“I am process-oriented,” said Shelley, who joined the program as an assistant coach last year before replacing John Woodside as head coach this fall.
“I don’t talk about beating WW/P-S, for instance, I talk about running the best race possible. I am really focused on daily development. We really, really try for a developmental approach: we try to not put pressure on the runners.”
Last Saturday, PHS handled the pressure of the Shore Coaches Invitational with aplomb, taking third of 24 teams in the Varsity C race.
“We had a lot of guys set personal bests at Holmdel and others got their first experience. Our No. 3 runner [Kevin Vahdat] dropped out due to a leg problem, which was smart. If he had run his regular race, we could have won.”
Junior star Jacob Rist ran a terrific race, taking fifth overall in a time of 16:53.
“Jacob is very coachable,” said Shelley. “He listens carefully and asks good questions about training. He has perfect running form. Last year he was in the high 18s at the Shore meet and was at 17:30s in the state meet so he improved by 30 seconds. Breaking 17 at Holmdel is legit.”
PHS boasts another legit star in battle-tested senior Conor Donahue, the eighth-place finisher at the Shore meet in a time of 17:04. “Conor is very knowledgeable about the sport,” said Shelley.
“He understands his body and the difference between being sore and injured. He struggled with quad tightness and Jim Smirk has really helped him with that. Conor has been a leader for us, not just in running. The seniors have done a very good job working with the younger runners and setting a good example. Cross country is a sport that requires a lot of self-discipline.”
Freshman Alex Roth has done a good job of following the example set by the PHS veterans, taking 18th last Saturday in a time of 17:37.
“He has taken off tremendously, he has been in the low 17s,” said Shelley, noting that the program has a good group of freshmen, including Ty Watsky, who ran an 18:15 time in the JV race at the Shore meet.
“We are trying to keep him within the process. He was hurt a little bit and we had him ride the bike for a few days so he could get his legs back. Alex has been humble; he doesn’t say a lot, he just goes about his business.”
With the county and sectional competitions coming up in a few weeks, Shelly is hoping that his team can take care of business when it counts most.
“I want them to be fast at the right time,” said Shelley, who hopes to have Vahdat and senior Anders Berg at full health in time for those events.
“We have the potential to be competitive in the big meets. To win an elite race, we have to have all our key runners do well on the same day. We want to run our best races at the right time; that is the goal going into the counties and sectionals.”