November 7, 2018

With Senior Star Pinheiro Setting the Pace, PHS Boys’ Cross Country 2nd at Sectional

PINNING IT DOWN: Princeton High boys’ cross country runner Acasio Pinheiro shows his form in a 2016 race. Last Saturday, senior star Pinheiro placed first individually at the Central Jersey Group 4 cross country sectional at Thompson Park in Jamesburg. Pinheiro’s heroics helped PHS finish second in the team standing behind champion WW/P-South. PHS will be competing in the state Group 4 meet on November 10 at Holmdel Park. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

A soggy course and howling winds greeted runners as they competed last Saturday in the Central Jersey Group 4 cross country sectional at Thompson Park in Jamesburg.

Proving that he is a tough mudder, Princeton High senior star Acasio Pinheiro flew over the 5,000-meter course in 16:07.4 to place first individually, five seconds ahead of runner-up Nick Lundberg of Freehold Township.

Pinheiro’s heroics helped PHS finish second in the team standings behind champion WW/P-South and advance to the state Group 4 meet this Saturday at Holmdel Park.

“Acasio made some smart decisions,” said PHS head coach Jim Smirk, noting that Pinheiro didn’t run in the county meet on October 26 due to injury.

“He stayed in the competitive contact throughout the race and timed his attack late effectively and used his strength to his benefit and come out with the win.”

Smirk credited Pinheiro with rising to the occasion in producing his winning effort.

“We always knew that Acasio had that kind of potential; he is an incredibly talented athlete,” said Smirk.

“For him, the challenge has always been bringing himself to that moment and letting himself be successful by not doing too much. It just taking that deep breath and picking his spots; when he does that he is pretty hard to beat.”

Another PHS senior, Tucker Zullo, was up to the challenge at the sectional meet, placing sixth in 16:36.1.

“Tucker has really proven at this point that he is not someone else on our team, he has proven week in, week out that he is really core to our success,” said Smirk.  “He had a good solid day; what showed in those conditions is how strong Tucker is.”

The Little Tigers also got a strong effort from senior Jackson McCarthy, who took 12th with a time of 16:58.4.

“Jackson ran with minimal mistakes, and that is what we asked him to do,”said Smirk. “We knew he was going to be in a position to solidify that three spot.”

Junior Tyler Fu worked hard to get himself in a good position, placing 30th in 17:23.

“Tyler was in a situation early in the race where it went out pretty quick; it would have been easy for him to panic. Instead he just stuck to his race plan and made the race when it counted,” said Smirk.

“He picked up spots left and right; that is a tough thing to do when you are running as a four man, you can get dumped out the back.”

The fifth finisher for PHS, sophomore Jacob Bornstein, worked his way through the pack to take 56th in 17:55.

“On a slow course it is so easy for a younger runner to get eaten up by that, and not have enough gas in the tank to finish well, but he picked up four spots in the last mile,” said Smirk. “He ran a really good race and sealed the back door for us.”

The PHS girls’ team didn’t hit the gas at the right time, taking seventh in the team standings in a meet won by South Brunswick with senior Siena Moran leading the way, finishing 12th individually in 20:02.3.

“We didn’t really get out of the gate well; we ran tough in the late stages of the race,” said Smirk in assessing the performance of his girls’ squad. “We did some things right, it just wasn’t a sustained effort across the race.”

Smirk praised Moran with sacrificing for the team. “Siena could have been more conservative, but there would have been no chance for our tram to get ahead,” said Smirk.

“I am proud of her for taking the risk. I am looking forward to her to gearing up for Nike Cross Nationals and getting ready for that.”

In the meantime the PHS boys’ squad will be gearing up for another battle with South at the Group meet.

“South has an incredibly veteran squad, very deep and Adhwin (Sridhar) had a great day for them,” said Smirk.

“If that is setting the front edge, we are going to have to respond to that. If we do that, it puts us in a good position. Our four and five are going to have to battle to be in the correct spot at the break at groups, but that is true every time. We have the talent to do that and we have been training hard to do that. We will see what we can do.”