PRINCETON: Zullo happy to contribute to PHS title

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Tucker Zullo finished 17th overall to help the Princeton High boys cross country team to a first-place finish in the Central Jersey Group IV sectional meet last Saturday.

By Bob Nuse, Sports Editor
A year ago, Tucker Zullo was on the sidelines cheering on his Princeton High teammates during the school’s most successful cross-country season in its history.
This year, Zullo wanted to make sure he was contributing to the Little Tigers’ success on the course.
“Going into the summer, I really wanted to be in the top seven in cross-country,” said Zullo, a junior. “I had to train every day and do the work and go to the gym. I said to myself if I did all those things I could reach my goal.
“I was the 12th guy last year. We had a few seniors and then a big pack. In the spring, right after the Cherokee race, I PRed (personal record) in the mile and that was motivation for me. I knew what I had to do.”
The work Zullo put in has certainly paid off this season. Last Saturday he was Princeton’s fourth finisher, 17th overall, at the Central Jersey, Group IV state sectional meet that was run at Thompson Park in Jamesburg.
His performance helped lift the Little Tigers to the sectional team title by one point over West Windsor-Plainsboro South.
Will Hare finished first overall in 15:39, while Jackson Donahue came in 11th, Acasio Pinheiro placed 16th, Zullo ended in 17th and Alex Ackerman finished 22nd as Princeton posted 67 points to edge WW-P South, which finished with 68 points.
Freehold Township finished third with 86 points. Montgomery was eighth, led by Jeffrey Meyer in 36th place and Harry Gould in 39th.
The Princeton boys’ team was able to successfully defend its state sectional title, which came much easier a year ago when the Little Tigers outdistanced WW-P South by 45 points. This time around, every place mattered.
“Toward the end of the meet my stomach was starting to get to me,” said Zullo, a Cranbury resident. “I was concerned we didn’t get the W. (PHS coach Jim Smirk) was pacing and wasn’t sure if we had won. Eventually, when the results came out, it was fantastic.
“I was running with Jackson and Alex ,so I knew I was in the top five. I was paying attention to the guys in front of me and trying to stay ahead of the South guys. It paid off at the end.”
Zullo spent the summer away from home, so he put in quite a bit of his work on his own.
“I was at the beach most of the summer, so I had to do a lot of runs myself,” Zullo said. “I talked to Coach Smirk at the end of spring track about what I needed to do. I stuck to the guide. I made it my daily routine to work in the morning and run at night.”
He came back to the opening of practice in good shape and ready to compete for a spot in the varsity lineup.
“Toward the beginning it was still on and off,” Zullo said. “I didn’t know if I broke into the top seven. Watching it from sidelines last year was really rough. I knew I wanted to be part of it and wanted to contribute to the team’s success.”
Zullo was the Little Tigers’ fourth finisher, 17th overall, at the Mercer County meet, helping the team to a county championship. He’s come a long way in his three years with the program and hopes that even better days are ahead.
“Freshman year I was not very good, but I did run,” Zullo said. “That year in cross country I wasn’t really serious about it. I played freshman basketball and then after track that spring I got serious about it. Coach Smirk made me understand what I needed to do to improve.
“This is all about building a legacy for Princeton High School for years to come, not just this year.”
Princeton will  now focus on repeating as the state Group IV champion when that meet is held on Saturday at Holmdel Park. WW-P South will be there, as will South Jersey champ Kingsway and North Jersey powers Westfield and North Hunterdon.
“Facing South again, they are going to be out for blood,” Zullo said. “It should be a great meet. There will be a lot of good teams there.”
And after cheering from the sidelines last year, this time around Zullo will be on the course doing what he can to help Princeton to a title.
And then the following week, Princeton will focus on retaining the Meet of Champions state title. That season-ending state championship race will also be held at Holmdel Park and will be run on Nov. 18.
In the Central Jersey, IV girls’ cross-country meet at Thompson Park, Princeton finished fourth to advance to the state Group IV meet at Holmdel Park.
Also in the girls’ sectional meet, Montgomery was 12th.
For Princeton, Chloe Taylor finished ninth and Siena Moran was 10th to lead the way.  Charlotte Gilmore was 15th, Lauren Cleary 35th and Elizabeth Hare 43rd to round out the top five. Montgomery was led by Julia Hans, who finished 38th.