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Area high school cross country preview

Lower Cape May's Zeb Hinker leads teammate Elijah Jackson early in the boys race.

By BRIAN CUNNIFF

The high school cross country season gets an early start for most of the area teams, with Cape May Tech, Lower Cape May, Middle Township and Wildwood Catholic each in action on Wednesday. Wildwood gets its start on Saturday.

Last season, runners didn’t get to experience the Big Five Championships or the Cape May County Championships due to restrictions surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. Those meets are back for 2021, with the Big Five meet scheduled for Friday, Sept. 17, and the county championship meet slated for Friday, Oct. 22. Both will be held at Cape May County Park.

The following is a look at each of the area’s high school cross country teams:

CAPE MAY TECH

Seniors on the Cape May Tech girls team include (from left) Emily Brown, Alexandra Bruno, Emie Frederick and Stella Clark.

Cape May Tech’s boys team faces a rebuilding season under 16th-year coach Joe Bresan. Sophomore Luke Basile, who led the team in every meet last fall as a freshman, is the team’s top runner. The lone senior is Jarod O’Reilly.

Cape May Tech’s girls team, meanwhile, is very strong in numbers, with more than 15 athletes out for the team.

Senior Emie Frederick, the team’s top runner, and junior Alexis Sykes are the team’s co-captains. Other returnees include seniors Emily Brown and Cara Stehman and juniors Alexis Sykes and Sara Ryan.

Newcomers include seniors Alexandra Bruno and Stella Clark and freshmen Olivia Feliciano, Marley Wetzel, Lilyana Harpel, Haley Watson, Nikitia McBride, Avianna Wesier, Maya Kaced, Sophia Kaced and Courtney McGinley.

“We are strong in numbers but very young on race experience,” said 19th-year girls coach Gerry Chretien. “We have the potential of being a .500 or better team this year.”

Cape Tech’s teams begin their seasons Wednesday with a tri-meet at Buena that also includes Middle Township.

LOWER CAPE MAY

ZEB HINKER

Lower Cape May features boys and girls teams that each possess quite a few seniors.

Leading the way on the boys side is senior Zeb Hinker, one of South Jersey’s top runners. He placed fourth at the South Jersey Group II championships last fall, posting an impressive time of 16:21.

Other seniors on the boys team include captain Jesse Coombs, Elijah Jackson and Nathan Stewart. Junior Jack Cura and freshman Connor Barikian are underclassmen expected to help.

Lower’s girls team features four seniors in Shea Bonner, Hailee Stiefel, Julianna Mendo and Mia Fuelner. Bonner and Stiefel are the team’s co-captains. The top juniors are Kaitlyn Crouthamel and Eirnin Arnold.

“The boys have a deep senior class led by South Jersey all-star Zeb Hinker and a competitive group of underclassmen with the potential to be successful as a team and individually,” second-year coach Syd Peterkin said. “The girls also are led by a strong senior class of young ladies that are excited to take on the season’s challenges and finish their careers together.”

Lower Cape May opens its season Wednesday at home with a quad meet against Cedar Creek, Oakcrest and Pleasantville.

MIDDLE TOWNSHIP

Ashton Meltzer and Ohm Patel are two of the seniors on the Middle Township boys team.

With a good mix of returnees and a couple of talented first-time runners out, Middle Township’s boys team is gearing up for a competitive season under first-year coach Rob Heck.

Seniors Austin Shagren and Jordan Severino; juniors Luke Seddon, Anthony Marroquin and Riley Haring; and sophomore Thomas Hargest are all back from last year’s team. 

Two senior newcomers, Ohm Patel and Ashton Meltzer, have shown promise in the preseason and could crack the team’s top five.

“I think the team will improve on last year’s times and record,” Heck said. “There are several new additions to the team.  With the new additions and the improvement of returning members, I feel the team will be competitive in many of its races.”

With a large group of returnees in the junior and senior classes, Middle Township’s girls team expects to be very competitive in the Cape-Atlantic National Conference.

Leading the way is junior Sofia Jurusz, who enjoyed an excellent freshman season before dealing with some injury issues last fall. She’s back healthy and should be among the top runners in the conference.

Other returnees include seniors Julia Risko (team captain), Liz Schalick and Morgan Delaney, along with juniors Mariann Kurtz and Paulina Rios.

“We have a strong corps of runners who like to work hard,” said Middle girls coach Chuck Gehman, now in his 21st season. “We should be very competitive in the CAL National.”

Middle’s teams open their season Wednesday at Buena in a meet that also includes Cape May Tech.

WILDWOOD

Wildwood’s cross country captains are Robert Wilezcek and Ava Troiano.

Wildwood’s boys team enters the 2021 season as the defending Tri-County Conference Classic Division champions. The Warriors are led by sophomore Jorge Cruz, who finished fifth at the South Jersey Group I Championships as a freshman. Other returnees to the boys team include senior captain Robert Wilezcek, junior Landon Taylor and sophomore Alexis Huerta Tapia.

Freshman Brian Cunniff is a newcomer to the boys team.

Wildwood’s girls team has quite a few of its top runners back, as well as a couple of talented freshmen.

The returnees include senior captain Ava Troiano; juniors Reagan Kobierowski, Brenna Farrell and Lisbeth Osario Garcia; and sophomore Monica Kobierowski.

Freshmen newcomers Macie McCracken and Leiah Pawlus are expected to make an immediate impact.

“It will be interesting to see how our boys team will rise to the challenge after winning our division last year and losing some key runners for this season,” eighth-year coach Kelly Franco said. “We will need our freshmen to come out strong for us to stay competitive. I am also excited to see how our girls team

competes this season. We have a full team with some great freshmen runners, so we should be in a great position to get some wins.”

Wildwood’s teams open their season Saturday at the Cherokee Challenge.

WILDWOOD CATHOLIC

Wildwood Catholic’s boys and girls teams each feature better numbers than in some recent seasons.

The boys team is rather young, with only one returnee in junior captain Matt Ingersoll. The top newcomers include freshmen L.J. Belasco, Jake Brophy, Kory Lafferty and Konala Wong.

The girls team has much more experience, behind returning seniors Sammy Andress (team captain and top runner), Ava Sorensen and Leilani Wong and juniors Aubrey Diller and Camryn Diller.

“The girls team has the benefit of experience, which should allow them to be competitive within our conference as it resumes competition after last year’s restrictions,” Wildwood Catholic coach Michael Scythes said. “The boys will need to gain experience but will have enough to score as a team after a few years without a full roster.”

Wildwood Catholic’s teams open the season Wednesday at Holy Spirit in a tri-meet that also features St. Joseph.