Stafford Leader

Southern Cross-Country Teams Have Lots of Talent, Big Potential

Sep 08, 2017
Photo by: David Biggy Southern senior Taylor Mulch.

After losing two of the best female runners in Southern Regional’s history to graduation the previous summer, as well as longtime coach Brian Zatorski to an administrative position within the district, last year’s cross-country team found itself amid a rebuilding year as new coach Jason Capelli asked a senior, junior, sophomore and three freshmen to carry the Rams.

Southern indeed dropped off a bit from what it had been the previous few years, but Capelli got a lot out of Rachel Ornstein, Taylor Mulch, Gianna Citarella, Jaelyn D’Amelio, Emily Furlong and Alexa Mulch. They still finished second in the Shore Conference Class A South division, fourth in Ocean County, eighth in the Shore Conference and eighth in NJSIAA South Jersey Group IV – and the experience was valuable.

The Rams are minus Ornstein, but Capelli expects the experience the rest of the Rams gained a year ago to pay big dividends this fall.

“In this, my second year at the helm of the program, I hope we can improve upon all numbers,” Capelli said. “We have a giant team of over 50 athletes, and I hope everyone finds a way to contribute to the team’s success. If this happens, we will be tough to beat.”

Almost certainly, Taylor Mulch will be the leader of the pack. The senior battled knee problems last season and was struggling toward the end, finishing eighth in Ocean County, 27th in the Shore Conference and eighth in South Jersey Group IV. During the spring, she nursed her knees for several months before getting back to the track late in May. So, if she can somehow get back to a similar pace she had run during her sophomore year – when Southern finished third in the Meet of Champions – it would benefit the Rams greatly.

However, there’s no real pressure on her to be at that level throughout the season, because the rest of the crew behind her should be much improved since last year. No doubt, Citarella, now a junior, is next in line to be one of the Rams’ leaders, following a sophomore year in which she placed 15th in the county, 42nd in the conference and 38th in the section.

Still, if Southern is going to be a contender within the division or in any of the big meets, the sophomores who were newcomers to varsity competition last fall are going to have to rise higher. Last October, D’Amelio, Furlong and Alexa Mulch were 28th, 29th and 38th, respectively, in Ocean County. Furlong ended up as the Rams’ second-best runner in the sectional meet, placing 35th.

“Taylor is one of the top runners in the state, and Gianna and Emily will be coursing at her heels this season,” Capelli said. “Jaelyn and Alexa had stellar outdoor track seasons and, after three seasons of running, we’re looking for them to improve upon their freshmen campaigns.”

Capelli said two of the team’s newcomers – junior Rebecca LaFalce and freshman Heather Manion – might add to the depth of the varsity lineup as well.

As for Scott Baker’s boys team, expect the Rams to be a powerful crew once again. It all starts with senior Evan Adanatzian, Southern’s lead runner the past two seasons, who finished third in Ocean County last fall before an injury derailed him. Adanatzian likely will be a contender again for the county title this fall, as the Rams look to repeat as both division and county champs.

Behind Adanatzian will be seniors Paul Keyes and Connor McBride, who finished sixth and seventh, respectively, in the county meet last October. Keyes also finished 11th in South Jersey Group IV, while McBride placed 32nd.

“Evan is set to have a huge season, and Paul and Connor are our cornerstones,” Baker said. “We have a big team, with a rock-solid group of freshmen, and we’re hoping to repeat as division and county champs and make an impact on the state level.”

All that can’t happen with just three top-notch runners, though, which means some newcomers to the varsity squad will need to step up and start making a bigger impact by midseason. Among those Baker will be counting on to rise include seniors Dom Bates and Devin Conner, and juniors Trevor Middleton, Dillon Van Liew and Eric Thaler.

Also expected to be in the mix in some way will be sophomores Alex Reck, Ryan LeBelle, Nick Lemley, Keoni Lieter, Colin Boero and Dean Bates.

— David Biggy

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