October 5, 2022

Utilizing the Work Ethic Developed from Wrestling, Brophy Making Strides for PHS Boys’ Cross Country

MAKING STRIDES: Princeton High boys’ cross country star Marty Brophy competes in a 2021 race. Last Saturday, senior Brophy placed sixth overall at the Varsity B race at the Shore Coaches Invitational, clocking a time of 16:42 over the 5,000-meter course at Holmdel Park to lead the PHS boys to fifth place in the team standings. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Justin Feil

Absence did make Marty Brophy’s heart grow fonder.

Brophy played soccer in the fall of his freshman year at Princeton High, and after wrestling that winter, the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the spring track and field season. He faced a decision that next fall.

“I didn’t really know what to do because I loved running and I couldn’t wait a whole other year until I ran any competitive races again,” said Brophy. “I said, ‘I think I’m done with soccer.’”

Brophy took advantage of the limited chances to run in the modified fall cross country season that followed in 2020, and while remaining an accomplished wrestler in the winter, he also has developed into a top runner for the Tigers.

Now a senior, Brophy placed sixth overall at the Varsity B race at the Shore Coaches Invitational, clocking a time of 16:42 over the 5,000-meter course at Holmdel Park last Saturday to lead the PHS boys to fifth place in the team standings.

“It was definitely a tough race,” said Brophy. “It was a little bit of a shock to the system. We hadn’t run a course that hard this year. But we train hills a lot, so we knew we were ready. We didn’t have the best day, but we could see everything was there for us to improve upon.”

Fellow seniors Zach Deng (16:55) and Charles Howes (17:02) placed 13th and 16th to pace the top half of Princeton’s scoring runners. Junior Maxwell Dunlap ran 18:03 for 53rd and sophomore Cole Rose was just behind him in 18:10 for 55th. Felix Farrugia, a sophomore, and freshman Atticus Ayres also competed for PHS and placed 72nd and 82nd respectively. The Tigers were eight points behind fourth-place finisher St. Peter’s Prep though both teams averaged 17:22 per runner.

“I think we were genuinely a little bit disappointed with it,” said Brophy. “We placed third last year. It was a little bit of a step back. We do have some people coming back from colds. Andrew (Kenny) is trying to make his way back. We have all the pieces, and we’re still sorting some things out and putting them together.”

As for the PHS girls’ squad, Lucy Kreipke placed 19th and Kyleigh Tangen was 21st to lead the Tigers as they finished 11th in the Varsity B girls race at Holmdel.

Brophy is one of the five returning runners from last year’s top seven for the boys. Kenny is still working back from injury, and Brophy has helped take the lead during his recovery. Brophy is off to his best start yet. His Shore Coaches finish time Saturday was nearly a full minute better than a year ago on the same course.

“My focus was on my Meet of Champs race from last season where I ran 16:50, and that was definitely a great race for myself,” said Brophy. “I was happy that I improved from that, but I wanted to hammer it even more and run faster. Time wise, I would have liked to run faster. And tactically there are some things I would like to work on, like staying attached after the second mile and running a fast third mile.”

Brophy went out with the lead pack in the first mile before the race spread out more. Over the final two miles, he focused on not letting anyone catch him. He held his spot with a late flourish to finish a second better than Alex Schimmel of St. Peter’s.

“He was closing pretty hard,” said Brophy. “I was really feeling it. I had to turn on the jets a little bit.”

Brophy has come out running the best times of his career. He opened the invitational season with a 16:08 clocking at the Night at the Nest XC Invite at Robbinsville, then hit a personal record of 15:50 in the Jerry Hart Cross Country Invitational

“I feel great about how I’ve raced so far,” said Brophy. “But it’s also very hard to compare the times because Peddie and Robbinsville are very easy, flat courses. Then Holmdel is a very tough course, and it was a rainy day with tons of mud. Those are two very different ends of the spectrum, but I would say I’m happy with how I ran, but not satisfied.”

Brophy’s fast start has followed a productive offseason. He came into the season with more confidence than ever.

