By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
Before the girls’ high school cross country season started, veteran Kearny head coach Jim Cifelli set some standards for his team to reach.
One of those was the championship of the Hudson County Track Coaches Association.
“This was definitely a goal,” Cifelli said. “Last year, at the county meet, they really felt like they could win and afterwards, they felt like they gave it away. So they wanted to make amends.”
The Kardinals recently dominated the HCTCA meet, taking home the team title for the first time since 2009. “In the beginning of the year, we set those goals and we were confident that we should be there,” Cifelli said after his team outdistanced runner-up Secaucus by 14 points. “That being said, we were not running well early on and that was pretty obvious.”
But there was a turning point in the Kardinals’ season.
The team raised funds to go to the Walt Disney World Cross Country Classic in Orlando in mid-October.
“The funny thing, they had good workouts since Day One and right prior to Disney, but were really not racing well,” Cifelli said. “They were lackluster racing and you could see it. Maybe they were looking forward to Disney.”
Of the 33 teams from throughout the country in the race in Orlando, the Kardinals placed ninth.
The Kardinals then came home and competed in the Lancer Invitational in Livingston, where Cifelli saw more signs of life.
“Once we got to the counties, we sort of loosened up,” Cifelli said.
Senior Erika Alzamora led the way for the Kardinals, finishing second to overall winner Brittany Gibson of McNair Academic. Alzamora crossed the line in a solid 19:18.10.
Teammate Aislinn Sroczynski was right behind her close friend, finishing third overall in 19:44.70.
“They didn’t run well, but they competed well,” Cifelli said. “I thought Erika and Aislinn could have run better.”
Mariah Davila was 10th overall in 20:59.50.
“She was 16th at one point and ended up 10th, so she finished well,” Cifelli said.
Wendy Carranza was trailing the pack as well, but she made up a lot of places in the final strides to finish 16th overall in 21:24.30.
“We were actually losing the meet at one point,” Cifelli said. “But in the last quarter mile, Wendy and Mariah came through and ran PR (personal records).”
Noemi Campos, who had been battling a back injury, fought through the pain and finished 21st overall.
“Noemi really rallied late in the race and she also posted a PR,” Cifelli said.
Campos crossed the finish line in 21:53.20.
“It was a good race for Noemi,” Cifelli said.
Melissa Castaneda (51st overall) and Jessica Cavalier (52nd) rounded out the Kearny contingent.
“It was pretty impressive, considering we were without two girls, Anna Czykier and Julia Coppola, who have stress fractures,” Cifelli said. “The girls were very excited. It was good to see them come together. They got a chance to show what they got. It’s a good group of kids.”
Sroczynski already received her first college offer. The University of Tampa offered Sroczynski a scholarship. Alzamora is receiving some lukewarm attention.
The Kardinals now move on to the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group IV state sectionals at Garret Mountain. Randolph and Ridgewood are the two favorites, but Cifelli believes that third place at the sectionals is achievable.
“We’ve competed well with the other teams contending,” Cifelli said.
Third place would mean that the entire team would advance to next week’s Group championships at Holmdel Park in Holmdel.
“That’s another goal,” Cifelli said.
So far, the goals have been attained, like winning the first county title in four years.