By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
Before the current high school cross country season began, veteran Kearny High School coach Jim Cifelli knew that he had the makings of something special.
“We are certainly the favorites to win the (Hudson) county championship,” Cifelli said. “Sure, you can’t predict those things, but we certainly have the depth and the talent. I don’t think it’s that bold of statement. It’s just a statement of fact. We’re bringing everyone back and added three girls. Last year, we had no depth and that hurt us. This year, we have eight girls and that does help the team’s chances.”
Cifelli also acknowledged that the depth has aided with the competition among the runners.
“The most important kid on the varsity is the last one,” Cifelli said. “Because then, everyone works harder. Healthy competition within the team is always good. It’s good because all the girls get along very well.”
The camaraderie was definitely evident last Saturday in the Kardinals’ first strong competitive race of the season. The Kardinals finished third as a team at the Passaic County Coaches Invitational Varsity Girls Group 4 race at Garret Mountain, a solid effort that will only help to boost confidence as the season progresses.
Leading the way Saturday was senior Aislinn Sroczynski, who finished second overall in the race, crossing the line in 20:35.10, trailing only winner Gina Riccardi of Livingston, who came home in 20:16.66.
“Aislinn is the one who makes this team go,” Cifelli said. “She’s all heart and all attitude. Her mother (Heather) ran for me and her father (Steve) ran for me, so Aislinn has that competitive nature and has added that competitive spirit to workouts. She was a novice a year ago, never having run before. But she battles tooth and nail, every step of the way.”
The Kardinals’ other ace performer is fellow senior Erika Alzamora, who finished fifth in the race Saturday in 21:03.89.
“She’s been our best all along,” Cifelli said of Alzamora, who won the individual Hudson County championship last year. “I expect her to be much better this year. She was sick last week, so that set her back a little. I expect her to be among the top three in the state sectional. She’s still very young as a senior. She’s only 16 years old. But she has so much experience. And you can see that in her workouts.”
The Kardinals’ third runner is senior Mariah Davila, who finished 18th overall in 22:24.21.
“Her attitude has improved a lot,” Cifelli said. “She would back out of workouts with little injuries here and there, but she doesn’t do that anymore. She was the freshman county champ three years ago, but she now realizes her place on the team and keeps everyone in sight.” Sophomore Anna Czykier was 30th overall at Garret Mountain in 23:20.13. “She ran indoor and outdoor for us last year, but never did the distances with everyone else,” Cifelli said. “I think we’ll see the best of her later in the season. She can be something special.”
Senior Noemi Campos was 29th overall on Saturday, finishing in 23:18.59, a solid performance. Seniors Wendy Carranza and Melissa Quiros, junior Julia Coppola and sophomore Maria Lozano round out the Kardinals’ roster.
Needless to say, Cifelli likes the makeup and the character of his team. Saturday’s solid performance is just a sign of better things to come.
“I think because we have good depth and because they work so well together, I think we have a chance to do some good things,” Cifelli said. “We were fourth in the sectional last year. Our goal is to finish at least third, a representative third. I think Aislinn and Erika should get to the groups (overall Group IV championships at Holmdel Park) and hopefully we can get them to the Meet of Champions.”
First things first. The Kardinals have to take care of local business and after Saturday, they’re certainly on their way.