With Steady Bornstein Emerging as Frontrunner, Revamped PHS Boys’ Cross Country Making Strides
By Justin Feil
Jacob Bornstein has taken big jumps in each cross country season and this year’s leap has landed him at the top of the new-look Princeton High boys’ cross country team.
The junior was 20th in the Varsity C race at the Shore Coaches Invitational at Holmdel Park on Saturday to lead the Little Tigers to a seventh-place finish with 208 points in a division won by Ridge with a score of 37.
“I felt I had a good race,” said Bornstein, who finished in a personal-record 17:09 over the challenging 5,000-meter course.
“Conditions were perfect – nice weather, 60 degrees. The team had a great day. We all did a great job and took advantage of the downhills and raced smart going uphill. (Coach Jim) Smirk was happy about what the team did.”
As for the rest of the PHS squad, senior Nick Trenholm placed 35th in 17:28, senior Tyler Fu took 49th in 17:48, sophomore Addison Motto placed 53rd in 18:01, junior Chase Moran ran to 55th in 18:04, junior Matt Erlichson clocked 18:07 for 56th, and senior Charlie Biggs was 62nd in 18:21. Only Bornstein and Fu were a part of last year’s top seven Tigers at the Shore Coaches meet as PHS graduated its top four runners from a year ago.
“We’re kind of a young team,” said coach Smirk. “We’re coming off a cycle of really top end runners and our guys are trying to find our footing. We’ve been struggling just to get into the race, and I think we did a much better job of that. We showed where our fitness is at and made some good decisions. We’re certainly a better team today than we were three weeks ago. I’m happy with how they’re progressing.”
The Shore Coaches is a midterm of sorts for teams with the championship portion of the season on the horizon and the Tigers are looking to continue their program’s success. They won back-to-back Mercer County Championships before placing fourth a year ago. The Tigers took second in last year’s Central Jersey Group 4 sectional.
“We want to be just as successful as we were the year before,” said Bornstein. “I don’t think there’s any pressure. We’re just doing what we’re supposed to do. We had a lot of great runners in the past few years motivate us to race well and work hard and I think they did make an impact and we know what we have to do.”
Bornstein, for his part, started running in middle school and has grown more dedicated each successive year. He has taken on a bigger role this year as one of the most experienced returning runners.
“As a freshman, I was interested in the sport,” said Bornstein said. “I knew I was OK at it. I wanted to learn more about it and see if I was interested. It seemed to go really well for me. Sophomore year, I had great seniors to look up to. They were role models for me – Tucker (Zullo) and Jackson (McCarthy). I learned a lot from them and Coach Smirk about how to race. This year I’m putting it all together and racing with the team and we’re doing really well. Racing varsity is a big step up, but I’m enjoying it and things are working out.”
Bornstein ran indoor track his first two years and switched from tennis after his freshman year in the spring to take on outdoor track as well. He’s a full-time runner invested in becoming the best runner he can be, and he’s quickly climbed the team’s depth chart thanks to his hard work.
“Even among freshmen, he was deep in the depth chart among the freshmen,” said Smirk.
“Last year, he popped out as this really consistent five/six man who held the door for us with that crew. This year, he put the miles in. He’s running strong and he’s still young when it comes to racing at the higher level. He’s wildly consistent. He has a really good race plan and executes it well. I think today the race got a little away from him right from the get-go and he worked his way back up. He’s been our one man all season, he’s absolutely steady on the front end for us and he’s demanding of his teammates that it’s time and come up and join him. It’ll be exciting to see how the second half of the season goes here, which I think the guys are starting to realize. We need to support him a little more and I think we have some athletes that are going to take that on.”
Each race has been an opportunity for the PHS boys to gain experience. They have all run races, but not in the same talented fields that they’re not facing.
“These guys aren’t necessarily battle-tested like some of the teams we’ve had in the past,” said Smirk.
“They need to get their noses in there and fight for it. Today was a good step for it. We had some of our younger runners – Addison Motto who’s a sophomore – run varsity for the first time. He ran gutty. He got out early, he fought his way through the roller coasters and kind of got banged around a little bit and tackled ‘The Bowl.’ It was a personal best for the course and the season so I’m really happy seeing that kind of effort. We need to be faster, but that’s part of the deal as you get more battle-tested and realize what you need to do to be more successful, you start digging a little deeper. We had a lot of improvements. We’re not there yet, but we’re getting there and that’s a good place to be.”
The goals remain lofty for the Tigers and they aren’t backing down from expectations established within the program’s recent success.
“The end goal is to make it to Meet of Champions which is the meet for the best teams in the state,” said Bornstein.
“(Shore Coaches) race is kind of to see where we’re at. This course at Holmdel is a hard course and there’s a lot of parts to it – uphill, downhill and flats – and every race we’re practicing how to run. It was a good learning experience. A lot of us are going to learn from what we did (Saturday) and apply the new techniques and things in our future.”
There is still a steep learning curve for a top seven that has a drastically different make-up from a year ago and is learning together in their new roles. “We do have a lot of young runners on the team,” said Bornstein. “A lot of them are stepping up. We’re putting in a lot of hard work every day after school. It’s coming together. The work that we’re doing now is meant for the end of the season. We may be racing really well now, but at the end of the season all of our hard work will come together and we’ll be a very good team. Hopefully we’ll be in the top 10 in the state.”
The work to get there started long before the season actually began as Bornstein was setting the foundation for a big year with his offseason training.
“This year I’ve been putting a lot more miles into training over the summer,” said Bornstein.
“I ran a lot more than last summer. Smirk has made us do a lot more hill workouts this year which has been helpful. Overall, we’ve been running more distance.”
Bornstein and PHS are keeping their eyes on their goals. It helps them to motivate each other week by week.
“Hopefully, the end goal is to run 16:30 at Holmdel Park,” said Bornstein.
“It’s not a big reach. I just have to keep working at it. As long as we do what Smirk tells us to do and keep putting in the work, I think it’s pretty manageable and not out of the question.”
Bornstein’s 17:09 finish Saturday was nearly a minute faster than the 18:05 he clocked at last year’s Shore Coach’s race. The drop shows that PHS is moving in the right direction as they measure their progress with the race.
“We make sure our training is where we want it,” said Smirk.
“For this team, I don’t know if I’d put as much stake into it. They haven’t had as much varsity level competition so for us it was a big learning experience. We went up to Bowdoin last week but we didn’t bring the full team. We had some exposure there. This is the first time that we ran our full lineup and I think it was a pretty big learning experience about the difference of just running fast and running as a team.”
Continuing to develop as a team leader, Bornstein has been pushing the team to reach its goals and leading the way by example. “I do feel like I need to motivate other people and give them advice and obviously try my best every race because the team is depending on all of our performances and my performance,” said Bornstein.
“I’m not feeling different. I just know that other people may look at how I race. If they have any questions, I can help them out or give them advice.”
The advice after Shore Coaches is to continue to push forward. The Tigers were encouraged by what they saw, and they didn’t run a perfect race. PHS is improving each week and on pace to finish far ahead of where it began.
“I think we’re good right now,” said Bornstein. “Everyone knows there’s a lot more work to do. As long as we do what we need to do, I think we’re pretty set to be pretty successful in the future. I don’t think anyone is doubting themselves right now, which is good.”