Neither Ben McErlean nor Penelope Greene were natural runners prior to their middle school years. Now sophomores at Pierson High School, they each picked up running as an afterthought and now lead their cross country teams with bright individual futures ahead.
McErlean ran a 19:03 and Greene a 21:07 to win their respective races Tuesday at Mashashimuet Park against the Ross School, which had to forfeit the girls race because of low participation. The Pierson boys team beat Ross, 15-50, to improve to 3-1 in League VIII.
“The beauty of this sport is that you want each athlete to fulfill their potential,” boys coach Joe Amato said after the race on Tuesday. “We try to instill a discipline and a work ethic that hopefully carries over to the classroom and throughout life. That’s the beauty of running. If you start out running at 24 minutes in the beginning of the season and you get down to 22, you’re a huge winner.”
McErlean and Greene both have their sights set on returning to the New York State meet, though it will be a tough challenge since Pierson moved up from Class D to Class C this season. The boys and girls Section XI Championships, which also serve as the state qualifier, will be held at Sunken Meadow State Park on November 2, with the state championships being held there as well this year, on November 10.
“My goal this whole season is to qualify for states in Class C,” said McErlean, who spent last weekend running intervals up Cardiac and Snake hills, the grueling uphill climbs at Sunken Meadow. McErlean has run a 19:24 so far at Sunken Meadow, and said last year’s Class C qualifying time was 19:22.
“Port Jeff has a really good team, Center Moriches has a couple good runners, so I can’t settle at all,” he added. “I worked really hard the whole year for this.”
McErlean set the pace for his team on Thursday, October 4, at the Westhampton Beach Invitational at Red Creek Park in Hampton Bays, finishing seventh overall in 19:45 as the Whalers as a team finished third behind Westhampton and Southampton. Peter Schaefer was 14thin 20:30 and Sage Witty was 21stin 21:13.
While McErlean was running hills at Sunken Meadow, the Pierson girls teams traveled to Florida last weekend to compete in the Disney Cross Country Classic at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex in Kissimmee. Running in high heat, senior Caroline Jungck placed 18thout of 110 runners in the “Pocahontas” 5,000-meter race with a time of 22:48, followed closely by Greene, whose time of 23:12 was good for 24thplace. Seniors Grace Horan and Carly Browngardt also competed, while Haley Capalbo traveled with the team, but did not compete because of a leg injury.
The boys team will compete in a coach’s invitational at Sunken Meadow this weekend, and both teams will host Port Jefferson on Tuesday, October 16, at 4 p.m.