Southern Boys, Girls Cross-Country Teams Stacked With Talent
The Southern Regional boys cross-country team has won the Shore Conference Class A South title each fall since 2010. And the Rams again seem to be in great shape to add another division crown this season.
“I’m a little nervous about the season, because it’s hard to stay at the top year after year,” said coach Scott Baker, whose squad returns 10 of its top 12 runners from a year ago. “We’re going to be good. There’s no question we’re going to be good. But the question is how good.”
How good relies not so much on the Rams’ top three runners – senior Ethan Yates and juniors Evan Adanatzian and Paul Keyes – but the next three expected to be among those scoring points, seniors Billy Kubarewicz and Nate Skodi and junior Connor McBride.
“Our guys are in great shape heading into the season,” Baker said. “This is the best team I’ve had coming out of the spring track season since I’ve been coaching here. But our success won’t just be about how our first, second and third runners do, but how close our fourth, fifth and sixth runners can stay to the first, second and third guys.”
Last season, Adanatzian clearly was the defending Ocean County champions’ No. 1 guy, finishing seventh in Ocean County, 24th in the Shore Conference and 15th in NJSIAA South Jersey Group IV. Yates wasn’t far off, grabbing ninth in the county and 24th in the sectional meet, while Keyes had a fantastic final month by snagging 13th in the county, 25th in the conference and 21st in SJ IV. McBride and Kubarewicz were 12th and 19th, respectively, in Ocean County in 2015.
“Evan is going to do as Evan does,” Baker said. “He’ll be the guy leading the way, and with him the race plan kind of goes out the window because he can handle it. He just goes out and runs. But the rest of the guys will have a plan, and I’m confident they’ll execute it in every race we run. These guys are ready to go, and Nate’s been running really well so far, so that’s an asset.”
Baker said a mixture of runners would be vying for the seventh position, including senior Neal Marzano, juniors Dominic Bates and Mason Schnell, sophomores Eric Thaler and Dillon Van Liew, and freshmen Colin Boero, Jayant Jani and Keoni Lieter.
“Our freshmen crew is a very talented bunch,” Baker said. “And we have a lot of really good runners, spread throughout the team, who are going to challenge each other. I’m excited to see what they’re going to bring to the table.”
Meanwhile, Jason Capelli is equally excited for the upcoming season with the Southern girls cross-country squad, which had undergone some significant changes during the offseason but still should be a top-notch crew.
The first of those significant changes is that the Rams have a new coach. Capelli, who was a volunteer assistant last season, is taking the reins from longtime coach Brian Zatorski, who over the summer took on an administrative position and stepped away from the program.
“It’s like when you go to a wedding and the best man and maid of honor are giving speeches,” said Capelli, a former coach at Pinelands Regional. “If one of them gives a great speech and the other has to follow, it’s a tough act to follow. That’s kind of what this is like. I’m stepping into something that’s highly established and well oiled. But Brian’s a tough act to follow. I’m feeling some pressure, no doubt.”
Besides Zatorski’s departure as coach, the team lost two of its best distance runners in program history – Liz Chartier and Kaitlyn Mooney – to graduation, along with one of their better runners of the past couple of years, Shannon MacMaster.
Still, Capelli’s squad is not in bad shape by any means. Four of the Rams’ top seven runners from last season are returning, and plenty of newcomers to the roster are capable of posting solid times this fall.
Junior Taylor Mulch last season was fifth in Ocean County right behind Chartier, sixth in the Shore Conference, eighth in NJSIAA South Jersey Group IV and 26th in the Meet of Champions, only seven spots behind Chartier. Sophomore Gianna Citarella in 2015 was ninth in the county, 15th in the conference, 17 in SJ IV and 31st in Group IV.
Rachel Ornstein, one of two seniors back for this season, was 12th in the county, 32nd in the conference and 27th in South Jersey IV. And the other returning senior and often the Rams’ seventh finisher last season, Maura Flynn, was 40th in the county and 94th in SJ IV.
“That’s a solid crew we have coming back,” Capelli said. “They’re a talented, hard-working group of girls. Yes, when you lose greatly talented runners like Chartier and Mooney, they’re difficult to replace. But it’s not going to be devastating for us, because the program is so solid and we have great numbers.”
It’s true – Southern’s “army of athletes” should bode well for Capelli and the Rams as they enter this season. And even though the fifth through seventh positions can be filled by just about anybody, Capelli is eyeing seven runners as those who potentially can fill the gaps left behind by the graduated seniors.
Among them will be senior Danielle Sinko, who had a breakthrough season as a jumper during the spring track season and brings quality leadership and work ethic to the team; junior Amanda Ward, who Capelli said has been pushing herself to a new level in practices; and sophomore Brianna Topchev, who is showing a lot of desire and improvement.
Capelli has seen a talented crew of freshmen come into the program, and several of them may crack the seven-girl lineup at some point, including Emily Furlong, Katelyn Koller, Kylie Conner and Mia Amirr.
“We’re real strong in our 1-3 positions, but the fourth and fifth positions are vital and we’re going to need some girls to step up,” Capelli said. “But I’m hoping we can do as well or better than last year.”
— David Biggy