For Coach Mike Parker, this cross-country season looked remarkably different than last year's, his first with GSB. For starters, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, meets were cut short from 13 to six. And given all the new restrictions, runners faced unprecedented challenges, from lack of competitors to lost traditions. Yet in the face of this, his athletes exhibited dedication and resilience, always giving their best.
"Our runners showed great maturity in safeguarding against the virus, and even though it has been hard, they never complained," said Coach Parker. "Our team-bonding activities were limited – no pasta parties or running games at practice. We missed the excitement of Homecoming. But we were fortunate we didn't have a complete miss with the season. Athletic Director Will Taylor put together a schedule that gave us an opportunity to compete."
Finding schools to compete against wasn't easy, given NJSIAA transportation limits and school closures. "We have the facility to host meets, but we had a hard time finding teams to run against," said Coach Parker. "We competed against North Plainfield three times because they were willing to travel." Typically, GSB races against Blair Academy, but that opponent shut down its fall sports program. Meanwhile, the Prep and County meets were cancelled as well as the Cross-Country Invitationals. "The experience of running against 20 teams in one big race was taken away by the virus protocol protection," he added.
Overall, the 16-member boys' squad finished the season strong, capturing fourth place at the State Sectional meet on November 14. "Senior James Koether '21 placed 15th and earned a medal," said Coach Parker. "Andrew Young, who was sidelined all season, had an opportunity to run in the last meet." At the Mountain Section of the Skyland Conference the North Plainfield, the boys' team captured second. Medal winners at the October Newark Academy Invitation included Alex Tulenko '22 and Junior Will Strong '22.
The girls' team – Sydney Goldberg '22, Caroline Rongen '23, and Anne Wang '22 – made the most of an abbreviated season with limited competitors. "Annie, who started as a freshman, was our team leader and motivator," said Coach Parker. "Partway through the season, Sydney suffered a shin injury and had to battle back. With treatment from out athletic trainer, Glen DePino, she got healthy and was able to compete at the State Sectional meet. Caroline showed so much progress, with her outstanding attitude and diligent work ethic, she was awarded out team's Effort Award."
Coach Parker praised his runners for getting ahead during the pre-season in order to come out strong.
"Our team pre-conditioning season was wiped out, but our runners diligently trained on their own," he said. "Even though it's better for our athletes to train with their teammates who can push and help set challenges, we maintained our aerobic base on our own when the school had to shut."
This season, especially, Coach Parker reminded his runners that training for a race means much more than running. "Overall health is paramount," he said. "Balanced nutrition, good sleep habits, positive thinking, cross training, and strength training all contribute to the overall health and are key components to successfully preparing for cross-country racing." He continuously emphasized how runners get stronger each day by practicing hard. "It adds up at the end of season to a great performance," he said. "We train seriously, and we have a lot of fun. As each individual works toward her or his goals, our team comes together to work toward a common goal. It provides a network of friendship and support for all our team members."