Pierson Girls Cross Country Wins Third Consecutive County Title; Ramundo, Gardiner Qualify For States

The Pierson girls cross country team won the Suffolk County Class D title for the third straight season.

No star? No problem.

After losing arguably one of the top girls cross country runners in the county in Penelope Greene to graduation, the expectation was that the Pierson girls team was going to take a step back this season. But on Friday, at the Section XI Championships at Sunken Meadow State Park in Kings Park, the Whalers exceeded those expectations by winning their third consecutive Suffolk County Class D Championship.

Pierson edged Port Jefferson, 28-30, after having been beaten by the same Port Jeff team by two points just a week ago at divisions. With the victory, the girls qualified for the New York State Championships, which are this Saturday, November 13, at Chenango Valley State Park, just outside Binghamton.

“It was really unexpected for our team,” Pierson senior Abby Sherwood said of the victory. “Our team was able to turn it around and beat them by two, and to be able to do this my senior year and finally have that opportunity it was really great.”

Pierson eighth-grader Sara O’Brien led the girls team on Friday. DREW BUDD

Sara O’Brien, an eighth-grader, took Friday’s race to solidify her standing atop of Pierson’s roster and take the torch from Greene. She placed eighth overall in the Class C/D race but third among “D” runners in 22:46.6 to lead the Whalers.

“It feels really good that I could help and be a part of this county title and to win a county title like that,” she said. “I was thinking just to do my best and try my hardest, even though I would be one of the youngest on the team this year. I practiced all summer long. Even before school started, I would run every day, all summer long. And even now, I wake up and run at 7 a.m.”

While head coach Jim Kinnier said O’Brien has firmly planted herself as the team’s top runner, it was actually the team’s next five girls in that won the race. Sophomore Hannah Ramundo (25:27.6), eighth-grader Luna Desir (25:57.7), Sherwood (26:58.1), eighth-grader Sabrina McManus (27:22.8) and junior Maddie Cohen (27:23.1) finished sixth through 10th, respectively, effectively winning the meet. Even Pierson’s last runner, junior Lizzie Hallock (27:48.1), beat out a few of Port Jeff’s runners to solidify the win.

“A very impressive performance by the entire team,” Kinnier said.

The girls will now turn their attention to the state meet, where a few of them admitted there will be nerves. The girls Class D race is expected to begin at 10 a.m. this Saturday.

“I am so exited but at the same time a bit nervous and I don’t know what to expect,” O’Brien said.

“We are very exited but there are a lot of younger nerves on this team,” Sherwood said. “But we’ve grown so much together this season. I’m looking forward to states. It’s going to be very competitive but we’ll do our best and grow even more as a team. It’s also a new course that we haven’t seen it before, so.”

Gardiner, Ramundo Qualify For States

Pierson’s boys squad was in almost a mirror-like image of the girls, having lost one of the program’s best runners ever in Ben McErlean to graduation. While the boys weren’t able to retain their county title from last spring, it was still a successful state qualifier meet and season overall.

Pierson’s P.J. Ramundo, left, and Justin Gardiner both qualified for states on Friday. DREW BUDD

Port Jeff won the Class D county title with 26 points, with Pierson taking second place and beating out League VII Champion Southold by a point, 54-55. P.J. Ramundo, as he has all season long, led the Whalers by finishing the C/D race sixth overall, third among fellow “D” runners in 18:25.6 and sophomore Justin Gardiner finished sixth among “D” runners in 19:00.3. Both qualified as individuals for the New York State Championships for the first time, although Ramundo did qualify for the state championships back in Maine, where he lived his freshman year.

Ramundo, a senior, took over the leadership role vacated by McErlean and admitted he wasn’t sure how this season was going to go.

“I’m going to be honest, I wasn’t sure what the team was going to look like, but they threw all my fears out the window. We had a great season. I could not be prouder,” he said.

“We really pushed each other to reach our highest potential,” Gardiner said.

Ramundo tried to help his teammates as best he could this season.

“Something that I reiterated to the team for the whole season is that running is mostly mental. If you can get over all those little issues and thoughts in your head that you might not be able to do it, you can definitely get past that and go to states. Even though the team isn’t going to states, I’m really proud of Justin here. He’s been climbing ever since last year so I’m really proud of that. I think the team really grew together after the absence of Ben and Thomas [Schiavoni] from last year.”

Coleman Dee, a junior, finished 13th in the “D” race in 19:56.6 and he was followed in by eighth-grade teammate Mike Ramundo, who crossed the finish line in 20:10.7. Junior Griffin Greene (21:04.9) and sophomores Chad Federico (21:34.2) and Lance Schroeder (22:08.1) finished 18th, 19th and 20th, respectively.

Both Ramundo and Gardiner said they’re excited to go to states.

“Two years ago, I missed out on an opportunity very narrowly so this time I’m happy I could go up,” Ramundo said. “I think I have a good chance at making All-State. It’s the first time I’m going all the way upstate. I’m looking forward to it.”