Bengals’ Boys Cross-Country Team Builds Around Pearson and Sarno
Heading into this season, Barnegat boys cross-country coach Keith Stokes seemed a bit concerned about the status of many of his runners. The two he wasn’t worried about are Gunnar Pearson and Kyle Sarno.
“I’m really happy with how they’re running right now,” said Stokes, whose squad dropped its first dual meet of the season against Manchester on Sept. 13 but watched Pearson and Sarno finish first and second, respectively.
“Gunnar’s an exceptional runner with a lot of talent. He’s been working hard and if stays free of injury it will be interesting to see how well he does this season,” said their coach. “And Kyle’s been very impressive so far. Kyle’s running with more confidence and I think he’s a little hungry. They’re definitely the leaders for us, along with Joe Scioscio.”
For sure, Pearson, Sarno and Scioscio – all seniors this year – should be among the Bengals’ best this fall. Pearson is coming off a fantastic spring track season, during which he was the highest finisher (fourth) among Southern Ocean County runners in the 800-meter run at the Ocean County Championships, and took 10th in the 1,600-meter run. A few weeks later in the NJSIAA South Jersey Group II, he placed seventh in the 800 and 10th in the 1,600.
Sarno also is coming off a solid spring after placing 36th in the SJ Group II championship meet last fall and 56th in a loaded Ocean County field. Scioscio was 58th in South Jersey II and 80th in the county.
“What we need are the guys in the middle of the pack to start sliding up and stepping up to fill a bigger role on the team,” Stokes said. “Some of the guys behind Gunnar and Kyle need to respond and start getting up right behind them, or at least closer to them. We need to start scoring more behind them.”
And that’s where juniors Nicholas Kovaly and sophomore Gareth Aguilar enter the picture. Both of them, along with junior Ethan Fox, are going to be expected to contribute more this fall. Last season, Kovaly was 48th in SJ II and 60th in Ocean County, while Aguilar placed 61st in the section and 74th in the county.
Further down on the roster, Stokes said several young newcomers to the varsity squad could be challenging some of the veteran runners. Among them are sophomore Joe Coleman and freshmen Joshua Hutton, who Stokes called a “legitimate challenge for our older guys,” Logan Germano, Jacob Schleicher and Lukas Torres.
“Those five younger guys are a good pack of runners,” Stokes said. “I’ll be really interested to see how they develop and build together. They run very well together, and a few of them could be some of our better runners later in the season.”
The rest of the crew includes sophomores Kevin Becker, Colby Pearson and David Ciani, and freshmen Gino DiGiovanni, Tyler Grant, Matthew Notaro and Connor Hanna.
Meanwhile, with Bob Klaslo’s girls team, the Bengals are down in numbers, but four of the six runners entering this fall have returned for another season.
Juniors Lindsey Shugar, Haley Soccodato and Cassandra Meltsch, along with sophomore Nikolina Lozito, who currently is out with an injury but hopefully will be back soon, are the core of the Barnegat squad. Last year, Lozito took 79th in Ocean County, while Shugar was 88th and Soccodato was 89th.
“Shugar is our top returner. And Haley has been strong so far during the preseason,” Klaslo said. “We don’t have anybody as fast or experienced as Erin O’Connor and Lindsey Weyrick, our top runners from last year who graduated. But I’m hoping Lindsey (Shugar) and Haley can take the leadership roles and put up good times as we go on through the fall.”
The two newcomers to the squad are junior Kalyn Kellner and freshman Isabella Concepcion-Sagarate – two runners Klaslo claims are going “to challenge for the front spots in some meets” and have been training very well thus far.
Prior to opening up with Manchester on Sept. 13, the Bengals used the annual Cherokee Challenge, a meet broken down by grade as a light opener for many runners, as a springboard into the new campaign.
“The conditions were rough but our girls ran well,” Klaslo said. “I always go into a season optimistic. Within our division, I’d like to think we’ll hold our own. Each week will be a building week for our girls, so that they can peak later in the season.”
— David Biggy