October 26, 2022

Hun Senior Star Scully, PDS Standout McCann Make Strides at County Cross Country Championships

PAIR OF ACES: Hun School senior Eric Scully, left, and junior Emily McCann produced superb performances at the Mercer County Cross Country Championships at Thompson Park last Thursday. Scully placed second in the boys’ race while McCann took third in the girls’ race. (Photos by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Justin Feil

Producing superb performances, Eric Scully and Emily McCann were the highest Princeton-area finishers at the Mercer County Cross Country Championships at Thompson Park last Thursday.

Scully, a senior at the Hun School, placed second in the boys’ race in 16:24. It’s the highest finish in his three years of running at the county meet.

“It was really great,” said Scully. “For me, the biggest improvement was going from 74th place as a freshman to second place as senior and not even racing counties sophomore year. I stayed consistent throughout those four years and I’m really happy with my improvement.”

McCann, a junior at Princeton Day School, still has a year to go after taking third place in the girls’ race in 19:45. She placed eighth a year ago.

“The time was a little off where I wanted to be,” said McCann. “It was a little slower race, but there was a lot of headwind. It wasn’t really about time today, it was about racing. Last year I got eighth. My goal was to get top seven this year. Getting third boosted my confidence a lot and makes me feel good.”

Scully and McCann took different paths to their places. Scully bolted out to the lead, defying a headwind that stared runners in the face from the start down more than 500 meters until the first turn. His move put the Hun jersey out front early and took some by surprise as he took on the wind and a talented field of runners.

“The biggest success for me was getting off the line well,” said Scully, who will be competing for the University of Richmond next year. “My coach (Kurt Wayton) and I always talk about getting off the line well, because if you get beat off the line you’ve kind of already lost the race. You want to get out and get good position. I really wanted to put pressure on second place early in the race and make them work hard to try to catch me. Overall, I succeeded on that.”

McCann had to use a big finish to get top three. She made her way up through a solid pack of top runners over the final mile of the race to get third. She never panicked after being behind them through the first two miles. She relied on her strength and training as the course turned out of the open field and downhill into the woods before returning uphill and around a ball field into the finish line.

“I think I was seventh going down the hill,” said McCann. “I passed one girl going down the hill. I knew going up the hill I’d be OK. We do a bunch of hills and I knew I was strong up the hill — especially because I didn’t feel bad. I felt like I still had a lot of energy going down the hill. Then I just kept picking people off going up the hill, especially in the second part of the hill. I saw a person in front of me and my goal was to go get them. And then around the upper field, with maybe one-third (of a mile) left, I knew I just had to keep my spot and keep my pace. As I kept passing people, I felt consistently good. It’s not like I felt bad at any point.”

Scully held the lead through two miles and only one competitor caught him in the final mile. It’s the fastest invitational time though since he ran 15:46 at the flat Peddie School course that will be used for the Mid-Atlantic Prep League (MAPL) championship Wednesday.

“I ran my PR there of 15:46 and I’m hoping to improve on that,” said Scully. “There should be one other guy from Blair that’s going to be racing there. I’m hoping to go out the same way I did at counties as I did at MAPLs and Preps, and hopefully I can get the win in both of those.”

Scully has high aspirations for his league and Prep A state championship meets to conclude his final year at Hun. He is enjoying his best season to date. Last year he placed 11th at the county meet, so the jump to second was significant.

“I think he’s one of the most gifted athletes I’ve been able to coach in the last 23 years,” said Hun head coach Wayton. “I think he has all the tools. He trains very well. Running and training is probably one of the biggest, if not the biggest, focuses in his life. I think the sky is the limit with him. I wish I had another year or two with him because I feel like his mental side is finally catching up with his physical side. He’s becoming very competitive. He’s learning how to race. He’s learning how to train. I think he’s going to be a really, really good runner at Richmond.”

While Scully’s greatest potential may lie in the shorter 1,500 meters on the track, his training has helped strengthen him for the challenges of cross country. He has brought a more confident mindset into this season, as witnessed at the county meet.

