PRINCETON: PHS boys runaway with Group IV XC title

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Princeton High sophomore Acascio Pinhiero finished 10th individually to help the Little Tigers to a first-place team finish at the Group IV state meet at Holmdel Park on Saturday.

By Bob Nuse, Sports Editor
HOLMDEL — The quest for a state championship started over the summer for the Princeton High boys cross country team.
It became a reality last Saturday.
The Little Tigers turned in yet another dominating performance to capture their first state title since 1986, running away with the state Group IV championship at Holmdel Park. Princeton finished with 69 points to easily outdistance second-place Cherokee, which finished with 135 points. Montgomery finished third with 139 points to earn itself a trip to the Meet of Champions.
“We really came up big today,” said senior Alex Roth, who finished second individually in 15:57 to lead the Little Tigers. “We have really prepared for this. We have been focusing on this part of the season since July. I think it really cool that everything is starting to come together. We’re getting rolling and it is really cool.”
Roth was second and was one of three Little Tigers to finish in the top 10. Will Hare, a junior, was sixth in 16:09, while sophomore Acascio Pinhiero finished 10th in 16:23. Jackson Donahue was 28th and Alex Ackerman finished 40th to round out the top five for Princeton. Nick Delaney finished 44th and Cy Watsky was 48th.
“I am really proud of the guys,” said Pinhiero, a transfer from the Wilberforce School who became eligible midway through the season. “Our two and three guys, including me, were both hurt. But we pulled through it and all competed well. I felt really good. Going into the bowl I saw Cherokee’s two and three and I heard my coaches yelling at me. I knew I had to pass them. I know passing their two and three really helped us.”
Pinhiero has been a solid addition to an already talented Princeton team, giving the Little Tigers a formidable top three.
“Right from the start with the first race, I fit in pretty well,” Pinhiero said “It’s a great group of guys. I felt really comfortable with where I was and that this is where I was supposed to be. It was tough but it gave me a chance to realize who is running and how the team was doing and where I fit in with the team.”
Princeton has been slowly building its program to an elite level over the last few years and this year the program has peaked.
“This has been a conversation for a long time,” said Princeton coach Jim Smirk, who is also the girls head coach and is in his first season as the boys head coach. “This isn’t a new conversation for us. I think the big thing, especially with young runners, is they want it right now. One of the hallmarks of this team is that they were willing to be patient and lay the groundwork for their own success. I think it is really a testament to them as individuals. Alex Roth led that. That is his personality playing out across our entire team.
“From that our other big leader, Cy Watsky, was doing that same with that same idea. I think that is what you are seeing in our races. We’ve done the groundwork. It hasn’t always been pretty. We haven’t always looked great. But we’re getting better every time we race and that is what we want to see.”
Princeton has been able to maintain its high level of consistency over several weeks. The Little Tigers won the Mercer County meet, then followed that up with a Central Jersey Group IV title. Next week that will make a run at a Meet of Champions title.
“Championship time in Jersey is no joke,” Smirk said. “You have got to put together a great series of training, starting in the summer. These guys have to be committed in doing the work they need to do. And then staying focused all the way through the end of the season is incredibly difficult. I think it is a testament to these guys and how they approach doing their work. It’s across the program. We had a championship out of the JV guys. We had a county championship out of these varsity guys now all the way through to the sectional championship and championship.”
Like Princeton, the Montgomery boys were rewarded for a season of hard work with a trip to the MOC. The Cougars were led by senior Ajay Sarathy, who was ninth overall. Last year Sarathy qualified for the MOC as an individual This year he’ll be joined by the rest of his teammates.
“If I am being honest, we were just shooting to get out in the wild card,” Montgomery coach Tim Bartholomew said. “We wanted to be in the top six. They far exceeded whatever my expectations were. As the season progresses you modify your goals to make them more tangible. We thought when we got here that we could get out of here. They ran really well. Every one of them did their part and did amazing.
“They are a really close knit and tight group of seniors and juniors. They have been working hard since August. They started captains’ runs back in July and we started as a team in August and now it is November.”
After Sarathy, Dillon Spector was 23rd, Pranav Reddy was 42nd, Robert Tidona was 45th, and Harry Gould finished 47th to round out the top five. Austin Fan and Jeffrey Meyer rounded out the Cougars’ group of seven.
The West Windsor-Plainsboro South boys were ninth in the Group IV meet. Alex Petri was 30th and Tim Magoun was 32nd to lead the Pirates. WW-P North finished sixth in the Group III meet. Matthew Santamaria finished 22nd and Vedang Lad was 32nd to lead the Knights.
The Princeton girls finished seventh and the WW-P South girls were eighth in the Group IV meet. Kelsey Kobus finished 17th to lead the Pirates and Chloe Taylor led the Little Tigers with a 20th-place individual finish as both qualified as wild cards for the Meet of Champions. Kobus finished in 19:42 and Taylor was right behind her in 19:44.
Behind Taylor for the Little Tigers, Annie Walker was 34th and Izzy Trenholm was 36th.
“We’re thrilled with our girls team,” Smirk said. “It’s funny because we have kind of spent the whole year on the bubble and a lot of people were like, Princeton really shocked people at sectionals. It didn’t shock me. I wasn’t surprised by that. One of the greatest things about these programs being combined is you’re seeing the girls influence their personality and commitment spilling over to the boys team. And you’re seeing the boys team’s commitment and personality spill over to the girls team. And you’re seeing the best of both worlds in those cases.”
Behind Kobus, WW-P South’s Liz Petrov finished 24th and Kavya Tummalapalli was 46th.
Montgomery’s Sarah McGowen, who qualified as an individual, finished 47th. 