girls cross country team stumbled out of the gate last season, literally and figuratively, and failed to recover as they finished 0-5.
Citing a lack of cohesion and dedication, head coach Craig Collins went a different route when selecting his team for this season.
Collins decided to feature two freshmen and one eighth grader as some of his top runners, and the decision has paid off immediately. The Raiders are out to a 4-1 start, and Collins has seen a level of camraderie amongst his team that was so sorely missed.
"We’re 4-1 due a lot in part to the young freshmen group that came in this year," Collins said. "That young blood that came in is pretty talented and hard-working."
Freshmen Brianna Lawrence and Erin Maude, along with eighth-grader Bianca DeLucia, have paced the Raiders to their strong start and recaptured a sense of team unity. The trio of runners was given all-League honors for their efforts this season.
"Last year, I was on this team and there was no unity between anyone," Lawrence said. "Now that we have a solid, young group of kids, we can all push each other up until we’re all seniors."
Collins's ability to develop his young talent has led to dramatic improvements in their times this season, as well.
"At the beginning of the year I realized I was going to have some good young talent," Collins said. "I made sure they ran together. Even though they’re ninth and eighth graders, they’re really my strongest runners. They’re my varsity kids. But I still had them run as a group, run against other freshmen and see how they do. Seeing a little success, seeing that they were a little special, I wanted them to see and realize that."
In the 1.25-mile Van Cortlandt Race earlier this season, DeLucia, the youngest member of the team, won her race with a time of 7:12. Lawrence and Maude weren't far behind, however, finishing at 7:18 and 7:25 respectively. According to their coach, of the eight races run that day that featured 800 runners, DeLucia's time would've been fourth best.
"If I threw them in varsity races right away and they came in 50th and 38th or whatever, they may not realize how good they actually are compared to kids their own age," Collins said.
The trio of girls has already taken on a leadership role despite their age, one that they will undoubtedly grow into over the course of their years at the high school.
"We’re all leaders, because we’re all always trying our best," DeLucia said. "It doesn’t matter if we feel sick or how early it is. We always push each other. We run together as a team. During the races, when we run by each other, we cheer each other on. Like ‘c’mon stick with us!’ We really work together as a team even though it’s an individual sport."
"We’re trying to work together and get better by pushing each other. We want to get better in the years that come," Maude said.
Despite the rigors of running countless miles over the course of the season, the girls have held up surprisingly well and will look to continue to improve at the State qualifying runs.
"All three of them are right in the mix, and they keep showing a lot of improvement," Collins said. "That’s what I go by, seeing them improve. I know doing a year here at the high school is a lot different than the junior high, too. Next season they’re going to come back knowing what to expect a lot more."