By Bob Nuse, Sports Editor
HOLMDEL — While none of the Packet-area runners at last weekend’s Meet of Champions came away with a victory, by and large the contingent left Holmdel Park feeling good about their performance in the race.
West Windsor-Plainsboro High South senior Tim Bason was the top area finisher with his ninth-place finish in the boys meet. Montgomery junior Ajay Sarathy finished 14th running as an individual, while Princeton junior Alex Roth led the Little Tiger contingent with a 21st-place finish. Princeton, the only full area team in the field, finished 10th as a team. Princeton resident Acasio Pinheiro, a freshman at the Wilberforce School, finished 56th.
On the girls side, WW-P South senior Christina Rancan finished 10th, while Princeton senior Lou Mailhe was 17th and Montgomery sophomore Julia Hans finished 33rd.
For Bason, the ninth-place finish in 15:58 was two seconds faster than he had run a week earlier when he finished third in the Group 4 meet. Bason had hoped to go a little faster and finish a bit closer to the front, but still came away with a top 10 finish.
“I’m a little disappointed with the end,” said Bason, who had finished ninth in 16 minutes in last year’s MOC. “I was in the pack, but then as we were going up the bowl I started to drop off a little bit and then a gap formed and once a gap forms it is hard to get that back.”
Bason, who won the Mercer County championship and the Central Jersey Group 4 championship, will run in the Nike Regional meet this weekend.
“I’m not done yet,” Bason said. “I’m going in to the Nike Regionals. Once I go there that is going to be everything I have just so I can get a chance to go to Nationals and follow Nikhil (Pulimood, who qualified for nationals last year).”
Sarathy was making his first appearance at the Meet of Champions and came away happy with his place and time over the Holmdel Park course.
“I didn’t expect to place this year coming into the season,” the Cougar junior said. “I was pretty happy with the finish. I started out the season pretty well. I PRed my first race with a 16:35. I paced myself and didn’t go all-out for any race until championship season. When it hit sectionals I PRed massively and I was pretty happy with that. As the state meet season went on it kind of progressed.”
Sarathy finished in 16:08, which was five seconds faster than he had run at the Group 4 meet a week earlier. Overall, he’ll use the experience gained to help him make a run at a higher finish next year.
“I was warming up and watching the girls race and to see all the cheering it really hyped me up,” said Sarathy, who had the fifth fastest time of any underclassman. “To see everyone running down the bowl and the fans running all over the place it was awesome.”
Roth helped the Little Tigers reach their team goal of a top 10 finish by finishing 21st in 16:17. Will Hare was 89th, Alex Ackerman was 103rd, Cy Watsky was 107th, and was Jeremy Taylor was 109th to round out the top five for the Little Tigers. Eli Wasserman was 110th .
“Place-wise I was OK,” Roth said. “I did a little bit better last week. I got boxed in a little at the beginning, which was annoying. It was a new experience. It was a good experience but I have done this kind of stuff before like last spring in track. It was a new experience to do it in cross country.
“Last week I got out right around where I wanted to be and was able to be in the spot I wanted to be in going into the second half. But today I was a little bit further back and got boxed in behind a lot of people because there were a lot of people out front.”
Only seven underclassmen ran faster than Roth on Saturday and with Taylor as the only senior in the top seven the Little Tigers should be back next at the meet next year. Roth was happy to have the whole team at the meet rather than being there as an individual.
“That was super cool,” Roth said. “That was way better than in track. Making it individually was still super awesome. But making it as a team, the camaraderie was a great experience. I thought we ran pretty well.”
Pinheiro turned in the fastest time of the day for a freshman. After finishing second in the Non-Public B state meet a week earlier, the Wilberforce School student made the most of his trip to the MOC.
“It was a pretty good race,” said Pinhiero, who finished in 16:47, which was seven seconds faster than the state meet the week before. “It was really big because it was the first time anyone at our school has gone to a state championship. So it was cool being the first to qualify for the Meet of Champions. This was our first year doing championship races. It’s a lot different running on team like this. Before when I ran on a team there was no one my age. The rest of the kids were older or younger. Now we have a full team of seven means. It’s nice.”
As a team, Wilberforce had finished 11th at the Non-Public B meet, with Richard Farrell finishing 59th and Jack Farrell 64th.
“I think it will be a growing sport at our school,” Pinheiro said. “Right now our second and third runners are around 18:20 and if they can drop a lot of time I think we’ll have a solid team in at least two years.”
In the girls meet, Rancan came into the race hoping for a top 10 finish and new personal best and she achieved both.
“I am so happy,” said Rancan, who finished in 18:42. “Coming into it I wasn’t happy with how I performed last week, I know I could have done better. So I wanted to get a PR today or get into the top 10. I would have been happy with either and I ended up getting both.”
In the past, Rancan has run in the race as a member of the whole Pirate team. But this year the team failed to qualify and she ran as an individual.
“This is my first time coming to this meet as an individual,” Rancan said. “I have never been down toward the end so it was a different starting spot than I would normally have being with the team. So I knew in order to be in the top group later on in the race it was important to get out well and get a good start. That was a different experience. The last two years it was nice having my teammate around with me. I am really excited and the coaches are excited.”
Princeton’s Mailhe also achieved her personal goal that she had set coming into the meet, which was to establish a new school record over the Holmdel course. She did that with a 19:12 clocking.
“I am very happy,” Mailhe said. “I just wanted to break the school record on this course and I got it by 10 seconds. I felt super aggressive the whole time, which is different because usually on this course I feel a little slow for the first mile. But here I really felt like I was going at it for the first mile.
“Place depends on others more. This week was definitely about time. My first mile was 15 to 20 seconds faster than last week. That was really good. I felt better warming up this week than I did last week.”
By Bob Nuse, Sports Editor