For the Princeton Day School cross country team, the arrival of freshman Morgan Mills from overseas has symbolized the program’s new direction.
With Mills asserting herself as the top runner for the girls’ team, the Panthers have posted dual meet wins over Pennington, Hun, Stuart, Rutgers Prep, and Hamilton and placed eighth in the Varsity E girls’ race at the Shore Coaches Invitational.
PDS head coach Merrell Noden is certainly happy that Mills returned to America.
“Morgan Mills moved here from London,” said Noden “She ran for a school there, St Paul’s, and the Thames Valley Harriers. She is very competitive; she does most of her training with our boys’ runners. She is also a very good competitive swimmer.”
Senior Liz Gudgel has proven to be a top competitor and leader for the Panthers.
“I have never seen a runner improve her 5k so much in a year as Liz has,” said Noden.
“She ran a 24:24 last year and her best this year is around 20:38 or 20:40. She worked very hard over the summer. She is one of our captains and is doing a good job.”
The team’s other senior captain, Abby Sharer, has shown grit as she battled through injury this fall.
“Abby has shin splints; she is so determined and brave,” said Noden, noting that Abby’s, younger sister, sophomore Emma, has also been in PDS’s top five this fall. “We got to that point where she could have taken three or four days off and see if it clears up or baby it and keep running. She chose the latter.”
Sophomore Meghan Wilmott has also gotten better this fall. “Meghan did a lot of running over the summer, she has been right in the mix,” said Noden.
The PDS boys’ squad is also running well this fall, benefiting from the addition of two freshmen, Ian Moini and the coach’s son, Sam Noden.
“Ian Moini already has a lot of experience; he has run in Junior Olympic events,” said Noden.
“He likes shorter, fast, aggressive runs. He is very talented, he has run a 17:08 5k. It has been a great pleasure to coach Sam, I try to treat him like everybody else. I have been very impressed by his improvement. On July 4, he ran a 5k in around 20:30. He has 5k down to 17:53.”
Senior Jake Hall has impressed Noden with his toughness and leadership. “Jake is a basketball player,” said Noden.
“He does a lot of running and last year asked if I would mind if he ran in some races. We were short on runners and he ended up being our second runner. He has improved since last year. He’s a tough guy, he has been a good captain.”
With the country meet slated for October 25 at Washington’s Crossing Park and the state Prep B championships taking place on October 30 at the Blair Academy, Noden is looking for more good results.
“We will run Ian and Sam in freshman race at the counties; we think Ian has a chance to win,” said Noden. “We will run a weakened team in the boys’ varsity race. We will run a strong girls team in the varsity race; we think we can score well and maybe get fifth or sixth. We have a lot of kids who want to improve their times. They have a better chance to do that at Washington’s Crossing rather than Blair.”
For Noden, though, the placings are secondary to getting his runners to fall in love with the sport.
“My goal is have the kids learn something about running and cross country, to make them enjoy it and stay with it, and to improve,” said Noden.
“I think just about every one of our runners has improved this fall. They all get along well and support each other and that is important.”