With senior star Luke Bozich sidelined by an ankle injury, the Princeton High boys’ cross country team faced an uphill battle as they competed in the Passaic County Coaches Invitational last Saturday.
But showing depth and resolve, PHS ended up at the front of the pack in the Group 3 division, edging Middletown North by four points.
For Little Tiger head coach John Woodside, the victory reflected his squad’s character as much as its talent.
“It is always good to be the winning team,” said Woodside. “It is nice to look a little deeper, the indications are real nice. Stuff happens and you adjust. Guys fill in and other guys do well. Cross country is absolutely a team sport; the individual is secondary.”
Woodside was happy with the individual effort he is getting from junior Kevin Vahdat, who finished sixth on Saturday, covering the 3.1 mile course at Garret Mountain Reservation in Woodland Park in a time of 16:49.
“I am really proud of him; he is starting to do the things we know he is capable of,” said Woodside.
“He has had a series of leg injuries. He is growing and maturing; his stride has changed a lot. He has adjusted to it. He is running pain free and it is nice to see.”
PHS got some nice performances from two veterans, junior Conor Donahue and senior Matt Wong, at the Passaic meet, as they placed 11th and 12th, respectively.
“Conor has had leg pain; he is dealing with a problem in his quads,” said Woodside.
“He has to hold back a little bit; he finished well on Saturday. Matt Wong had a great race. He was tired Tuesday and disappointed by how he did. He came back today.”
Two members of the team’s supporting cast, junior Anders Berg and sophomore Jacob Rist, came through in a big way on Saturday.
“Anders Berg and Jacob Rist are two guys that are pulling closer to the front of the pack,” said Woodside.
“At four and five, they did a fantastic job; they really won the race for the team. Middletown North had three guys in the top 8 but Anders and Jacob were ahead of their 4th place runner. I am really proud of how they did.”
Woodside expect Bozich to do some fantastic things when he returns to action.
“There are multiple indications that he is our top runner,” said Woodside. “He has been quite a way out front in training runs. He is taking that step that runners sometimes take. He is stepping into role of leader; he is not afraid and always runs hard.”
In Woodside’s view, PHS has the ability to make a good run in the upcoming county and state meets.
“The guys are feeling good about where they are going,” said Woodside, noting that program got some good performances from its younger runners as Simon Gabriel won the JV race to help PHS take second in the team standings in that event and that the freshman team placed first in their race.
“They are happy with the way things have gone and focused on where we are going in another month. The kids are really excited; they are coming together. We have hit our stride in training and we are getting ready for the big meets.”