By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
For a few years, the Lyndhurst boys’ cross country program was highly respected and revered. The Golden Bears won the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I state title in 2010, finished second last year and fourth in 2009.
A lot of that had to do with the emergence of do-everything Patrick Rono, who ended his career at Lyndhurst as one of the best all-around athletes in the school history. Rono, the recipient of The Observer Male Athlete of the Year in 2011, went on to the University of Arkansas.
However, last year’s team did well without the presence of Rono. Seniors like Danny Gaspar and Thiago Fernandes carried the torch of success, after it was passed to them by Rono.
Andre Francisco was a freshman on the Lyndhurst boys’ cross country team last year. He never got the chance to be on the same team with a superstar like Rono, but he did learn from the example that was set by his older teammates Gaspar and Fernandes.
“We knew that this year, most of the team was going to be made up of sophomores,” Francisco said. “We had plenty of time for improvement. We had to stay strong and stay in a pack as sophomores in practice.”
It’s true. Five of the seven Lyndhurst varsity cross country runners this season were sophomores. They definitely represented the future of the Golden Bears’ harriers.
“We weren’t expected to do anything,” Francisco said. “So we just kept working and working.”
Kane McDermott is another of those talented sophomores.
“We have a really young team,” McDermott said. “It was all about figuring out who our leaders were going to be. We lost all the leaders we had in the past.”
Neither Francisco nor McDermott had the chance to compete with Rono, but there’s no question that the world-class runner had an impact on them.
“I think Patrick Rono was the reason for a lot of us coming out to run,” McDermott said. “We all heard about what Pat did for the sport and how much he cared.”
McDermott said that he became a much better runner from last year to this year.
“I got a much better understanding of the sport,” McDermott said. “I put more time in. I ran more distance. I learned how to warm up better and prepare for race days.”
Francisco also improved from last year.
“I got in the weight room and got stronger,” Francisco said. “I think what the Lyndhurst teams did in the past really motivated me.”
There weren’t any championships won this season. The Golden Bears did manage to qualify for the NJSIAA Group I state championships, held last Saturday at Holmdel Park in Holmdel. They finished right in the middle of the pack, placing 10th out of 20 teams. But the future looks bright.
The torch has been passed once again, like it was from Rono to Gaspar and Fernandes. It’s now firmly in the hands of runners like Francisco and McDermott.
Francisco finished 31st overall Saturday, crossing the finish line in 18:07.68. McDermott was a little better, placing 25th overall in 17:55.95.
There is hope for the future, as long as runners like McDermott and Francisco continue to develop.
Fellow sophomore Stephen Covello was 62nd in 18:44.99. Another sophomore, William Hooper, was 82nd in 19:13.18.
“I believe we’ll get everyone in the 18s next year, then the 17s, as long as we all work together,” Francisco said. “I know it motivates me and I hope it motivates the rest of my teammates. What we did at the end of the season encouraged me a lot. Hopefully, we’ll all improve next year, the whole seven, not just me.” Francisco believes that there can be a positive carryover.
“We overcame a lot and fought back hard,” Francisco said. “We’re definitely working closely together. I think there will definitely be a carryover.”
McDermott was overjoyed with the way the Golden Bears developed.
“I’m so excited and thrilled,” McDermott said. “I didn’t think we had a chance to run at the state meet. I know at the beginning of the year, we didn’t think we’d do this well. But I think I improved and so did the others. I think we’re all more confident now. We’re better prepared as we move forward. I’m so excited for next year. I think we can make something happen.”
That’s the beauty of a sport like cross country. Improvement can come, as long as you want it to come and as long as you’re willing to put in the time and effort to make the improvement. It seems as if the trip to Holmdel set off a light bulb with the sensational sophomores at Lyndhurst. It definitely speaks well for the future.