By Justin Feil, Packet Media Group
It was an encouraging day for the Hillsborough High School boys and girls cross country teams at the Shore Coaches Invitational on Saturday at Holmdel Park.
Both teams started their push for a podium finish at the Meet of Champions by placing in the top four in their races. The girls won the Varsity A Division with a pack that continues to improve and makes them tougher to beat the more that they develop.
“Our pack has been working well together at practice and it showed on Saturday,” said Raiders girls head coach Rich Refi. “We want to get even tighter and tighter as the season goes on.”
Paige Novak was the top finisher for the Raider girls in eighth overall in 19:40. Stephanie Mauer was 17th in 20:14, varsity newcomer Chloe Wong placed 22nd in 20:28, Olivia DeLorenzo was 33rd in 20:53 and Peri Bongiovanni rounded out their scoring in 35th in 20:54. Courtney Skikus was only a few steps behind in 39th in 21:00 and Natalie Tavares placed 57th in 21:26. Their split from one through five finishers was the best of any of the top seven teams in their race, and their 20:25 average was second best in their race.
Hillsborough will be see plenty of its toughest competition since it comes from within the Skyland Conference. With the results merged from Saturday’s Shore Coaches meet, Ridge was the top team overall followed by the Raiders and then North Hunterdon. It’s still early to call it though with more than 10 teams within a combined minute of each other.
The Raider boys are also working their way into contention and Saturday’s fourth-place finish in the Varsity A1 Division was a strong step forward. Paced by third-place finisher Brandon Tubby, Hillsborough finished behind state power Christian Brothers Academy, Southern Regional and conference foe North Hunterdon.
“I think that we have a lot of potential,” said Tubby, a senior. “We haven’t all raced all out yet. We’re still not sure as a team what we’re capable of. But there’s definitely potential. It’s just going to take time. We’re not going to be able to tell until state season rolls around.”
Tubby was third in 16:34, Jeremy Shipley took 12th in 17:02, Mitchel Baron ran 43rd in 17:555, Justin Tubby was 44th in 17:56 and Joseph Sabo was 47th in 18:02. Tyler Baum was their sixth finisher, a step behind Baum in 48th in 18:03. Robert Mauer was 59th in 18:15.
“As a team, I was happier than I thought I’d be mostly because in the merged results we beat Montgomery who is our total rival,” Tubby said. “They’re in our county, conference and section. We have very different teams. They have one guy out front and six guys that run within 10 seconds of each other. At Hillsborough, we have me out front, and Shipley is 30 seconds behind and another 30 seconds behind is our 3-4-5. We’re definitely rivals, but we ended up beating them by a couple places at Shore Coaches. I was very proud of that.”
Tubby’s time helps a lot, but the Raiders’ average time was faster than North Hunterdon’s. Hillsborough was 21st in the merged results.
“We’re very focused on state meets this year,” Tubby said. “At the same time, we’re also very focused on winning counties. The competition at counties this year, there aren’t that many great teams. It’s going to be us vs. Montgomery vs. Bernards. It’s going to be a good race.”
Tubby has taken the lead for the Raiders, not just as a runner but in guiding his less experienced varsity teammates and the developing runners behind them. Last year, he was the top runner for Hillsborough, but the leadership aspect wasn’t the same. He made sure there was a clear structure this year.
“I took charge of the team,” he said. “If anything happens, I take responsibility. We all support each other. It feels more like a team.”
Tubby has enjoyed being the leader and putting everything he has into the team. He’s determined to see the team grow.
“I really do like it,” Tubby said. “I’m going to miss it next year when I’m at college. The position I am in is very unique. It’s a unique opportunity and I love every minute of it. As a team leader, I try to promote the same passion I feel for the sport. The best part of it is I have a teammate say, I can tell you love what you’re doing and it’s rubbing off on me.
“It’s about creating this culture where people care about each other and we unite under this common goal,” he explained. “It’s a great team to be a part of.”
Tubby will be running for another team next year. He recently committed to run at Northeastern University next fall. He has shown continued improvement over his high school career and his senior season is no exception.
“For me as an individual compared to last year, the times I’m running now are close to or better than the PRs I had in cross country last year,” Tubby said. “The difference is I’m running them earlier in the season and with less effort. I can remember running 16:37 at Holmdel and I couldn’t stand. This year, I ran 16:34, did a cooldown and was cheering on other teammates. My progression as an athlete as a whole is pleasing and as a team we’re moving in the right direction.”
Tubby had hoped to win the race individually Saturday, but was pleased with his time that came despite the Raiders still training at a high level.
“I’m positive we’re doing a 70-mile week,” Tubby said. “That’s mileage I’ve never hit before. We’re planning our peak to be later this year.”
Tubby has liked how the pack behind him has come along. It’s been consistent and shows improvement.
“Shipley was with me the first two miles of the race,” Tubby said. “We were talking strategy about when to go. Our No. 3 is Mitchel Baron and right behind him is my brother, a sophomore. He’s just getting beat up. He’s our No. 4 guys. There’s a lot of weight on him. He’s been handling it well.”
The development began as soon as the spring track and field season ended. The Raiders started working toward molding this year’s team.
“This summer, there was 100 percent dedication,” Tubby said. “We did everything we were supposed to do. We did our base training. We hung out so much during the summer. We had a goal going into the season, and that’s making it out the section. The top guys, we have this same desire to do great at sections.
“It’s that shared motivation that is our secret weapon,” he added. “That’s what gets us through hard workouts. It’s great.”
The Raider boys want to be as highly regarded as their female counterparts.
“No one even knows that Hillsborough has a guys team now,” Tubby said. “But they will.”
The Somerset County Championships are next Wednesday at Pleasant Valley Park. The Skyland Conference Championships are two weeks later, and the real gem, the Central Jersey Group IV meet that many are calling the toughest section in the state follows. Hillsborough is gearing up to be one of the top five teams to advance from it.
“We’re not backing down from it,” Tubby said. “No one is avoiding it. If you have faith in yourself and your coaching, that’s all it takes to be great. Our whole varsity squad is living up to those standards.
“We’re so far from where we’re going to be,” he added. “If we perform like we’re training and everything goes as planned, we’ll be on everybody’s radar. It just has to come into place. There’s no doubt with the training we do and the environment we work in, there’s no reason we can’t be great. We have what it takes. It just has to come together.”
By Justin Feil, Packet Media Group