January 6, 2021

Taking a Break from Soccer to Try Cross Country, Sallade Starred for Wilberforce School Boys’ Squad

FORCE OF NATURE: Wilberforce School cross country runner Jeremy Sallade displays his form as he competed in the NJSIAA (New Jersey Interscholastic Athletic Association) Non-Public South Sectional to end the 2020 campaign. Sophomore Sallade placed fourth individually in the race, clocking a time of 16:55.00 over the 5,000-meter course at Oak Ridge Park in Clark. Sallade’s performance helped Wilberforce take second in the team standings at the meet as it scored 54 points with St. Rose taking the title with 49. (Photo provided by Lois Szeliga)

By Bill Alden

Jeremy Sallade is a serious soccer player but he chose to join the cross country team this fall in his sophomore year at The Wilberforce School due to uncertainty surrounding the pandemic.

“It is such a weird time with COVID, I didn’t know what it would look like,” said Sallade, who plays club soccer for Princeton FC.

“I decided cross country is more of a distant sport. I had been running a little so why not give it a try.”

In taking up cross country, Sallade was aided by his father, Chris Sallade, a track standout at Princeton University in the early 1990s.

“He has given me a lot of encouragement,” said Sallade of his father.

“We have run together a good bit and he will give me some tips on races, how to run, and how to try to give it your all and strategize. He has taught me a good bit.”

As he got into running this fall for Wilberforce, a school which moved to its current site on Mapleton Road in Princeton at the former Saint Joseph’s Seminary, Sallade had to make adjustments from soccer.

“In soccer, you are changing speeds with quick bursts of speed,” said Sallade.

“In cross country it is 20 minutes or however long of just running as hard as you can. It is kind of a mental flip of just like you are running, there is no ball. You are just going for a time.”

Making that flip with aplomb, Sallade ended up showing a lot of speed, emerging as the top runner for Wilberforce. He culminated the season taking fourth individually in the NJSIAA (New Jersey Interscholastic Athletic Association) Non-Public South Sectional in mid-November, clocking a time of 16:55.00 over the 5,000-meter course at Oak Ridge Park in Clark. Sallade’s performance helped Wilberforce take second in the team standings at the meet as it scored 54 points with St. Rose scoring 49 to take the title.

Training with teammates Caleb Brox and David Dorini helped Sallade succeed.

“This summer, a freshman kid on the team, Caleb Brox, asked me to run with him a few times,” said Sallade.

“I also ran with a senior, David Dorini, we have been good friends for a long time. We just ran a couple of times every week in the summer. In the races, Caleb was right behind me. He definitely pushed me a lot in practice and the races.”

Getting pushed like that helped Sallade take things to a higher level.

“Before the season started, I went to the Princeton track and ran just two miles with my dad,” said Sallade.

“I was just trying to break 12 minutes and I ended up doing that. It was a struggle but towards of the end of the season I could do that for three miles.”

Sallade’s soccer background did prove helpful when it came to honing his finishing kick.

“Whenever I was in middle school, I ran a couple of races and I always ran the last little bit faster than the first,” said Sallade.

“Soccer probably helped with that. I did some track work this summer, doing 400s and 200s; that definitely helped a little bit as well.”

Wilberforce head coach Lois Szeliga was definitely happy to have Sallade join her program.

“He was fantastic; Jeremy’s dad was a Princeton track star so it wasn’t that surprising to me,” said Szeliga.

“When you have Caleb and Jeremy who really push each other at practice and the other boys see that excellence, it sets the tone for the whole team. It is exciting. He is an exciting runner to watch because of this amazing soccer kick that he has at the end of the race. He brings a lot of athleticism and for the fans he brings a lot of excitement because you never know how much distance he can make up.”

The Wilberforce boys’ team boasted a group of exciting runners this fall.

“I knew I was going to have one very strong freshman in Caleb,” said Szeliga.

“David is a senior, he is my captain, so I knew I had those two. But then I had two boys who were soccer players, Jeremy and Andrew Madigan. I had Josh Lai, who is a tennis player. They all joined this year and I think it was our strongest team yet.”

Szeliga credited Dorini with setting a good example for the neophytes.

“He was so important because everybody was new,” said Sallade.

“We had this running culture for the past four years. He was an important link there between the past teams and establishing that for those new guys. He was a real backbone of the team and provided so much leadership.”

That running culture translated into success at the sectional meet as Sallade was followed by Brox taking seventh in 17:53.50, Madigan coming in eighth with a time of 17:55.10, Dorini finishing 13th in 18:44.40, and Lai placing 24th at 19:53.10.

“That was amazing, it was unbelievable,” said Szeliga, reflecting on the meet.

“Andrew was new to the team and he just improved so much. It was his first time running. He came to me at the beginning of the season nervous if he could finish a 5K, he was saying I just don’t know what that looks like. By the end, he became one of the top 10 runners at the sectional.”

For Sallade, the sectional proved to be an amazing day as his time of 16:55.00 was a personal best.

“While we were walking the course as a team before the race,  I noticed how it was generally pretty flat,” said Sallade.

“It wasn’t like Holmdel, I was thinking that this is probably going to be a fast race. I remember the first mile and I think the kid who took the lead ran it in like 4:45, it was ridiculous. Everybody was just flying in the first mile but then I just remember thinking OK, keep it together. Obviously I slowed down a little bit but I thought hold it together until the last little bit and if I have anything left, pick it up a little bit. I think of that as one of my best races. As a team, we did really well.”

Looking ahead, Sallade is not sure what he will do athletically next fall but he is certainly glad that he gave cross country a shot under the unique circumstances of 2020.

“You never know until you try it; I think it was really good, even if this is my only season,” said Sallade.

“It was nice to run and I made lots of good memories with the team. We were close; we would train and do long runs and do the workouts together. It was nice to see people’s faces and be able to talk to them.”