WEST WINDSOR: Pirate girls adjust to life at the top

Rancan helps cross country win first Group IV crown

By Justin Feil, Assistant Sports Editor
   It took some getting used to for Christina Rancan to adjust to being near the front of the pack.
   The West Windsor-Plainsboro South sophomore wasn’t accustomed to it in the beginning of the cross country season.
   ”I took it out pretty fast at Shore Coaches. I got pretty scared,” Rancan said. “I wasn’t used to being up there. I wasn’t used to being up at the front. I got a little nervous.”
   Fast forward six weeks, and Rancan was leading the Pirate girls to more history. One week after the program’s first sectional title, the WW-P South girls won their first Group IV championship at Holmdel Park last Saturday to complete a sweep with the boys program.
   ”It definitely feels bigger,” Rancan said. “Not only was winning sectionals a huge deal, we then set our sights on winning groups for the first time, and winning it co-ed was great. It felt great to win not only with us, but with the guys team that we’ve become so close with. It’s great to move up together.”
   Rancan is more accustomed to running toward the top now, and when the Pirates push for what would be their first Meet of Champions title Saturday at Holmdel, she expects to be among the front-runners.
   ”When Shore Coaches ended pretty well for me, I felt pretty confident in my position in the race this week because I knew I could maintain it,” Rancan said. “Being up there and being one of the top contenders is in the back of our minds at practice every day. We want to live up to that and not disappoint ourselves, or our coaches or our families. It’s great to see the improvement we made in one year.”
   One year after finishing 27th at the Group IV meet, Rancan moved up to third overall in 19:02. Deirdre Casey was 12th, Edlyn Gulama took 15th, Penny Luan came in 29th and Alex Hesterberg finished 36th round out the scoring. Alli Bacher was 98th and Alexandra Murray took 120th.
   ”What gave us confidence was our previous week at sectionals,” said Pirates coach Josh Siegel. “Coming from that, the girls had a chip on their shoulder and knew they were capable of just about anything. Obviously they did do it.”
   The Pirates’ 87 points was 20 better than Randolph, which had a better score through four runners, but couldn’t match Hesterberg’s finish as a No. 5.
   ”Alex came through big-time for us,” Siegel said. “To think she’s a freshman and she’s running at this caliber is pretty incredible.”
   In the Group III girls race, Princeton High School placed ninth. Lou Miahle was the top runner for the Little Tigers in 35th place in 20:07.
   The Pirates’ average time was the best of the day of all groups. If they can do that for one more week, they will win the first MOC in school history.
   ”It’s a tremendous honor for these girls to win the first group title in our school history,” Siegel said. “They were ecstatic. I was ecstatic. We’ll take this and build for next week. We’ll sneak in a mini-workout or so. Next week’s wide open and it could go to anybody.
   ”It’s been a long road to get here,” he said. “Between coming off the undefeated season in Mercer County and winning last week’s sectionals, there was a big sense of we can do this. They were pretty confident going into (Saturday) morning.”
   The Pirates come out of the race with automatic team entry into the MOC as one of the top three qualifiers in their group.
   ”We knew we had to look out for Randolph,” Rancan said. “We just beat Hillsborough. We knew that might have been an incentive for them to come back and get us in groups. We knew Randolph was our big rival. We knew who to look out for us and who to pass and keep behind us. We wanted to do our best and if we didn’t leave anything in our engine, we’d be set.”
   Rancan still believes that she can go faster. She missed breaking 19 minutes by just a couple of seconds while running third overall in the race.
   ”I went in not so much looking for an individual title, but getting our whole team to go up and get that title,” Rancan said. “While I was running, I wasn’t thinking about my times. I don’t remember the mile splits. On the straightaway, I heard Coach saying, you’re going to break 19 if you go hard.”
   The time is much quicker than she had expected before the year start, but it also helped to further alleviate any fears she had of a sophomore slump.
   ”I’m definitely really happy with my progress,” Rancan said. “As a freshman, I knew I did pretty well. But I also knew some people peak freshman year. I wanted to make sure that wasn’t me. I wanted to make sure I didn’t have any regrets after his year, and look back and say, I was better as a freshman. I wanted to improve. I’ve come a long way and everyone in our top 5 has had PRs and done well. It’ll be really exciting the rest of the season.”
   Rancan is hoping this is the week she sheds the two seconds to go under 19 minutes and help WW-P South chase its first MOC.
   ”Even though we won groups, we knew that didn’t guarantee us a victory at states or even a top three,” Rancan said. “Seeing that is getting us excited. I was talking with one of my teammates. The idea of winning MOCs never even dawned on us until (Saturday). It blew us away.
   ”We know there’s an opportunity for us to do it. We also know it’s not going to come easily just because we won groups. We have to do just as well if not better next Saturday.”
   Just as Rancan has over the year, the Pirates have adjusted to life at the front. This week, they take aim at the state’s top prize.
   ”I just know we’re going to come into next week and give it our best shot,” Siegel said. “I’m thrilled we made it this far. This year we have a bigger target on our back than we’ve ever had before.”