October 27, 2021

With Roth Surprising Herself In Taking 2nd Overall, PHS Girls’ Cross Country Team Wins County Crown

ROCKING ROBIN: Princeton High girls’ cross country junior star Robin Roth heads to the finish line at the Mercer County championship meet last Friday at Washington Crossing Park. Roth placed second individually in the girls’ varsity race to help PHS take the team title. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Robin Roth didn’t feel particularly confident as she got ready to compete for the Princeton High girls’ cross country team at the Mercer County championship meet last Friday at Washington Crossing Park.

“Coming into today, it was ‘hopefully I don’t cry.’ It has not been my week,” said PHS junior star Roth.

“There is a lot of stress with this because Lawrenceville is so good. Freshman year we were supposed to win, it was supposed be really close between us and Allentown and we got fourth and that was a big thing for us. We had a lot of pressure in the county meet.”

Overcoming those doubts, Roth ended up having a great day, placing second individually in a time of 19:10.89 over the 5,000-meter course. Roth’s heroics helped PHS win the team title as it posted a score of 57 with Lawrenceville placing second at 85. She was followed closely by junior teammate Lucy Kreipke, who posted a time of 19:26.86, with Tiger sophomore Kyleigh Tangen coming in sixth in 19:30.54.

“I felt so good, I was in the back woods and I was wow, I am doing this,” said Roth.

“I feel good, I am running fast. This course plays to my strength because there is that downhill in the middle. I usually get engaged in the middle when I put my head down and I am jogging but with the downhill and all of the people, I feel pressure to still run.”

For Roth, coming in second was a good feeling. “It is really awesome, we had just found out that the guys lost by one point,” said Roth. “It was a little like we have to show them what we are worth.”

After having a strong outdoor track season as a sophomore, Roth found herself struggling a little bit this fall.

“Last spring I was running pretty well and this year, it really wasn’t coming together,” said Roth. “I am very happy that I was able to make it work.”

Roth was very happy to see PHS win the team title. “MileSplit has this ranking thing and we weren’t even ranked at the beginning of the season,” said Roth.

“We were expected to be bad, we graduated four seniors. This means we are still in the game, we can bounce back. When I was turning the corner I said to myself, I had this mantra, ‘I am strong, I am fast and I am resilient.’ I think resilience has been a big thing for the whole team because there is still a lot of uncertainty with COVID, people having to quarantine, people getting sick, and people getting hurt.”

In reflecting on the first county crown since 2006 for his girls’ program, PHS head coach Jim Smirk credited his runners with showing a special resolve.

“We have been hunting for our identity all season, there have been ups and downs,” said Smirk.

“Coming into the season, nobody really had an eye on us. We are a good, quality program that year after year puts together a good team. I think our girls started to realize that, like ‘hey wait a minute, we are pretty good.’ We started to work towards that.”

Roth displayed her quality as she rose to the occasion at the county meet.

“We know that Robin has been good for a long time and  I think where she is maturing is understanding that,” said Smirk.

“Seasons are developmental. Each phase of the season requires a different level of focus and intention if you want to race at the level that you want to get to. I think she is starting to put that together. She is really maturing as a competitor and  maturing as a leader.”

The competition between Kreipke, Tangen, and Roth has benefited the Tigers.

“With Lucy, Kyleigh, and Robin, it has been a constant rotation up front; it has been a lot of fun,” said Smirk.

“As one of them finds success, the other two step up. So it has really been a nice team bond there.”

For Smirk, finally tasting success again at the county meet was sweet.

“It is only the second county championship the girls have won in my 16 years coaching here,” said Smirk.

“We have been more successful at the sectional level there. It means a lot, we won our first one with a bunch of upstarts that no one really knew about at the start of the season. It feels the same way here. I am super proud of these girls. They saw a pretty loaded Lawrenceville Prep team; they didn’t have their top girl today [Charlotte Bednar], but they are still good. Robbinsville was in the mix. There are no teams out here that are really slouches. Everyone brings something to the table that can change the dynamic of the race.”

Smirk believes his squad is poised for a dynamic performance at the Central Jersey Group 4 sectional on November 6.

“We are going to see teams that are built a lot like the teams we saw today, good up front with some depth challenges. We will have to race well and put together a better team effort because that is how you get better and that is what we are going to do.”

Roth will be bringing a lot more confidence into the sectional. “We are looking to the sectional,” said Roth.

“It is different people because we are one of the biggest schools. Our county is really good this year so it means a lot that we were able to win and I was second. That is very impressive.”