WEST WINDSOR: Pirate runners sweep at CJ IV XC

By Bob Nuse, Sports Editor
JAMESBURG — Tim Bason followed up an impressive performance at the Mercer County Cross Country Championships with an even more impressive showing at the Central Jersey Group IV meet.
Christina Rancan rebounded from what she felt was a sub-par performance at the Mercer meet with a dominating performance in the CJ IV meet.
The end result for each of the West Windsor-Plainsboro High South seniors was a first-place finish at the sectional meet at Thompson Park in Jamesburg last Saturday. The two lead a large group of Packet-area performers who advanced to the state Group championships, which will be held this Saturday at Holmdel Park.
“I felt really good,” said Bason, who finished in 15:39 to outdistance Brandon Tubby of Hillsborough by 17 seconds. “The weather was perfect. It’s not too sunny. It was a perfect temperature. I didn’t want to just take it out and have other people leading off me. So I just took the first mile out and then the second half of the race I just kind of took it.
“We had two weeks to prepare for this. Our coach does a lot of high mileage training so we’re kind of prepared to race back to back to back. It comes down to clearing your head and taking every race like it is just a race and not thinking it is some qualifier. You just have to race your race and don’t stress yourself out over it.”
Montgomery High’s Ajay Sarathy finished third in the race, just one second behind Tubby. Princeton’s Alex Roth finished in eighth place in 16:13.
On the team side for the boys, Princeton advanced to the Group IV state meet by finishing third, while WW-P South was fourth. WW-P North finished second in the North Jersey, Section 2 Group III meet to advanced to the state Group III meet at Holmdel.
“This year when we got the news we were in Group 4 there was a lot of, ‘Oh, Lord’, because the overall quality is so tough it is hard to get out of the sectional,” Princeton coach Mark Shelley said. “This is the third time we have beaten South this year. We didn’t run our best today. We were 15 seconds slower on average than counties. But to beat the teams we beat and to almost beat South Brunswick was tremendous. It gives them a lot of confidence. It also shows our depth that even on a day where we were not our best we can still compete with the best in the state.”
Old Bridge put six runners in the top 13 to run away with the CJ IV meet. South Brunswick was second with 122 points, while Princeton was third with 126 and WW-P South was fourth with 130. All three teams, as well as Montgomery’s Sarathy, advanced to the state Group IV meet.
For Princeton, William Hare was 18th, Nick Delaney was 30th, Alex Ackerman was 31st and Cy Watsky rounded out the top five in 39th.
“Nick was hurt earlier in the season,” Shelley said. “He broke his foot or his leg last track season and didn’t run all summer. So he hasn’t been himself. He would do some quality work but not as many reps. The last two weeks we felt like he was back. He has been training as our six-seven man and before the race I told them there was no reason he couldn’t stick with two through five in this race and the way you have looked the last few days I want you to believe that. He said he was going to score today and he was third for us.”
The Pirates advanced their team along with Bason. While Bason was the top overall finisher in the race, Sam Williams was 14th, Alex Petri 34th, Dexter Benkard 37th, and Ryan Joseph 44th.
While Bason will be eyeing another strong effort this weekend, he’s continued to improve as he took three seconds off his time from the Mercer meet and continues to get better each week.
“That is by design,” South coach Kurt Wayton said. “There is some individualization, but by and large our kids historically have been able to do their best when it counts. That’s why when they don’t do well it is a peculiar situation. I can’t say I am surprised Tim did well. We wanted him to save something for the next two weeks so we had him kind of just hang out for the first half of the race and then he ran the last half hard.
“With most kids that is the case. We only try to discuss the big races and the kids know that is the focal point. If he continues to improve like he has been improving he’ll be very tough to beat down the stretch.”
WW-P North finished second, just 15 points behind Middletown North, at its sectional meet. Matt Santamaria was the top finisher for the Knights in 10th place. Shu Ming Teo was 13th, Jonathan Logan was 15th, Vincent Chan was 26th, and Atharv Kulkarni was 28th for the Knights.
On the girls side, Rancan improved by 29 seconds off her time at the Mercer meet and helped the Pirates to a second-place finish in CJ IV behind Hillsborough.
“I didn’t really have a game plan in mind when I went into the race,” said Rancan, who finished in 18:28. “I wasn’t too happy with the way I finished my county race here two weeks ago. I knew I wanted to improve the way I approached the race and my mentality throughout it. I just wanted to keep pushing and when I felt myself slipping a little bit just push past it.
“I really wanted to keep strong in that middle section of the race. That was where I felt myself not running as strong as I could have in the county race. So I wanted to improve on that coming into this race.”
The Pirates managed to finish second as a team despite running without one of their top five as freshman Julia Mao missed the race due to illness. Elizabeth Petrov was 17th, Kelsey Kobus was 20th, Haley Rich was 25th, and Alex Hesterberg finished 27th.
“We have been putting in so much training since the beginning of the summer,” Rancan said. “I knew with the amount of training we have done and how well our coaches have prepared us that I could have performed better than I did at counties. So I really wanted to do it for them and give it my all in this race.
“One of our top five got sick last night and wasn’t able to run. It was amazing how our coaches have trained our entire team so well and we’re able to bring another girl in. Our coaches have done an amazing job creating a really deep team.”
Added WW-P South coach Josh Siegel: “I could not be prouder. Julia Mao has been a little under the weather and didn’t run today. To come in second place without her is nice for us.”
Princeton qualified for the state Group IV meet with a fifth-place team finish, while Montgomery’s Julia Hans was seventh individually to qualify.
“I am not sure we brought our best race today,” Princeton coach James Smirk said. “We had a phenomenal effort from our fourth runner, Annefluer Hartmanshenn, she really tactically executed her race near perfection and when it counted and we were down she stepped up and made it happen. Chloe (Taylor) had a great race today but well within her wheelhouse. Lou (Mailhe) has had better races out here but she executed in a manner that she knew what she was doing and her team would take care of her.”
Mailhe was ninth, while Taylor was 10th for the Little Tigers. The rest of the top five saw Izzy Trenholm finish 16th, Hartmanshenn finish 24th, and Jack Patterson finish 53rd.
“This is the first time we have been in Group 4,” Smirk said. “We graduated three of our top five runners and a lot of people called it a rebuilding year for us. Considering the level of competition and experience we faced we are very happy with what we did.
“Our mantra for a while now has been one more week and they did just enough to do that. We’re going to work on being a better team next week and that’s what we want to do.”
Hans finished seventh in 19:24 to advance as an individual and help the Cougars to a seventh-place team finish.
At the North Jersey, Section 2 Group III meet, the WW-P North finished eighth led by Julia Grande in 25th place and Veda Donthireddy in 30th place.
Overall, sectional weekend was a huge success for the area teams, led by the individual sweep from the Pirates.
“It is definitely cool,” Bason said. “It shows our high school has a tradition of winners and people who are willing to put the effort in and get results out of it.” 