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Vol. LXV, No. 41
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
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(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

FRONT-RUNNER: Princeton High cross country star Elyssa Gensib displays her form on the track this past spring. Senior Gensib has emerged as one of the top runners in Group 3 circles, recently placing second in the Varsity C race at the Shore Coaches Invitational at Holmdel. In upcoming action, PHS faces Hamilton, Hightstown, and Nottingham on October 12 at Veterans Park in Hamilton.

Showing 1-2 Punch, Impressive Balance; PHS Girls’ Cross Country Turning Heads

Bill Alden

Competing against the Princeton High girls’ cross country team is like stepping into the ring with a skilled boxer.

PHS hits you with a wicked one-two combination and then wears you down with the rest of its repertoire.

The Little Tigers demonstrated those qualities in Varsity C race at the Shore Coaches Invitational at Holmdel earlier this month as it battled Northern Highlands for the title.

Senior stars Elyssa Gensib and Jenna Cody placed second and sixth, respectively, in the individual standings followed by freshman Julie Bond in 27th, sophomore Belinda Liu placing 29th, and senior captain Louise Eisenach taking 33rd.

PHS head coach Jim Smirk liked the way his team fought hard in the prestigious meet.

“I was thrilled by how we performed,” asserted Smirk, reflecting on the Shore meet which saw PHS tie Northern Highlands with 90 points with the latter declared as the winner based on its sixth place runner finishing ahead of her PHS counterpart.

“Elyssa is coming to understand that she is one of the top runners in Group 3 and backing up her performance was Jenna, who had her third-best time ever on the Holmdel course with the other two coming at the end of the season. The rest of the pack showed impressive balance.”

Senior Gensib has been impressive this fall, emerging as the PHS frontrunner.

“Elyssa has worked extremely hard; she gives her absolute best everyday,’ said Smirk of Gensib, who clocked a time of 19;25 over the tough 3.1 mile Holmdel course.

“It doesn’t matter what happened at school or with her friends, she checks that at the door. She broke out last spring in track. We sat down and talked about how far she can go. She has developed as a runner and an athlete.”

Gensib and Cody have developed into a potent combination at the front of the pack.

“Elyssa and Jenna have different racing styles,” explained Smirk. “Jenna has one speed and grinds it out; Elyssa changes speeds and throws surges in. They feed off of each other. Elyssa occupies a runner and sometimes teams forget about Jenna. Elyssa gets security from having Jenna there and Jenna uses what Elyssa does.”

Sophomore Belinda Liu has provided PHS with some security, typically handling the third spot.

“We knew she had talent; there was a buzz from middle school,” said Smirk. “She struggled in our system at first. She thought she was going to walk in and be no. 1 but we perform on a four-year plan. Amelia Whaley got injured in the beginning of the season and to Belinda’s credit, she stepped up. She said this is my role, being no. 3. She has taken that on and has really been a rock for us in that spot. She is better physically this year but also better emotionally and mentally.”

Senior captain Louise Eisenach has emerged as an emotional leader for the Little Tigers.

“You know exactly what you are getting from Louise,” said Smirk. “She is anchoring the back edge of the pack. She puts herself out there and says you have to catch me. Belinda and Julie have benefitted from that. She is a no-nonsense captain; she expects you to do your job and do it well. I give her a lot of credit. I say we provide the workout plan but the runners have to provide the heart. She makes sure the girls do that.”

Freshmen Bond and Mary Sutton have displayed heart as they have adjusted to high school competition.

“Both were the no. 1 runners in their middle school with Julie at Cranbury and Mary at John Witherspoon,” said Smirk.

“They were blown away in the first couple of weeks. I sat down with them and told them their role is not to be studs; our top runners will take care of them. They just need to learn how to run and race in our system.”

In Smirk’s view, PHS has the ability to come up with some very good races over the rest of the fall.

“We have been knocking on the door,” said Smirk, noting that PHS narrowly lost to Robbinsville before topping WW/P-S and then placing second at the Passaic County Coaches Invitational.

“The challenge is not to step through the door but to knock it down. We are going to be challenged in the counties, sectionals, and states. We are poised to do it; we just need to believe in our talent and work. Sometimes we try to make things happen; I tell them to just let yourself go.”

And if PHS develops that self-belief, it could end up knocking out the competition.

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