By Bob Nuse, Sports Editor
When Jim Smirk watches Will Hare compete, he can see the intangibles that make a great runner.
“It speaks a lot to Will’s desire to be successful and willingness to plan and train according to what we have laid out for him,” said Smirk, the Princeton High cross-country coach. “This conversation didn’t start in August. It started three years ago when he decided to go from another runner in the pack to the strongest runner on the team.”
Hare’s three-year journey has moved him into position to not just be one of Princeton’s strongest runners, but one of the strongest runners in the state.
Last Saturday at Holmdel Park, Hare finished first in the state Group IV meet, helping the Little Tigers to a second-place team finish.
Hare covered the course at Holmdel in 16:01 to finish four seconds ahead of Freehold Township’s Nicholas Ackerman. His time was the third fastest run on the course during the entire group championship races that day, trailing only Devin Hart of Point Pleasant Boro (15:34) and Chris Romero of Voorhees (15:41).
The victory at the Group IV meet comes on the heels of championships that he claimed at the Mercer County meet and the Central Jersey, Group IV meet earlier this season.
“Physically, Will has done all the work,” Smirk said. “The toughest thing is it is hard to stay memory sharp for all those meets. Going against teams like (West Windsor-Plainsboro) South and Hopewell Valley, those are not cakewalks. We’ve run Manhattan and Shore Coaches. We have not run those races with the intent of taking it easy on Will. We chose those things on purpose and he has lived up to those expectations and goals.”
With Hare finishing first to lead the way, Princeton finished second to Kingsway in the Group IV race.
Behind Hare in the top five for the Little Tigers were Acasio Pinheiro (sixth), Jackson McCarthy (27th), Alex Ackerman (33rd) and Jackson Donahue (40th).
Kingsway, which hails from Swedesboro in Gloucester County, put five runners in the top 15 to outdistance Princeton, 52-91, for the team title.
“They were the real deal,” Smirk said of Kingsway. “They had an 11-second spread between their top five runners. We had the opportunity to be better for sure. The thing that impressed me the most was it was easy to be down about our performance. But the veterans’ talk was that we did our job and we can be better in a week. That conversation had already started. That is nod to how committed this team is to being successful.”
The trip to the Meet of Champions will be the third straight for the Little Tigers. They won the Meet of Champions state title last year after having finished 10th the year prior.
The Meet of Champions race will be run this Saturday at Holmdel Park.
“We’ve been here three years in a row,” Smirk said. “When this current group was sophomores it was a surprise. Last year we put ourselves in a good position and this year has been a very different way of getting there. We’ve had a lot of different individuals contribute in a lot of different ways. Even going back to county and sectional meets it was who is up to the next big challenge?
“With the Meet of Champs the question is can we all do it at the same time? Tucker (Zullo) had a big meet at the county, Donahue at sectionals, and McCarthy at the Group meet. And then you have the consummate competitors with Will and Alex and you hope Acasio can build on what he was successful with last week when he is there with a good strong effort.”
The Tigers will run into Kingsway again at the MOC.
“You have to look at what they did and say that is a team built to win,” Smirk said. “We’ll have to do some things better to be in that conversation. I look back at last year and the conversation was CBA and Colts Neck. We have to do what we do well and bring the best effort we can.
“For two of the guys (McCarthy and Zullo), this was the first time they raced at Groups on that course. Traditionally we run better the second time through. It will be an exciting race. Sometimes people talk about winning. Sometimes it is more important to race good competition. It’s important to challenge yourself and race against great competition. That is something we’re going to do and look forward to.”
Zullo finished 49th and Nicholas Delaney was 52nd to round out the top seven for Princeton at the Group IV meet.
The Princeton girls finished 14th in the Group IV meet. Chloe Taylor finished 43rd and Siena Moran was 52nd to lead the way for the Little Tigers.
By Bob Nuse, Sports Editor