By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
For many years, Kearny High School boasted of having the very best girls’ cross country program in the area, even the state of New Jersey.
From the mid-1980s through 1991, the Kardinals regularly won championships in girls’ cross country. They won five NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group IV championships, including three straight from 1987 through 1989 and again in 1991. The Kardinals had such standout runners as Kathy Gray, Laura Wronski, Liz Duarte, Paula Costa and Julie Corbett, all of whom won Hudson County championships as Kardinal runners.
Duarte, maybe the most decorated runner in the history of the program, won state sectional championships in 1987 and 1988 and was crowned a Hudson County champion on three separate occasions.
In recent years, runners like Denise Araujo (2004), Jennifer Arocho (2006) and Tania Bernardino (2008) all won county championships.
There was a bit of a lull in the development of Kearny harrier champions, until this year, when junior Erika Alzamora was added to the list of Hudson County winners and helping Kearny enjoy a return to glory.
Last Saturday, at the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group IV championships at Greystone Park in Morris Plains, two Kearny runners stepped forward and helped to carry the entire team into the overall Group IV championships this Saturday in Holmdel Park in Holmdel.
Alzamora continued her brilliant season by finishing fifth overall in the state sectional, crossing the finish line in 19:45. Her teammate and friend Aislinn Sroczynski finished seventh overall in 20:03.
Because of the fine performances of Alzamore and Sroczynski, the Kardinals finished fourth overall, behind perennial powers Ridgewood, Morris Knolls and Randolph to earn a berth as an entire team at the overall Group IV meet.
That alone is a major accomplishment – and maybe the truest sign that the Kardinal girls’ cross country program is returning to its roots.
Alzamora said that she had a tough time at the unfamiliar surroundings of Greystone.
“It was a tough course,” Alzamora said. “There was a lot of pressure on me after winning the county meet. I knew I had to be one of the top runners here. I was worried about placing and worried about qualifying for Holmdel.”
Alzamora said that Greystone proved to be a big of a challenge.
“It was definitely a confusing course,” Alzamora said. “I really didn’t know where I was going. I just tended to follow the lead.”
Still, for someone with limited cross country experience, she felt gratified to finish fifth.
“It was amazing,” Alzamora said. “I really wanted to win the race, but I’ll take fifth. It’s a great feeling.”
Sroczynski was overjoyed with her seventh place finish.
“I felt really good the whole race,” Sroczynski said. “I was really nervous about the race, because I was also worried about qualifying for Holmdel. I was picked by some to finish lower than 10th and that would have meant I wouldn’t have made it. I knew I was seventh and just wanted to be able to hang on and not fall off. I did even better than I could have expected. My time really didn’t matter, although I wanted to break 20 (minutes).”
Sroczynski just missed her goal by three seconds.
“I was going for a high place, because it was all about qualifying,” Sroczynski said.
Sroczynski is also a latebloomer when it comes to cross country.
“I played soccer last year,” said the talented sophomore. “This is my first year in cross country. It’s definitely treating me better than soccer did. I guess I made a good choice.”
Junior Wendy Carranza was 26th overall, finishing the course at Greystone in 21:17, helping significantly to the Kardinals’ team cause.
Junior Mariah Davila was 29th in 21:32, giving the Kardinals a lot of hope for the future, because none of the top four finishers are seniors. They will all be back and better for next season.
The same can be said for Noemi Campos, who is a junior. Campos was 55th overall Saturday in 22:33.
Melissa Castaneda was the next Kearny finisher. She was 96th in 25:59.
Veteran coach Jim Cifelli has to be very pleased with the Kardinals’ performance and the fact that the cross country season has been extended by one week at Kearny.
Another local team that punched its ticket for Holmdel is Lyndhurst, which finished third as a team in the North Jersey Section 2, Group I bracket.
A trio of sophomores, Andre Francisco, Kane McDermott and Stephen Covello, all finished among the top 10 to earn the trip to Holmdel.
Francisco was sixth overall in 17:43.47, with McDermott eighth and Covello ninth.
It’s not exactly the success the Golden Bears experienced in recent years when they had a sure-fire stud in Patrick Rono, now at the University of Arkansas, but it’s still a respectable finish, nonetheless for the Golden Bears.