December 23, 2020

Undeterred by Challenges Resulting from COVID, Hun Cross Country Had Much to Celebrate This Fall

JUNIOR ACHIEVEMENT: Hun School boys’ cross country runner Harry Carter heads to the finish line at the 2019 Mercer County championship meet. While there was no championship competition this fall due to COVID-19 concerns, junior Carter still enjoyed a big season, winning the Boys’ Varsity White race at the XC 7-on-7 Invitational at Thompson Park in late October. He also recorded a personal-best 16:23 for fourth place in the Central Jersey XC Shootout. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Justin Feil

Despite operating in a less than ideal setting due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Hun School cross country program was able to meet its expectations this fall.

While the pandemic cut into the program’s expected roster numbers increase and took away a preseason camp that would have served as a launching point, the Raiders found plenty to celebrate by the end of their shortened 2020 season.

“We had a core of about 15 boys and three girls that worked incredibly hard and incredibly consistently day in and day out,” said Hun second-year head coach Kurt Wayton.

“We were able to have about as good an experience as possible. The kids were able to progress. They had a memorable season. They competed with a lot of fire. They trained with a lot of determination. It was a very worthwhile season. It was great for the mental health for not only the athletes but also us coaches.”

Leading the way for the second straight season was Harry Carter. On a team without any seniors, the junior set the pace thanks to his work in the offseason.

“Harry followed suit with all the summer training,” said Wayton. “The summer was all virtual in the fact that we couldn’t really meet much. He came into the season in great shape. He was ready to run with just about anybody.”

Carter ran 16:52 to win the Boys’ Varsity White race at the XC 7-on-7 Invitational at Thompson Park in Jamesburg on October 24. He also recorded a personal-best 16:23 for fourth place in the Central Jersey XC Shootout earlier in the month on the same Thompson Park course.

“That’s a fantastic time,” said Wayton. “He was only a couple clicks back from a young man from South Brunswick that ran 15:32 at Holmdel. We had planned on running at Holmdel and Manhattan to get some times that could put him on the trajectory to a top Division 1 school. He’s that type of talent. He reminds me of (former Princeton University runner) Brian Leung. He just needs to get a few races under his belt. It’s just a matter of time before he does that. He’s got a tremendous future ahead. He’ll be the best runner in Hun history for sure, and maybe one of the best runners in the history of the preps when he’s done.”

Carter was one of the runners that helped to make up for the leadership lost to graduation after last year as Hun had to rely on its junior class this year to forge forward.

“We were fortunate to have really good leaders last year,” said Wayton.

“We had three seniors that were wonderful and they really complemented each other. That left a void this year being that we didn’t have any seniors coming up. We did have a wealth of juniors. They each had their own set of strengths. We had Harry as one of our captains, and we had Xavier Silverio and Sam Segal. Xavier is a real behind the scenes guy. He’s very supportive. He’s like having another assistant. He’s great with reminders. Sam is very charismatic and vociferous. He’s confident. He’s one of those guys that walks in a room and everyone knows this guy has something about him. Harry leads by example quite literally. They really complemented each other and we could all lean on them.”

The Raiders had three girls this year in the program with juniors Sophia Burton and Liv Bergenholtz along with Michaela Pestano.

“We had a bunch of girls sign up and I have to assume because of the virus, parents and athletes were reticent to have their players join,” said Wayton.

“But we continue to inch forward. We had three runners who were tough, talented and trained very hard. It’s going to set us up a nice nucleus that we can build on in the years to come.”

Burton was the top runner through the season for the girls’ side. She placed 19th in the Shootout, and she won the 7 on 7 JV and Freshman girls’ race. Bergenholtz took fifth in that latter race.

“Liv trained with Sophia,” said Wayton. “They’re going to be a 1-2 punch in the coming years. That was a nice dynamic to have two girls training together. Last year, Sophia was pretty much training with the boys. It was nice to have them each supporting each other.”

The Hun girls hope to have more than enough runners next year to score as a team. The Raider boys were fifth in the 7-on-7, only four points out of third place and 10 out of second place despite being shorthanded, but they relished the chance to race at Thompson Park twice.

“We were able to go to both of those meets,” said Wayton.

“The kids performed very well. Unfortunately the second meet coincided with the SATs so we missed having our full team. We ran really well. I think were only a few points out of getting second and we were going against some big Group 4 schools and very established programs. We were excited. The kids did well.”

The encouraging results set up a Raiders roster that should return intact next year. Hun kept its team healthy through the fall season, and have moved into winter training as they prepare long-term for next fall.

“They keep in contact when the season’s over,” said Wayton.

“We’re really looking forward to having a breakout season next year. I think we’ll win MAPLs (Mid-Atlantic Prep League), and that’s something Hun’s never done.”

The Raiders are looking into the possibilities of entering some winter track competitions to remain sharp as the Hun runners see the potential to grow more in the coming year if they can build on the success they achieved this fall.

“We’re using this as an opportunity to have our kids consistently train and get healthier and get stronger,” said Wayton.

“More than anything, we want to commit to normalcy. I think that’s something that athletes need, educators need, society needs. You want and need to be careful. Health is obviously the No. 1 thing in this scenario. At the same time, we realize this is time these kids are not going to get back.
We’re doing our best to make sure that they get the biggest value out of their time at the Hun School, so we’re working hard every day. Hopefully the dividends will pay off in the future for the time they’re spending now getting in good honest work.”