October 25, 2017

Aiming to Produce Another Historic Stretch Run, PHS Boys’ Cross Country Wins County Crown

WILL TO WIN: Princeton High boys’ cross country runner Will Hare pulls away from the pack Boys’ Varsity race at the Mercer County Championships last Friday at Thompson Park in Jamesburg. Senior star and Penn-bound Hare placed first, covering the 5,000-meter course in a time of 15:46.22. Hare’s heroics helped PHS win its second straight team title at the event. The Little Tigers will go after another championship when they compete in the Central Jersey Group 4 sectional on November 4. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Even though Princeton High boys’ cross country star Will Hare was considered to be the favorite to win the Boys’ Varsity race at the Mercer County Championships last Friday, he needed a pep talk the night before to get his mind right.

“I was a little nervous last night and I was talking to my best friend, former and future teammate Alex Roth,” said senior Hare, who has followed in Roth’s footsteps by committing to attend Penn and compete for its cross country and track program.

“He won this race last year and he was like, don’t worry about it, you the going to win this race; It meant a lot, it gave me a big boost.”

Proving Roth correct, Hare went out on Friday afternoon and took first, clocking a time of 15:46.22 over the 5,000-meter course at Thompson Park in Jamesburg, edging junior teammate Acasio Pinheiro, who took second in 15:54.25.

Hare’s superb effort helped PHS win its second straight team title as it had a score of 50 to edge runner-up Hopewell (58) and third-place finisher WW/P-South. (71).

Hare and his teammates brought some extra motivation into the race as they were stinging from a recent loss to South in a regular season meet.

“We were not pleased with how we did last week, we knew we needed to be better today,” said Hare.

“We had a great week of training; I can’t say enough about the effort the guys put in.”

The effort by Hare’s fellow seniors, Alex Ackerman (12th in 16:29.77), Jackson Donahue (18th in 16:47.81), and Nick Delaney (24th in 17:02.46), played a key role in PHS’s win.

“Alex, Jackson, and Nick were on varsity last year but they weren’t relied on, race in and race out,” said Hare.

“Their big thing was consistency this year and building to be the best athletes they could be. That is what they did all summer and that is what they showed today.”

For Hare, a big point of emphasis was following in Roth’s footsteps as a team captain.

“I knew I needed to step up big time, not just on the course but as a leader,” said Hare. “Hopefully now it is starting to pay off.”

PHS head coach Jim Smirk pointed to Hare’s leadership in the wake of the loss to WW/P-South as helping the Little Tigers refocus coming into the county meet.

“We had a team meeting and Will ran it,” said Smirk. “He said that good teams lose sometimes. We have to know why, we have got to address it and we have to be better in a week and a half and that is exactly what happened across the board. Everyone ran better and Will ran very well.”

Junior star Pinheiro ran very well in pushing Hare. “Acasio did a nice job; he really showed today that when he surrounds himself with a good team, he has the ability to do something that other people can’t,” said Smirk. “That is what we provided him and we gave him that opportunity.”

The consistency of senior Ackerman has helped make PHS a very tough team to beat.

“Ackerman has been our rock all season, he is that guy you put on the line and it is look we know you are going to dominate other people’s threes,” said Smirk.

Junior Tucker Zullo produced one of his best performances of the season, placing 17th in 16:44.69.

“The breakout star of the day, no question, was Tucker,” said Smirk. “He put in the work this summer and he became a much better athlete, doing exactly what we asked him to do. He has been sitting in our five or six spot all season and today he was our four man.”

In winning its second straight county crown, PHS displayed the steady approach that has made it one of the top programs in the state.

“We talk a lot about success in cross country being about consistency in races but also consistency year after year,” said Smirk.

“We have talked a lot about team culture and what it means to be a winner and how hard it is to do it over and over again. I think today we did a nice job for the first time this season. We really put that together. We are learning every day and are excited to do it.”

Smirk is excited to see PHS compete in the Central Jersey Group 4 sectional on November 4, coming off a historic 2016 campaign that saw the Little Tigers win the sectional crown and the state Group 4 title before culminating the fall by winning the Meet of Champions for the first time in program history.

“Last year we were the underdogs and it was ‘let’s just keep making some noise and see what happens,’” said Smirk.

“This year, we were taking on a different responsibility. The seniors are taking on more responsibility. We don’t want the success to end this year either. We want it to go on next year and the year after that. They want to leave a legacy.”

In Hare’s view, this year’s squad has the chance to leave a very special legacy.

“We think we are one of the best teams, if not the best team, in the state,” said Hare. “We are going work to make sure that everybody else knows that too.”