John Woodside reveled in the weather conditions that met his Princeton High boys’ cross country runners last Saturday as they competed in the state Group III championship meet at Holmdel Park.
“It was a perfect cross country day,” said Woodside, who knows a lot about the weather from his work as meteorologist at Newark Airport.
“If it is in the 40s, it is chilly and you need to loosen up. When it is in the 60s, some runners think that is too warm. It was not too hot, not too cold.”
Woodside’s runners proceeded to produce a sizzling performance, taking fifth in the team standings. Senior Luke Bozich led the way for the Little Tigers, placing 14th in the individual standings as he covered the 3.1 mile course in a time of 16:43. Junior Kevin Vahdat was next for PHS, taking 38th with classmate Sage Healy finishing 46th, sophomore Jacob Rist placing 51st, and junior Conor Donahue coming in 73rd.
“Taking the whole performance together, it is probably the best performance of any team I have ever coached,” said Woodside, who is in his 12th year guiding the PHS program.
“It was really fun to watch them compete well and run hard. I was happy that they were able to do so well on a big day. It was a much, much faster and much, much deeper meet than the group meet last year.”
In Woodside’s view, his runners displayed some tactical acumen to go along with their competitive spirit.
“I thought they were a little further back early on than they should be but they really finished strong,” said Woodside.
“Last year the guys ran too hard in the first half-mile and that hurt them later in the race. They didn’t want to do that this year. When I saw them at the 2-mile mark, I was thinking we might not be doing anything today. But between 2 and the 2½ mile mark, they ran very well.”
Senior star Bozich set the pace for the Little Tigers. “Luke ran a gutsy race,” said Woodside. “The top guys didn’t take it out too hard and he was in the front pack for the first half of the race. He set the tone for our guys.”
PHS’s next guys, Vahdat and Healy, flip-flopped during the race. “Kevin Vahdat was our No. 2 guy, he started behind Sage,” said Woodside of Vahdat, who clocked a time of 17:12 with Healy just behind in 17:17.
“He ended up running 10 seconds faster than he did at the Shore Coaches meet. Sage had some injury troubles and ran an 18:48 at Shore Coaches; he was in the JV race at that meet. Once he gets in the rhythm of training he does well. We know he is a talented runner.”
Sophomore Rist is proving himself to be a talented performer for the Little Tigers.
“He didn’t run on varsity as a freshman; he has improved dramatically in a year,” asserted Woodside.
“For a sophomore, he ran a savvy race. He started further back on purpose in the first mile. It is tough, you want to be competitive but the first mile can eat you up. It rises 130 feet. It doesn’t hurt that he has talent. He works hard and he is very consistent.”
The PHS squad has developed a chemistry that has helped the runners enjoy the hard work they have put in this fall.
“They compete with each other but without animosity,” said Woodside. “They root for each other and they all run hard. They are all close and they all have fun.”
Woodside certainly had fun watching his runners excel last Saturday. “I told them if they ran the best they could and ran their hearts out, I don’t need to look at the standings,” said Woodside.
“We were almost 8 seconds faster per guy than the fastest team I have ever had, which was the 2009 team at the group meet. I would say that our first four guys, if they weren’t off the chart, they were at the edge of the chart. I couldn’t ask for any more.”
The Little Tigers will get one more chance to show their speed as they will be competing in the Nike Northeast Regional meet on November 24 in Wappingers Fall, N.Y.
“It is a reward for a great season and will give the returning guys some experience,” said Woodside. “It will be great to take the guys on a trip, go out to dinner, and stay overnight.”