century or second place.”
   Maher could play a key role as the fifth finisher. In the merged results taken from group results, Don Bosco would have edged the Pirates by four spots, much of it on the strength of their fifth finisher. Maher is determined to stick closer to his teammate Bason.
   ”He beat me by 30 seconds,” Maher said. “I was beating him beginning of the season. As there’s been more pressure, Tim’s gotten better and better. I saw him going up one of the hills in the roller coasters and then not again.
   ”My goal is to be as close as possible. I’d like to finish right with Timmy. He’s real fast, so it’s a challenge.”
   Maher likes the challenges of cross country. He also wrestles for WW-P South, and was one of their top wrestlers last winter as a freshman, and he finds that the sports help each other.
   ”I really think it does,” Maher said. “Wrestling is a lot mentally. It helps me be mentally tough for the races. Wrestling helped me teach not to quit. They’ve both helped me be mentally strong for each other.”
   Maher expects that he will come back even fitter next fall for cross country. Last year, he did not come out for spring track, which he anticipates doing for the first time this spring. It should help give him a better starting point than he had after last spring.
   ”I was chubby,” Maher said. “I gained like 25 pounds after wrestling season. I had a little chub. It came off. Once I got leaned out, I got faster and started keeping up the with the pack in practice.”
   Maher was always hopeful that this year he could move into the top seven. He’s been helping the varsity all season and growing accustomed to the challenges of being a scoring runner.
   ”It was something I was thinking about the whole year,” Maher said. “I thought I was good enough. I really wanted to be in the top seven this year. It wasn’t a given. I had to work for it.”
   The Pirates team has helped to push Maher. They helped motivate him to get back into good shape when the summer began and have pushed him through the season to help them be as strong as possible.
   ”I race for the team,” Maher said. “If I have to do well for the team, I do it for them. They’re my teammates. If I’m not too successful, we won’t be too successful. The pressure is to help the team.”
   The group race gave Maher a little different feel, and he is hoping he can respond even better this Saturday.
   ”I was a little more nervous,” said Maher, who is still looking to break 17 minutes at Holmdel. “It’s a more important race. It kind of felt the same. I was with my teammates. They make me feel good.”
   The Pirates will be feeling even better if they can all run their best in the Meet of Champions. They will have to in order to contend and place as highly as they hope.
   ”Any sport, it’s a process,” Wayton said. “The process can always be improved. As happy as I am for the kids, it was a great ride home, everyone was psyched up and feeling good, the process continues again (Monday). It’s process before task.”
   Said Maher: “I hope we beat Don Bosco. CBA is such a powerhouse, they’re hard to beat. I don’t really think we can beat them. Second would be as good. We’d be happy with second.”