WEST WINDSOR: Freshman helps raise Pirate hopes

Hesterberg, South girls aim for MOC title

By Justin Feil, Assistant Sports Editor
   The West Windsor-Plainsboro South girls cross country team didn’t know quite how good Alexandra Hesterberg was when the preseason began.
   Then the Pirates had their first race.
   ”I love racing,” Hesterberg said. “I always enjoy it.”
   It showed in a top seven finish. Since then, the Pirates have been watching Hesterberg develop into a reliable varsity runner no matter how big the races have been, and they don’t get any bigger than this Saturday’s Meet of Champions.
   ”She has come incredibly far,” said Pirates girls coach Josh Siegel. “Initially in workouts, she was hanging in the middle or even the back of the pack. Once the first races started, once she got on the course, she was like, hey, I’m pretty good. She’s been outstanding ever since.”
   Hesterberg made a big difference last Saturday when the Pirates won the girls program’s first Group IV state championship. After four runners had been scored, Randolph was ahead of WW-P South, 40-54.
   ”I think we felt we did well, but we thought Randolph won,” Hesterberg said. “It was a big surprise that we won. It was a really good surprise.”
   The Pirates made up the difference when Hesterberg crossed in 36th place overall while Randolph’s fifth finisher came in 73rd place.
   ”It was incredibly critical,” Siegel said. “Between Penny (Luan) and Alex, they passed so many girls in the last half-mile. That obviously helped us get to our victory.”
   At the sectionals the week before, Hesterberg had finished seconds ahead of Luan, a senior who has been on the varsity for three years. Hesterberg has been trying to work with Luan in the state meets.
   ”I definitely do,” Hesterberg said. “I try to stick with Penny, who’s always in font of me. She helps me a lot during the race.”
   Hesterberg has helped the Pirates a lot after they lost one of last year’s top runners, Julia Deen, to injury. Hesterberg has helped to fill the gap in the top five.
   ”I wouldn’t have been fifth,” she said. “(Coach Kurt) Wayton was scared how we were going to do. I just had to step up.”
   Hesterberg is prepared to step up again for the MOC that begins at 11 a.m. at Holmdel Park. The boys race, in which WW-P South is one of the top teams, begins at 11:45 a.m. It will only be the third time that Hesterberg has raced on the legendary course.
   ”It’s definitely not my favorite course because of all the hills and ‘The Bowl,’” Hesterberg said. “Every time you run it, it seems a little easier. You know where you have to be at certain points. The only thing I don’t like is ‘The Bowl’ and the first hill. Everything else is pretty good.”
   Hesterberg is looking forward to the race. It’s the biggest that she will be a part of, and the Pirates are one of the favorites. Had last week’s group race been the MOC, the merged results had WW-P South winning. WW-P South is hoping that holds true Saturday.
   ”I think we have a good shot of doing really well, definitely placing,” Hesterberg said. “I’m just not sure where we’re going to place — first, second or third.”
   Hesterberg will have a chance to help dictate the outcome. She is getting more confident with each race.
   ”I’ve been very impressed with her poise,” Siegel said. “She comes in every race just like every other raring and ready to go. As far as we can tell, the pressure really isn’t getting to her. I’ve been impressed with her ability to cope with that.”
   Said Hesterberg: “I’m usually pretty nervous, but I’m excited because I think we’ll do pretty well.”
   Hesterberg never expected to be in the top seven for the Pirates at the MOC when the season began. She had been a good runner through middle school.
   ”My friend actually wanted me to do cross country, and I thought I was going to hate it,” Hesterberg said. “I ended up really liking it. After that, I just stuck with it.”
   She wasn’t sure about making the jump to high school, and where she would fit in the large team.
   ”I never expected to be this good,” she said. “I came in being at the back, and then Wayton helped all of us and pushed us. I got a lot better.
   ”My first race, I thought I was going to do really badly, but I ended up coming in sixth or seventh for South. I was really surprised by that. Siegel started training me harder so I could do really well.”
   Hesterberg has been included in the varsity workouts, and she has shown that she can handle them. She has sustained her success now deep into November.
   ”When we’re talking with the newbies, we encourage them and keep it light and fun,” Siegel said. “We don’t have them do as many miles. As Alex developed, she caught on to the program and she’s been with Penny the entire time. I’ve been very impressed by how she’s handled the workload. She’s really a go-getter.”
   Said Hesterberg: “I just really love being a part of the team. I think it’s really cool. I’m practically the only freshman. I feel that’s really cool.”
   Hesterberg has gotten used to the higher demands of high school running and she is looking forward to a bright future. Last year’s top freshman, Christina Rancan, has been the top runner for the Pirates this year.
   ”Next year, I’m going to try to step up where Christina is,” Hesterberg said. “I’m going to try to stay with her.
   ”I feel a lot more confident. I feel like I’ve been doing really well and I expected not to do this well. It makes me feel good whenever I see that I helped the team to win.”
   With three more years ahead of her, the Pirates are excited as well. They saw early on just how much Hesterberg enjoys racing, and they knew she had promise.
   ”She’s a tremendous young lady, a real talent in the sport,” Siegel said. “She’s just starting to understand her abilities.”