Southern Girls Cross Country Team in Running for Championships AgainTauro Returns as Volunteer Coach
Last year the Southern Regional High School girls cross country team did something special: it won an Ocean County Championship. So, what will 2012 bring?
After all, the Rams lost a number of seniors to graduation, including Rachel Heussner, who is now running for the University of North Carolina, Hannah Neustadt, now competing for Florida Atlantic University; Elisse Jeffries-Ramirez; and Rachel Marino.
Well, as of Monday, the girls are looking mighty good. They squeaked past Shore Conference rival Jackson Memorial, 27-28, to up their dual meet record to 3-0. And according to head coach Brian Zatorski, they had also competed in the Cherokee Challenge in Marlton earlier in the season and finished seventh overall in an invitational meet that drew 65 teams from New Jersey, New York and Delaware.
“This year’s team is very talented,” said Zatorski, who has coached cross country teams at Southern for 15 years. “But I would have to say our greatest strength lies in our depth. Our varsity (top seven runners) and JV squads will be very competitive at all levels this season. If we can stay healthy, I can see our team being in the conversation for a repeat at the county level, top three in the Shore Conference and top two at the (South Jersey Group IV State) Sectional. It’s still very early and there are many miles to run before we get to the championship meets, but things so far are right on schedule.”
So, how did the team make up for all that loss of graduating talent?
“Our most improved runner from last year, at this point, could very well be junior Jami DiFillippo,” said the head coach. “She was a regular in our top seven last season, but has really put in a lot of work this summer and has regularly been our team’s No. 2 runner in workouts. If she keeps that up in races, it makes us a very strong opponent in the two-to-five scoring area.”
Sure enough, DiFillippo ran a good race on Monday, finishing fifth in the field and third among Southern’s runners, with a time of 20:15, behind only race winner Jillian Smith (19:36) and Danielle Smolyn (20:10).
DiFillippo will be pushed by a pair of runners who are new to the cross country program.
“Melana Hammel is a standout 800m runner for us on the track, making her cross country debut, from soccer, for us this season,” said Zatorski. “She has been a regular in our top seven, varsity runners and is getting better and better each week.
“Another runner worth noting is freshman Sadie Harrigle. Sadie has been improving by leaps and bounds and has moved into the ‘A’ training group. She’s young and relatively new to the sport, so her overall training mileage is still a little lower than her teammates’. However, she may have just as much talent as anybody on our team when the training catches up in late October.”
Indeed, Harrigle already made her mark on Monday, finishing 10th overall with a time of 21:20 (the other Southern top 10 finisher was Courtney Maracvewski, who was seventh overall in a time of 20:19).
So with proven leaders such as Smith, improved runners such as DiFillippo, and newcomers such as Hammel and Harrigle, Southern seems to have made up for the stars it lost to graduation.
Zatorski isn’t cocky, but he feels his team should be in the thick of things all fall.
“Predictions in our sport are tough because we walk such a fine line,” said the veteran coach. “If one of the girls has a bad race on championship day it could mean the difference between first and fifth. Our division, A South, is loaded with talent and we seem to run into solid programs at every championship stop of the season. That being said, I think we are as good as any team out there. And if we can keep everybody healthy and training well, we will be part of the conversation all the way through the state level. As good as we were last year, I think this year’s team is better.”
Southern has an angel in its midst as well, in the form of Danielle Tauro, Southern’s greatest track and cross country athlete ever: an All-State athlete, State Champion, Penn Relays Champion and Millrose Games Champion in high school. Tauro went on to be an All-American in college at the University of Michigan (just as impressive, she won Academic All-Big Ten honors). She’s back, serving as a volunteer assistant coach. If the Rams need inspiration, they certainly don’t have to look too far!
What will 2012 bring? Probably a lot of headlines.