November 27, 2019

Making Strides with New Faces Stepping Up, PDS Cross Country Excited About Prospects

TOP GUN: Princeton Day School boys’ cross country star Gunnar Clingman heads to the finish line in a race earlier this fall. Junior Clingman placed second individually in the state Prep B championship meet to help PDS take fourth in the team standings. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Things looked bleak for the Princeton Day School boys’ cross country team as it convened for its 2019 campaign.

“We lost two of our top three runners that were supposed to come back and I was thinking this was going to be a disaster,” said PDS head coach John Woodside.

But with some veterans making progress and some newcomers stepping up, the Panthers made strides through the fall and culminated the season by finishing a strong fourth at the state Prep B championship meet  at Blair Academy earlier this month.

“We showed very well, it was the best we had done there in a while,” said Woodside, whose team had 102 points in taking fourth with Newark Academy winning the meet with a score of 28.

“We almost equaled what they did six years ago. It was a great end of the season. I always tell the kids at the beginning of the season that the Prep B is our season.”

Junior Gunnar Clingman did very well at the Prep B meet, taking second individually, clocking a time of 16:53 over the 5,000-meter course.

“Gunnar has been real good for our team for three years now and he has been getting better,” said Woodside.

“I didn’t really know how good he could be, we kept pushing the envelope a little. We talked about the race beforehand and Gunnar really wanted to go out and try to stay with the leader. I was a little worried that might be going out on the edge and I said give it a go. You know what, he did it; he was with the kid [Charlie Koenig of Montclair Kimberley Academy] the whole way, he looked really good.”

PDS got some good performances across the board at the competition as sophomore William Sun took 19th in 18:59 with freshman Jason Wu finishing 25th in 19:14, freshman Bram Silva taking 27th in 19:25, and junior Ben Bigdelle placing 29th in 19:26.

“Will Sun, who had an abbreviated season a year ago, had a full season; I knew he was talented and he really showed it and really came through for us,” said Woodside.

“Wu and Silva were in our top five pretty much all year. Ben played JV soccer for two years. He got into running because his brother runs and he liked it and came out.”

Woodside liked guiding his group of improving runners. “We have got guys that just came out of the woodwork and we made the most out of it,” said Woodside.

“It was a really exciting season. It took us a couple or three years to get the ship turned around. We are moving in the right direction right now. We are really going to have some good teams coming up here, not just next year. We are looking at a great run.”

While the girls’ squad lacks depth in numbers as it didn’t always have the five finishers needed for a team score this fall, it is also moving in the right direction, taking fifth at the Prep B meet.

“I am so proud of the girls, I am really ecstatic to have enough girls to have a team,” said Woodside, whose girls had a score of 115 in taking fifth with Villa Walsh Academy winning the meet at 41.

“We had six girls and one of them got a season-ending injury in the middle of September, that hurt us.”

Recovering from a case of bronchitis that hampered her in late October, sophomore Meghan Rentner took fifth individually at the Prep B meet, clocking a time of 20:44 over the 5,000-meter course.

“We were trying to get her to come back; she did train for about a week and a  half for that race but it was not at the same level,” said Woodside.

“I just hoped that she was going to finish the race, I didn’t have a lot of expectation. She went out very conservatively and she felt pretty good and kept moving up. She ended up running her best time. It was the second fastest time by a PDS girl that I could find going back to 2000. The fastest time was by Morgan Mills.”

Freshman Maddy Weinstein clocked an impressive time in her own right, coming in at 22:15 to place 14th. “Maddy was tremendous, I have such great respect for her,” said Woodside.

“She has asthma and sometimes has trouble with her breathing. She is getting better and better for us. She had her best race at Blair. It was great to see and great for the team.”

Coming through for the team as she dealt with injury, junior captain Alex Hollander took 21st in 23:41.

“Alex had some on and off injury and illness problems and we missed a few races where we didn’t have five girls,” said Woodside.

“She was determined that she was going to run that race and was going to finish and be a part of the girls team. That is exactly what she did. I give her a lot of credit because I know she was in pain.”

Showing their determination, sophomores Nina Gruteser and Idaliza Perez Jimenez ended the fall on a high note as Gruteser took 38th in 25:03 and Perez Jimenez was 46th in 27:56

“Nina got better and better throughout the season; she didn’t run a PR at Blair but she ran well for the team,” said Woodside.

“Ida is such a great kid, she is almost like my greatest coaching success story. She could barely run 100 yards when she first started and now she is running three miles without stopping and is running championship races. I have such a great love for her and how she comes to practice and works hard everyday.”

In Woodside’s view, the girls’ program is poised to get better, particularly if it can add a few more runners.

“I am very hopeful that we are going to get a few more girls and that we will have eight or 10 next year and have a team for every race,” said Woodside.

“The girls’ program is on really solid footing. To get fifth at the Prep B was great. They all ran with such great heart and got great experience. Next year they will be ready to rock and roll for sure.”