“I knew I was one of the best athletes coming in,” said Scully. “I knew my training went well and I just had to put it together on race day. I really had to dial in because I knew I wanted to make it hurt. I wanted to collapse across that finish line. I did not want to finish with anything left in the tank and I believe I accomplished that. I’m definitely going to carry that mindset over to the races later in the season.”

The Hun boys finished fifth with 150 points. Princeton High won with West Windsor-Plainsboro North second, well ahead of Lawrenceville, who was third with 146 and West Windsor-Plainsboro South was fourth with 148 points. Jacob Newman, a freshman, was second for Hun in 29th. James McDonald was 30th, Vincent Gregoire was 44th, and Simon Gregoire was 45th.

“I give us an A-minus,” said Wayton. “It was a super solid race. I say A-minus not A because we were four points out of third place, which was our goal going into it. We weren’t beating North, we weren’t beating Princeton, but I really thought we would get third and we nearly did that.”

The Hun girls were 14th. Julia Espinosa placed 28th, Olivia Bergenholtz was 69th, Katherine Letrent took 89th, Emma Smith was 101st, and Jessica Veizati was 102nd.

“We got Julia Espinoza, and she’s made an immediate impact,” said Wayton. “She came over from the soccer team. The girls program is continuing to develop and we’re really excited how things are going. I think they can do some damage down the stretch.”

McCann’s highest finish continues a strong third season of cross country with the Panther girls, who placed 10th overall. Harleen Sandu was 42nd, Riya Mani took 80th, Maddy Weinstein was 85th, and Natalie Soffer was 86th. The PDS boys were 13th. Arun Patel was 59th, Ben Jerris took 65th, Will Brown ran to 73rd, Grayson McLaughlin was 74th, and Alexander Chia placed 79th.

McCann came into the county meet after wins at the XC Fall Classic at Thompson Park and the Jerry Hart Cross County Invitational. She also placed fourth at the New Balance Shore Coaches Invitational.

“This season, I pretty much met my goals so far,” said McCann. “I went sub-19:00, that was my big goal. With just Preps and non-publics left, my goal is to repeat at prep champion and make Meet of Champions again.”

McCann is a more confident runner this season. She put in more work over the summer than she has ever, and it is paying off in the big meets.

“This summer, I put in a lot of miles,” said McCann, who also stars in ice hockey for the Panthers. “Last year I didn’t have a training plan. This summer, I had a specific training plan and basically I crossed off mileage every day and got up to 50 miles per week and an 11-mile long run, which was the longest. It wasn’t a lot of workouts, it was just building base mileage, and I think that’s really where I changed this year vs. last.”

McCann expects that defending her Prep B championship will be a challenge, but her training and early season success show she is prepared for it. The county race demonstrated that she is capable of moving up a lot over the final stretch.

“I was a little nervous after the first mile, but I knew she’s a racer and she’d come through with it at the end,” said first-year PDS head coach Michael Mazzei. “It was amazing.”

Mazzei has been impressed by the way McCann has responded to an increase in training. He first started to work with her in the spring track season when they kept her mileage roughly what it had been. Then he decided to see what she could handle over the summer.

“Some kids can’t handle that mileage and some kids get injured when they go up in miles, but she’s a strong runner and strong athlete,” said Mazzei. “I tested the waters a bit with her and she was doing good with the 40-mile weeks, so let’s go to 45. Then we bumped her up to 50, then we kind of went down from there. It was kind of like a pyramid. We had her go up to 50, then we trimmed her down to 40-45. Then we got into the season and kept her around 35-40. I think that good summer base — which I think is important for them — and using that as a springboard into the season was really what made her good this year.”

McCann used her strength and experience over the final portion of the race to move into a podium spot. Mazzei caught McCann going into the downhill section and encouraged her to use her downhill running strength. He saw her again coming up on the other side, right where he thought she could be. Her final mile proved how strong a racer she has become.

“She’s really showing us she’s an elite runner,” said Mazzei. “As time goes on and we do more training with her, she’s going to be even more of a star. Who knows? Maybe next year she can be the Mercer County champ.”