“Training-wise, it was the best summer I had by far,” said Brophy. “I’m not the only one. Two teammates that I trained with specifically – Zach and Charlie – had great summers as well. I knew I was in much better shape coming into the summer than I’ve ever been. I’m not saying I was expecting to have a breakout season, but I knew I could definitely improve a ton.”

Brophy has a work ethic that helps in anything he does. It has helped him become a better runner each year, as well as a stronger wrestler. Last year, he placed second in the Mercer County Wrestling Tournament at 132 pounds.

“Some people laugh when I say wrestling and running have a lot in common,” said Brophy. “I really mean that. It’s mostly a battle with yourself or with the person next to you. There is a team aspect, and that’s very important, but the team doesn’t have success without yourself. It’s a lot about mental toughness.”

Brophy aspires to continue following his passion for running into college. He has been contacting coaches to gauge their interest in him if he commits himself to just running at the next level.

“Right now, my plan is academics first. I’ll probably just apply to the colleges I want to go to, and I’m seeing if I can get any responses from the coaches,” said Brophy. “If I did, that’d be great. If I didn’t, I’m not super mad about it, but I’ll probably try to run for them once I get on campus.”

Brophy’s first focus is on making strides in his senior year. He also has taken on a bigger leadership role in his third season on the cross country team. He is part of a strong senior group that is setting the tone for a Tigers team with high aspirations. They won the sectional last year and eventually reached the Meet of Champions. He has enjoyed the elevated responsibility of guiding the team.

“I think it’s come somewhat naturally to me,” said Brophy. “We’ve had some really good leadership mentorship from our coaching staff and from other seniors last year and the year before that. The hardest part is just trying to give as much to the underclassmen as you can. That really takes a lot out of you. It’s not necessarily trying to lead; it’s teaching them as much as you can.”

Brophy is a good source for Princeton’s younger runners. He can still recall his first season and recognizes how much he has grown over the last few years of cross country.

“I ran a really good race sophomore year at sectionals, but I was not the same runner to say the least,” said Brophy. “I’ve always had a good competitive spirit to me. I can really grind out the races, but I had nowhere near the tactical ability to run the races, I had nowhere near the team mentality I have. I didn’t know anything about running compared to what I do now.”

Getting off to a good start this fall, has reassured Brophy that his experience and offseason work have paid off. It has him motivated to keep striving for higher finishes.

“Confidence, it comes and goes,” said Brophy. “You can be building confidence after having some good races. The next day it could be gone because you run poorly. I’m definitely feeling good about my fitness level and the whole team right now. I’d say the confidence is there more so compared to last year.”

Brophy is curious to see how Princeton’s lineup unfolds over the second half of the season. The Tigers are looking to put together another sectional title team and to do so they will need to tighten the pack one to five.

“That’s definitely been our biggest challenge because we had a very deep team last year,” said Brophy. “Our six and seven were right behind our two through five last year. This year, we’ve had a little trouble. We’ve had some minor injuries and colds and stuff like that. It’s definitely tough. We’re not completely put together like we were at this point last year, but I’m not too worried about it. We’ve been here before and (Coach Jim) Smirk definitely knows what he’s doing.”

Brophy sees plenty of potential among the PHS runners to compete for spots in the top seven. He is just looking for the best possible outcome regardless of who fills each spot. The Tigers will be pushing themselves as they compete to be in the lineup.

“That’s a great thing,” said Brophy. “But even more so than racing each other, they race with each other to beat the people in front of them.”

Brophy too will be trying to hold his spot at the top of the PHS lineup after Saturday’s solid showing at Holmdel Park, where the Tigers hope to return for the Group 4 state meet at Meet of Champions. Far-off targets like those races give Brophy all the motivation that he needs to push himself even more over the final two months of the season after the Shore Coaches meet assured him that he is on pace for a big finish at PHS.

“I really want to stay consistent with my training, have some good workouts, run some more good races and keep building for the end goal of Meet of Champions, groups, Nike regionals, hopefully Nike nationals,” said Brophy. “All the goals are for the postseason. This stuff is just another building block toward that.”