October 10, 2018

Featuring Trio of Senior Stars at Front of Pack, PHS Boys’ Cross Country Primed for County Meet

SETTING THE PACE: Princeton High boys’ cross country runner Acasio Pinheiro (No. 858, second from right) competes in a 2017 race. Last Saturday, senior star Pinheiro took third individually in the Boys’ Varsity C race at the Shore Coaches Invitational in Holmdel Park to help the Little Tigers place third of 27 schools in the team standings in the race. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Over the last several years, the individual brilliance of Alex Roth and and then Will Hare helped spark the Princeton High boys’ cross country team to county and state crowns.

This fall, a triumvirate of senior standouts, Acasio Pinheiro, Jackson McCarthy, and Tucker Zullo, have combined to make PHS formidable again.

Last Saturday, the  trio finished in the top seven in the Boys’ Varsity C race at the Shore Coaches Invitational at Holmdel Park to help the Little Tigers place third in the team standings.

“I am really excited for what we put together yesterday and the combo of Acasio, Jackson and Tucker,” said PHS head coach Jim Smirk, reflecting on the race which saw Pinheiro take third with a time of 16:20 over the 5,000-meter course  with McCarthy coming in third at 16:40 just ahead of Zullo in seventh in 16:41.

“We have have been doing a lot of training to just run consistently at this point, and to drop those kind of times building off the base is a launching off point for what we want getting ready for the postseason.”

In Smirk’s view, each of his three seniors is ready to star. “I think they are doing some things this year, showing their maturity a little bit more with a little more confidence in the work that they have done over the last couple of years,” said Smirk. “All three of them are really primed for a breakout season.”

While the trio ran together on Saturday, they sometimes go their separate ways in training.

“They all have their own personalities; there are times that their training is lined up and they are doing stuff together but they are also very independent and focused as well,” said Smirk.

“There are times that they are doing that work by themselves. They are able to balance what seems to be separate ideas together and as a result we are building a strong core up front.”

PHS got a strong performance from junior Tyler Fu as he took 24th in 17:19.

“Tyler Fu is really coming into his own at this point and we are really excited to have him as our four man right now,” said Smirk,

“Every time we train, every time we race, he is starting to understand the difference between just running and racing at a high level. Saturday was real exciting for him; he got into a really good race around the two-mile mark with some really string competitors and he stuck his nose in there and really … worked hard.”

Sophomore Jacob Bornstein is coming into his own as well, finishing 60th at the Shore Coaches meet with a time of 18:05.

“Jacob is kind of our security blanket; when he steps on the line, everyone looks around left and right  and doesn’t really see him,” said Smirk, noting that two other sophomores, Collin McCafferty and Daniel DiLella, are making progress.

“He didn’t come out for spring track; he played tennis instead. He is just doing good, solid work day in, day out and you know he is going to be there when we need him. That is what he showed again Saturday.”

PHS is aiming for a good showing at the Mercer County Championships on October 19 at Washington Crossing State Park as the program goes for its third straight county crown.

“Mercer County is stacked, these guys are awesome to watch and they have different ways of getting there,” said Smirk, citing Liam Murphy of Allentown, Sean Dolan of Hopewell Valley, Sameer Das of WW/P-South, and Vedang Lad of WW/P-North.

“You have kids who are grinders and made themselves good and you have kids who have supreme talent who are learning about the sport. I would hate to make a prediction.”

With the way his runners have been grinding, Smirk feels the Little Tigers will be in the mix.

“I don’t want to discount our guys, the stuff we are doing is fantastic,” maintained Smirk.

“You start looking at a kid like Tucker and before it was ‘who knew?’ who Tucker was. Now he is starting to make his imprint. Late in races, he grinds and is aggressive when he needs to be. That is the kind of stuff we want to see out of our guy. If we can find ourselves, we will be in that conversation as well.”