Ben McErlean gets much of the limelight when it comes to the Pierson boys cross country team. And while it is warranted — the senior has reached the New York State meet three times and is heading to Manhattan College to run — his teammates have stepped it up and plan on helping lead the Whalers to a successful season.
Two runners in particular — P.J. Ramundo and Tom Schiavoni — have caught the attention of their head coach, Joe Amato, who praised both for making great strides over the past year or so.
“Tom Schiavoni is graduating early and P.J. was our only boy who ran winter track this past season,” Amato said. “Both P.J. and Tom came to all of the preseason workouts. P.J. was a swimmer for many years, but he has made a big dedication to running and improving himself as a runner.”
The emergence of both Ramundo and Schiavoni, along with the continued strong running of McErlean, led the Pierson boys to their first league title in what’s thought to be many years after they defeated Shelter Island, 26-30, at Mashashimuet Park on Tuesday, after having already defeated Southold by the same score on March 17 at Indian Island County Park in Riverhead.
McErlean (15:16) outran Shelter Island’s Jason Greene (15:26) to the finish line, with Ramundo taking third place in 16:04. Schiavoni finished the race in 16:58 and Habtamu Coulter — a dual-sport athlete who also plays varsity soccer — finished in 17:07. Freshman Justin Gardiner finished the 2.85-mile race in 18:52.
Amato said that he does not have a lot of runners this year due to student-athletes either moving out of the district or not feeling comfortable competing during an ongoing pandemic. Of his top 10 from 2019, the last time the team competed, Amato said only three runners have returned.
”P.J. and Schiavoni have really stepped up big, both in their effort off and on the course,” Amato said.
McErlean won the race against Southold in 17:06, followed by Ramundo (17:57) and Schiavoni (19:15).
Amato is high on a pair of freshmen, Justin Gardiner and Chad Federico. Gardiner finished his race against Southold in 21:49, three minutes faster than he ran the previous week, and Federico finished in 22:22, which was another improvement. Truman Yardley, entering his fifth season on the team, finished in 22:25.
McErlean has appreciated the emergence of his teammates, who have been pushing him in practice.
“Obviously it’s like one of the most unique years that any school has ever had, really,” he explained. “It’s weird sitting on the bus together with our masks on and distanced. It’s harder to get that team interaction at times, but all the guys in practice have been working so hard this year and I’m so proud of them to have the attitudes that they have. It’s a hard time for everyone, not just in running. It’s just hard, almost, like, somewhat depressing having that lack of human interaction every day, so it’s always really good to come out here and perform like we did as a team today and I’m super happy we got the team win.”
Both Pierson boys and girls are hosting a small invitational at Mashashimuet Park in Sag Harbor this Friday. Amato said he and girls head coach Jim Kinnier put the meet together solely for the purposes of getting the runners an invitational; all of the usual invitationals that take place in a fall season were canceled due to the pandemic.
Amato said it won’t be a traditional course at Mash Park, but it will be 2.85 miles long and it will be professionally timed. The meet will also feature some of the top small schools in the county, such as defending Class B champion Westhampton Beach and defending Class C champion Port Jefferson, to go along with his strong runners from Pierson, and East Hampton runners as well.
“My true feeling is that these kids and many of these athletes got robbed of any athletic accolades because of COVID, so we really wanted to try and put something together, particularly for the East End athletes, to kind of showcase them,” Amato explained. “This is really for and all about the kids.”
Greene Leads The Girls
Pierson senior Penelope Greene led the girls to what will be their one and only league victory this season, defeating Southold on March 17 at Indian Island. Pierson and Southold were the only two teams in their league this season as many of the other schools decided not to participate or didn’t have enough runners to field a team.
Times and scores weren’t made available for the girls, but Greene, who was just named as one of the top 25 girl runners on Long Island by Newsday, said she felt good in what was one of her first races in over a year.
“I kind of went out a little too fast, because I forgot how sandy it can get back there,” she said of the course. “I feel like I’m in the same place as I was last year, maybe a little behind, because of the whole pandemic. I didn’t get to have summer training and all of that, but, yeah, I feel good.”