MONTGOMERY: Tighter pack leads to Cougars’ crown

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Pictured are runners and coaches from the Montgomery High boys cross country team

By Bob Nuse, Sports Editor
It’s been tough to separate Dillan Spencer and Robert Tidona this year.
Whether it is in a race or in practice, the two Montgomery High runners are usually stride for stride with each other. That was certainly the case last week when the two finished with identical times of 16:44 to help the Cougars to a first-place finish at the Somerset County Championship meet at Pleasant Valley Park in Basking Ridge.
The Cougars dominated the race, finishing with 49 points to easily outdistance second-place Hillsborough, which finished with 87 points. Montgomery placed three runners in the top six. Ajay Sarathy finished second in 15:56, just three seconds behind overall winner William Hill of Franklin. Tidona was fifth and Spector finished sixth, both with times of 16:44. Harry Gould finished 17th and Pranav Reddy was 19th to round out the top five for the Cougars. Montgomery had strong efforts all the way through the lineup as Jeffrey Mayer finished 21st and Austin Fan was 22nd.
“We are pretty much racing each other every race,” Tidona said. “For us it is great that we can work together. Every time we run together and in all our workouts it is pretty much the same thing. It seems like we both make the same PRs every race together.”
Now the two seniors are looking to close their gap with Sarathy, who advanced to the Meet of Champions last year.
“Every day we try running with him,” Spector said. “On all the long runs we’re right on his butt doing workouts and trying to keep him in sight and contact. We try to catch him. That is all we can do. What is so great about Robert is he is always right there with me, too. We finished with almost the exact same time. The competition with him is getting us closer to Ajay. And then we have Harry right on our butt. Our top seven is getting to be a tight pack.”
The county title was a huge step forward for the Cougars, who came into the season with high expectations. They were scheduled to run in the Skyland Conference meet on Thursday and have the sectional meet on the horizon.
“Going in (to the county meet) I was a little nervous,” Spector said. “I had a tight calf going into the week and I thought I might not run. Going into the race I told my Dad not to expect too great of a performance. It turned out I ran a PR. I was able to do it because the whole team is such a great support system. The past years we’ve always anticipated this goal of a county title. We’ve come close. This year it looked like we could do it. Our coach gave us a great pump up speech.”
Having a runner like Sarathy at the top of the lineup helps. But it is the depth of the Cougars that makes them a championship team.
“Our biggest strength is the amount of depth we have,” Spector said. “Our team has been building up these past two years. We’ve trained hard. I love cross country. It’s different than other sports where you can’t always see if you’re making the best play. In cross country you can always see if you are getting better year to year and meet to meet.”
Added Tidona: “We look for the guys in the top seven to get closer together as we get into the season. Everyone is working really hard to get there. Every week we can see that we’re getting better together. We are all working together every day in practice and push each other in ways that get us better and better. A lot of us started training when last school year ended. We’ve been running the whole summer and putting in a lot of training.”
The Somerset title was a nice to start to what the Cougars hope will be a successful finish to the season. They want to extend their year as long as possible.
“This was our first meet in the championship season,” Spector said. “Our goal is to hopefully get out of sections and out of groups. That has always been the goal. Making Meet of Champs is big goal. Ajay made it last year. To get our whole team out this year is a great goal for us. We have such a strong team and we have been building up since freshman year.”
Having the two-headed monster of Spector and Tidona getting closer to the front of the pack will certainly help achieve those goals.
“We are slowly closing the gap,” Tidona said. “We are always trying to work toward him in workouts. We have a goal to catch him. I think we have all gotten better since last year and overall as a team we have gotten better. I think this is our best chance yet to keep moving on.”
In the county the girls race, Julia Hans was ninth, Gianna Tedeshi was 10th and Sarah McGowen finished 13th to help the Cougars to a third-place finish. Freshman Emma Noyelle finished 34th and classmate Sarah Witt was 43rd to round out the top five for Montgomery. 