McErlean Leads Pierson Boys, Greene Leads Pierson Girls To Cross Country County Titles

Pierson senior Ben McErlean crosses over the bridge at the front of the course at Sunken Meadow. DREW BUDD

When Suffolk County announced that there would be a fall sports season this school year, the Pierson boys cross country team regrouped, and from day one, set out to capture the Suffolk County Class D crown.

The Whalers accomplished that feat at the Section XI Championships at Sunken Meadow State Park on April 21, defeating Southold, 26-29, behind their trio of strong runners in senior Ben McErlean, who won the county individual title, and juniors P.J. Ramundo and Tom Schiavoni. McErlean finished the 2.5-mile course in 13:30.66, Ramundo placed third in 14:16.37 and Schiavoni placed fifth in 14:41.15.

The first, third and fifth placements is basically what won the meet for Pierson, which won its first county title since 1999, according to head coach Joe Amato. There are no state championships this year due to the ongoing pandemic, therefore last week’s county meet was the end of the line for both the boys and girls.

“Immensely happy with everyone on this team. Everyone contributed,” Amato said. “This went down to the wire, so the number one person was just as important as a lot of the other guys in the back.”

McErlean deflected individual accolades at first and was instead excited about how his teammates came through in the end.

“When the team finally gathered together at the beginning of the season, I think everyone knew right away what the goal was,” he said. “I set the tone really early, like, no messing around. We’ll have fun after practice, but before and during, it’s serious, it’s time to work.

“I just think everybody peaked at the right time today,” he added. “We have been doing everything the right way, all the little things. Coming into the race, we had a game plan and every single one of the guys on the team executed it perfectly. We pushed each other all season, and I told everyone, it’s not an ‘if we win,’ it’s ‘we are going to win.’”

Winning an individual county title was certainly important for McErlean, who was disappointed after his race at the Division V Championships two weeks ago, where he vowed to do better at counties. He gave credit to Shelter Island’s Jason Green, who finished 12 seconds or so behind him, for pushing him all season.

“Personally, there’s no better way to end my high school career,” he said. “Jason Green from Shelter Island and I, we’ve had some close, hard battles all season, but I really wanted to win this race so badly. I’m proud of the team. Without them I wouldn’t be able to get the individual title.”

McErlean is now “passing the torch,” as he put it, to Ramundo, who has continually improved his times at each meet this season, and is looking forward to being the team’s top runner in the fall. He said he was initially really bummed that the cross country season didn’t actually happen this past fall, but was happy to get one in.

“I came into this season to hopefully break all the times I needed to place where I needed to place,” he said. “The team is a lot better this year, in terms of being close. It was a smaller team so we were a lot closer. Ben really came through as a leader, and he led the team greatly, and I’m hoping to do the same next year when I’m the team leader. I’m really looking forward to it and I think I could do it.”

Justin Gardiner finished 12th overall in 16:40.80, followed by Chad Federico, who finished 14th in 17:01.49, Coleman Dee, who finished 16th in 17:36.17, and Truman Yardley, who finished 19th in 18:20.56.

Amato reiterated that without both Ramundo and Schiavoni, and to a larger extent the team’s top five runners, it would have been impossible to win the county title. He gave a specific mention to Schiavoni, who, even though he is a junior, ran for the last time last week since he’s graduating a year early.

“Coleman, Chad, Justin and Truman, when COVID was going on, these guys were coming to practice,” he said. “We were practicing a couple days a week, they were showing up. And Tom was a big part of that. And every runner holds up the next runner. We’re like a pack — a wolf pack. We’re always trying to help each other out.”

Penelope Greene Leads Girls To Another County Title

Pierson girls head coach Jim Kinnier put it as succinctly as he could when talking about his top runner, senior Penelope Greene, who won the Suffolk County Class D Championship 2.5-mile race handily in 15:36.92, leading the Whalers to their second consecutive county title by easily defeating Southold, 19-38.

“She’s really just an elite runner.,” Kinnier said, simply

Pierson senior Penelope Greene and Babylon freshman Kayla Hayes cross the bridge on the course’s first few hundred meters together. DREW BUDD

Just like her team, it was Greene’s second consecutive county title, and to drive home her coach’s point of being one of the best runners in the overall county, she had the fifth best time on Thursday, April 22, with all of the times in the county merged.

Greene said she reversed course from her race strategy at the division championships the previous week, when she felt like she needed to pass Babylon freshman Kayla Hayes early in the race. Instead, Greene let Hayes run ahead until she couldn’t keep up anymore, eventually passing her going into Snake Hill.

“It obviously feels really good,” to win a county title, she said. “I’m grateful to have a season, even though it was completely flip-flopped, but it’s fine. I’m really happy that I got to do it again.”

But it was going to take more than just Greene’s elite running to bring another team title home. Brooke Esposito, who heads what is a large group of dual-sport athletes on the girls cross country team, finished as runner-up to Greene, crossing the finish line in 17:58.27. Hannah Ramundo (20:07.59) finished fourth overall in the ‘D’ race, followed by Eva McKelvey (21:14.46) who finished fifth, Abby Sherwood (21:56.88) in seventh, and Grace Flanagan (22:55.09) in ninth.

“None of them took it easy. They all ran hard and ran their very, very best,” Kinnier said. “Grace finished sixth [on the team], so technically she didn’t score for us, but what she did was displace Southold’s fourth- and fifth-place runners, so that made our score that much more impressive. Really a great race.”

The girls team will be losing its top two runners in Greene and Esposito to graduation, but, with Ramundo and Sherwood returning along with a few young, strong runners making the jump from the middle school and one runner returning from an injury, Kinnier is not expecting a dropoff from his team any time soon.

“Next year is looking very, very good for us, too. Looking forward to it,” he said.