The Pierson girls cross country team won its first county title in five years at the Section XI Championships at Sunken Meadow Park in Kings Park on Friday, but head coach Jim Kinnier said, more than winning, he was proud and impressed by each one of his runners’ performances.
Penelope Greene continued her torrid stretch of the season by winning the race, which was Class C and D runners combined, in 20:30.41, 41 seconds ahead of Mattituck’s Payton Maddaloni. But a number of Lady Whalers stepped up in what was their biggest race of the season up to that point.
Abby Sherwood and Hannah Ramundo both ran season’s bests in 23:12.94 and 25:37.17, placing fourth and sixth, respectively. Then Helena Kolhoff was running in a pack of three Shelter Island runners after about ninth-tenths of a mile into the race. Kinnier said Kolhoff traded places with the Shelter Island girls throughout the race, but with about 100 meters to go, she sprinted past all of them down the final stretch to finish ninth in 26:42.31, which made Pierson’s lead insurmountable. But Ravenel Ellis furthered that lead. She was trailing two runners, one from Greenport and another from Shelter Island, as they were about to head into Cardiac Hill. Kinnier encouraged Ellis to pass both runners and she did, finishing 12th in 27:43.12 and improving Pierson’s lead by 11 points.
Pierson won the Class D title with 22 points, 11 ahead of Shelter Island, and qualified as a team for the New York State Championships, which are this Saturday, November 16, in upstate Plattsburgh.
“It was a very satisfying team effort,” Kinnier said. “This week, we train to maintain the fitness that they have, and do their best in 25 degree weather in Plattsburgh.
“Penelope’s performance is very impressive because she had to run by herself. She had no one to push her and she still almost ran her best time.”
Based on the latest information from tullyrunners.com, Kinnier said, Greene, who will be making her third trip upstate, is ranked in the top 10 of Class D runners in the state, and her goal should be to finish there this Saturday. As she was waiting to hear how her team did prior to the official word that it won, Greene said she had a good feeling she could win Friday’s race.
“The wind at our back at the start was nice and it wasn’t too windy the majority of the course,” she explained. “The only struggle was running against the wind at the finish, but yeah, I felt strong on Cardiac, Snake. Felt good the whole race.”
McErlean Heading Upstate
The Whalers came close to sending multiple runners to the state meet, but Ben McErlean wound up being the only runner on the team to qualify. He placed fourth overall in the Class C/D race, third among fellow ‘C’ runners, in 18:05.99. He was able to sandwich himself between Port Jefferson’s top five runners, who placed first, second, fourth, fifth and sixth to win the Class C race handily with 17 points.
The top five individual runners in each class, with the winning team’s runners thrown out, qualify for states, and Pierson’s P.J. Ramundo finished seventh among that group in 18:52.51, just two placements away from going to states. The grouping for the Whalers was tight from that point on. Keegan Guyer finished right behind Ramundo in 19:00.66, Peter Schaefer finished 20th in 19:13.85, Thomas Schiavoni finished 23rd in 19:16.97, Tristan Sabbeth finished 26th in 20:37.56 and Marcus Krofman finished 28th in 21:03.65.
Overall, Pierson finished third in Class C with 80 points, just behind Mattituck, which finished second with 62 points. The Whalers finished with a team average of 18:54, which, according to head coach Joe Amato, is the fastest five-person average for Pierson ever on Sunken Meadow’s 5K course, which he said is ranked eighth as being one of the toughest courses in the country.
“P.J. Ramundo just narrowly missed qualifying, I felt so bad for him. He couldn’t get past the Mattituck boys at the end there,” Amato said. “But then we went Keegan, Schiavoni, Tristan, bam, bam, bam. I’m a little disappointed we didn’t get any other individuals [to states], but it was a real team effort and I couldn’t be happier for my boys.”
Amato said he was proud of McErlean’s finish despite him not being able to run a personal best. But the now three-time state qualifier even noted himself that he’s had a hard time coming back from an illness he suffered a few weeks ago.
“This year has been pretty interesting. I got off to a pretty decent start to the season and then raced Port Jeff in our last league meet of the year and we did pretty well. I got the individual win, that felt really good, and then the day after, I was sick and stuck in bed for like five or six days,” he explained. “Last week at Divisionals, I ran a terrible race … today I didn’t feel great at all. I was feeling a bit winded. I think I’m still coming back slowly, but this next week I just need to physically and mentally focus and concentrate on staying healthy, getting as much good training as I can and getting ready for next Saturday.”
McErlean said his goal since starting his training back in February and up until this point has been to get on the podium at states, and he’s sticking to that game plan.
“Some people may think I’m crazy for that, and obviously my race today wouldn’t be a podium performance, but I’m OK with that. I still have eight days until my next race, eight days of training, eight days of anything that will help me,” he said. “I really believe that if I give it everything I got, put it all out on that course next week, I have no doubt I can really get on the podium. I’ve done all the training that’s necessary. It’s just up to me now.”
Amato is happy with the direction the team has taken this season.
“Pierson cross country is back,” he said. “We’ve got a bright future. We’re going to miss Peter greatly. He was our leader, he was our captain. He was a little banged up with that ankle, and he missed a few weeks of training, but he was a tremendous leader for us, a class act, and gentleman all the way.
“We raced more than we ever raced this year, a lot of traveling,” Amato continued. “That core of my eight or nine boys, they just wouldn’t stop, they kept practicing. We had about 10 kids all through the final day. They just want it.”