Featuring Strong Veterans, Talented Newcomers, Stuart Cross Country Maintains Winning Ways
TARTAN PRIDE: Members of the Stuart Country Day School cross country team gather together after a recent race at Rosedale Park. Pictured in the front row, from left to right, are Sharon Song, Melanie Burgess, Diana Tian, Jasmine Hansford, and Kathryn Ix. In the back row, from left, are Miranda Maley, Alexandra Rounds, Sonia Mohandas, and Grace Sheppard. The Tartans have won 22 straight dual meets with their last defeat coming against Lawrenceville in 2014.
By Bill Alden
With talented frontrunner Casey Nelson graduating this past spring, the Stuart Country Day School cross country team figured to take a step back.
But featuring a mix of battle-tested veterans and talented newcomers, Stuart has continued to make strides.
“I am very pleased with the group,” said Stuart head coach Len Klepack, whose squad has won 22 straight dual meets with its last defeat coming against Lawrenceville in 2014.
“Casey was terrific last year but she didn’t have all the support. I think we are a little deeper this year. Our team has been jelling.”
Junior Allie Rounds is enjoying a terrific season,
having emerged as the team’s front runner this fall.
“Allie is finally coming into her own this year; she has been more consistent in training,” said Klepack. “She has been our leader each race, she has been our top girl.”
Another junior, Grace Sheppard, has been coming up big as well. “Grace is a very talented athlete; she plays lacrosse and she works hard,” said Klepack of Sheppard, who has been consistently just behind Rounds at the front of the Stuart pack.
“She has a lot of potential. I don’t think she has reached her potential yet. We will have to see how the next two and a half weeks go before the preps.”
Klepack likes what he is seeing from senior co-captain Sonia Mohandas in her final campaign with the program.
“Sonia is one of those true leaders; she cares about the team and brings everyone together,” said Klepack, noting that the team’s other senior co-captain, Allie Burgess, is currently working her way back into shape.
“She makes it a cohesive group and she is a very caring person. She has a lot of talent. Last year, she was injured and is getting back into the shape she had when she was a 10th grader. I think she will get better and better every race.”
Two new faces, junior Miranda Maley, a transfer from WW/P-South, and sophomore Alex Ottomanelli, have made an impact for the Tartans.
“Miranda Maley has potential, she will end up as one of our top five,” said Klepack.
“She will grow in the sport. She plays lacrosse also but she will run indoor track for us. Alex is a sprinter, long jumper, and triple jumper and is not afraid to train. She has made our top five. She will work very hard, we think she has a good future.”
In addition, sophomore basketball star Jasmine Hansford has been a pleasant surprise. “Jasmine is a determined young lady; she has taken it seriously,” said Klepack. “She is our sixth girl at this point and may end up as our fifth girl.”
With the state Prep B championship meet slated for October 25, Klepack believes Stuart can make a serious run for a top-three finish at the competition.
“I think our fourth and fifth runners have to keep improving,” said Klepack, whose team is slated to compete in the Fall Classic at Thompson Park on October 14 and run at Villa Victoria on October 17.
“Allie is having her best season; Grace and Sonia have to move it up a notch for us to really finish strong.”
No matter how things go in the prep meet, Klepack believes his runners will see the 2017 season as a positive experience.
“They bond very well, the family support is very good, and they enjoy each other,” said Klepack.
“What is great about Stuart is that there are so many options; it is the type of school where you are going to find your niche. I think running is a great release and the team feels that. With all the work that they do academically, learning life lessons that you get from a sport where you have to be dedicated helps them.”