Pinelands Cross-Country Squads On the Rise This Fall
Pinelands Regional girls cross-country coach Kelly Johnson has reason to be optimistic as the summer winds down and the upcoming season draws closer.
Not only do the Wildcats have a top-notch runner leading the charge this fall, but also an up-and-coming youngster who may make a lot of noise at the county level, plus five others who are ready to take their game higher have given their coach some peace of mind.
“I’m very happy with what we have going into the season,” said Johnson, whose Wildcats finished 3-4 a year ago and lost only one prominent senior to graduation, Brielle Gulya. “We have a hard-working team with a lot of potential. We don’t have 60 kids. We have seven, but they want to succeed and I’m more optimistic than I’ve been in recent years.”
The leader of the Wildcats’ pack is senior Emily Roth, who last season was recovering from a bout with mononucleosis and not at 100 percent the entire season. Roth placed 32nd during the Ocean County Championships but several weeks later took 12th at the NJSIAA South Jersey Group II meet.
“Emily’s our leader, for sure,” Johnson said. “Emily has the experience. She’s a phenomenal leader who’s great at getting the other kids to calm down and keep them focused. Unfortunately, she was still recovering last year and we really couldn’t set her loose. We had to be very cautious with her.
“But heading into this season, she’s super strong and ready to rock.”
Also returning for another season are senior Brianna Ford and juniors Liann Yu and Susan Grelak, while freshmen Abby Sooy, Gabbie Rollison and Joline Zaccaria should add to the lineup. In fact, Johnson recommended paying close attention to Zaccaria, whom Johnson compared to former distance standout Lauren Zodl, who’s now running at the University of Delaware.
“Joline’s going to make a huge impact right away,” she said. “She has a body very much like Lauren Zodl, and she’s going to be a challenger for the front positions in our meets. We haven’t really seen everything she’s got yet, but she has amazing potential.”
Meanwhile, the Pinelands boys cross-country team has the potential to be significantly better than last season, when it went 0-7. Coach Don Angelini’s crew has a large mixture of experienced and young runners, and he believes his Wildcats will make their presence known within the Shore Conference B South division this fall.
“I think we’re going to score some points in a few meets this year,” he said. “If our guys race as tough as they practice, we’re going to be all right.”
Leading the way for the boys will be senior Eric Allikmaa, who last season placed 68th at the county meet and 37th in South Jersey Group II. Also back for another season are seniors Russ Paretzky and Connor Sparks, along with junior Ryan Lutz and sophomores Tristin Pharo and Patrick Princiotti.
“I’m expecting Eric to be better with his times this season and be competitive for the top spots in our B South meets,” Angelini said. “Pharo and Princiotti should be better as well. But it looks like we have some really good young runners coming in, too, and that’s exciting.”
Among the top newcomers to the roster are junior Liam McGettigan and freshman Nolan Rollison, whom Angelini believes may be one of the team’s top three runners heading into the new campaign.
In addition to McGettigan and Nolan Rollison, joining the Wildcats this season are sophomores Alex Haldenwang and Justin Schaltmann, and freshmen Aiden Rollison, Dan Rivera, Ryan McGowan, Michael Kay, Tino Daleo and Justin Bowen.
“We have the capability to be in the hunt in quite a few of our meets this season,” Angelini said. “I definitely think we can beat Lakewood and Manchester this year, and maybe we’ll give a few of the other teams a good run as well. We have a lot of promising runners.”