The Pierson boys and girls cross country teams are in lockstep with one another.
Both programs will look very different after graduating some of the best runners they ever produced. At the same time, even with those big losses, the teams are expected to remain successful.
Ben McErlean, who is now running for Manhattan College, and Penelope Greene, who just won her first ever collegiate race with SUNY Geneseo (see separate story), may have both moved on, but they each left a winning legacy that both coaches — Joe Amato for the boys and Jim Kinnier for the girls — are confident should remain intact.
P.J. Ramundo, who was the Whalers’ second runner the past two seasons, has now taken the torch from McErlean as the boy’s number one. Amato said he was recently ranked 11th in the state and is poised to have a really strong season, but he won’t be able to win meets by himself.
The team also lost Tom Schiavoni, who graduated a year early, and Truman Yardley, both spots the team will have to fill. But a trio of runners who helped the team win the Suffolk County Class D crown in April — Justin Gardner (All-League), Chad Federico and Coleman Dee — are all returning. Griffin Green took a year off from cross country, but is now back in the fold.
“We probably had our most successful preseason that we’ve had in the past five years,” Amato said. “Guys are showing up, working hard, and it’s really the best two weeks we’ve probably had in quite some time — this is a very motivated group. We have some big runners to replace, but I’m confident we’re going to have another successful season.”
The girls have to replace a little bit more than the boys. On top of losing Greene, they lost their second best runner in Brooke Esposito to graduation, and then the team’s other dual athletes who came out this past spring, Eva McKelvey and Grace Flanagan, have opted to focus on their main sports — field hockey and volleyball — and are not returning.
But Abby Sherwood, who missed much of the spring season with injuries, is returning for her senior season, and along with Hannah Ramundo, the tandem should be strong and lead the girls for much of the season, barring any setbacks, Kinnier said.
The rest of the team is made up of newcomers Lizzie Hallock and Maddie Cohen, and a trio of eighth graders who look to be the future of the program in Sara O’Brien, Sabrina McManus and Luna Desir.
“It is really hard to tell what we’re going to get out of the young girls this season, but I’m not bringing them up strictly because we need the numbers. If I didn’t think they could handle it, I wouldn’t bring them up,” Kinnier explained. “They ran very, very well in middle school last year, and honestly, if they were back on the middle school team it would not be challenging enough for them.”
After competing in a large League X this spring, the leagues have been realigned at the county level and are more on par with how they were pre-pandemic. The only difference is, due to enrollment changes, there are now more Class D schools than Class C schools, which had been the opposite in years past. That means there should be more competition for Pierson when it comes to postseason meets. Port Jefferson, for instance, which was nationally ranked last season and is a perennial lock to reach the state meet, is now in Class D, along with Southold, Shelter Island and Ross.
Both the boys and girls will compete at the Jim Smith Invitational at Sunken Meadow State Park this Saturday, September 11, and then they’ll have their first meet of the season this Tuesday, September 14, against Center Moriches at Indian Island State Park at 4:30 p.m.