Stafford Leader

Southern Again Viable Contender for Girls Cross-Country Titles

Sep 14, 2018
Photo by: David Biggy LEADER: Southern senior Gianna Citarella expects to pace the girls cross-country team this fall.

Last fall, both Southern Regional cross-country teams captured Ocean County championships and looked great doing it. This season, coach Jason Capelli’s girls team appears to be a prime contender for the top spot yet again.

“We’re looking to defend our Ocean County title and improve upon out state meet results from last year,” Capelli said. “We have four girls who will lead the charge, and a few intriguing newcomers who could be coursing at their heels.”

With Taylor Mulch now at Stockton University, the Rams are left with four of their five lead runners from a year ago: senior Gianna Citarella and juniors Emily Furlong, Jaelyn D’Amelio and Alexa Mulch. That’s a darned good crew leading the way.

Citarella, who’s been among the Rams’ leaders for three years, routinely ran right behind Taylor Mulch and finished eighth in Ocean County, 44th in the Shore Conference, 15th in NJSIAA South Jersey Group IV and 71st in Group IV.

The other three returnees weren’t at the same level as Taylor Mulch and Citarella, but they usually ran in a tight pack a bit farther back in the field and often fed off each other to score low points and help Southern win. Furlong was 14th in the county, 57th in the conference, 31st in the section and 71st in the group last fall, while D’Amelio finished 10th in the county, 48th in the conference, 32nd in the section and 81st in the group meets. Alexa Mulch ended up 17th in the county, 78th in the conference and 43rd in the section.

As this season got underway this week, the only question regarding Capelli’s group was which runner would take over the fifth spot in the lead group, or which ones might rise up the ranks to challenge for it. Senior Katelyn Brischler, who consistently ran close behind the Rams’ top five a year ago, seems the likely choice to take over the fifth position after finishing 34th in Ocean County and 71st in SJ IV last fall. Classmate Brianna Topchev, who was 35th in the county and 73rd in the section a year ago, was not far off the pace.

However, Capelli believes several freshmen will solidify the Rams’ lineup and challenge the lead crew. Among them are Rachel Short, Olivia Horton and Vivian Michaels.

As for Scott Baker’s boys team, this may be one of those rebuilding seasons. Southern has been the county champs on the boys’ side for a large majority of the past 10 years – including two straight with Evan Adanatzian, Paul Keyes and Connor McBride leading the way. But those three guys have gone off to college, and now it’s up to a lot of younger Rams to rise up and fill in the top-three positions.

Breaking onto the scene last year, sophomore Jackson Braddock is the runner leading the Rams this season. He’s definitely capable, after finishing 14th in Ocean County and 30th in South Jersey Group IV last year. Behind him, it’s an all-hands-on-deck kind of thing this season.

“We lost three big guns in Evan, Paul and Connor,” Baker said. “Jackson is a solid No. 1 man for us, but our success lies within how the guys behind him develop.”

The challenge of creating a viable top five rests in the feet of a few young men who brought up the rear last year. First and foremost is their No. 5 runner from a year ago, junior Keoni Lieter, who finished 25th in the county, 80th in the conference and 65th in the section last fall.

Beyond Lieter, senior Trevor Middleton and junior Dean Bates seem to be the next in line for keeping Southern a contender in big meets. Middleton last season ended up 43rd in the county, 79th in the conference and 47th in the section, while Bates placed 32nd in the county, 90th in the conference and 70th in the section.

After those top four slots, the fifth, sixth and seventh positions aren’t nearly as clear, but Baker expects a bunch of younger guys to make some impact, including juniors Jayant Jani, Nick Lemley and Alex Reck, along with sophomores Dylan Bates, Michael Chanda, John Mastandrea and Timothy Sincavage.

— David Biggy

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