First time for Golden Bears since 2010
By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
Andre Francisco and Kane McDermott remember watching the Lyndhurst High School cross country teams, led by former Observer Male Athlete of the Year Patrick Rono (currently running at the University of Arkansas), and thought then that they would love to enjoy some of the same success when they both arrived at Lyndhurst.
“Right before my eighth grade year, I noticed that they would win a lot,” Francisco said. “I thought that I would like to be a part of that winning, too. I wanted to carry on the tradition.”
“I think it’s something we always wanted,” McDermott said. “We wanted to be able to win the sectional like other Lyndhurst teams.”
However, when Francisco and McDermott entered Lyndhurst a few years ago, the idea of Lyndhurst winning another NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I state sectional championship seemed a little farfetched, especially with superstar Rono long gone.
That didn’t dissuade Francisco or McDermott.
“Since freshman year, it was something we worked for,” said McDermott, now a junior and a member of the cross country team. “Having the other teams do well set a higher standard for us.”
“Especially after a guy like Pat Rono and the great legacy he left, we just fought together as a team to carry on the tradition.”
Sure enough, the Lyndhurst boys achieved the unthinkable Saturday, when they won the North 2, Group I state championship at Warinanco Park in Elizabeth.
The Golden Bears held off two-time defending sectional champ McNair Academic of Jersey City to win their first state title since the Rono-led team in 2010.
Francisco led the way for Lyndhurst, finishing second overall to Sondy Polanco of Secaucus. Francisco completed the race in 17:53.62.
William Hooper was next for the Golden Bears, finishing fourth overall in 17:57.49. McDermott was next, placing sixth overall in 18:04.19.
All three of the Golden Bears’ top finishers are juniors, meaning they all will be back next year to try to defend their title.
Lyndhurst head coach Michael Pichardo believed that his team had a great chance to win the state sectional trophy.
“I figured we were the favorites, but I didn’t want to say anything to the kids,” Pichardo said. “We knew we had a great chance. It was just a matter of them having their A game and they did that. It’s a testament to the kids. They bought in since they were freshmen and worked very hard.”
Pichardo said that the race was won by the dedication of his middle runners.
“At the first mile, I noticed that it was Polanco, then Andre, then three McNair runners,” Pichardo said. “We had to do something about that. But then, Billy (Hooper) ran by two of the McNair kids and gave us a gutsy performance.”
McDermott followed suit, with Dylan Stanco coming in 12th overall in 18:30.52, Abreham Mindaye coming in 13th in 18:44.07 and Xavier Locke placing 14th in 18:47.55.
Having those three runners come in one after another sealed the deal for the Golden Bears.
Anthony Dell Aquila rounded out the litany of Golden Bear runners, placing 21st overall in 19:13.07.
Locke and Dell Aquila are only freshmen. This is definitely a program on the rise, as Mindaye is the lone senior. Every other runner returns.
“It’s a testament to the kids, because we lost one of our top runners, Steve Covello, to mononucleosis and he’s been out almost all year,” Pichardo said. “It meant that the younger kids had to step up. The kids really run for each other. They all want to come through for their teammates. They’re as tough as nails.”
Pichardo couldn’t say enough about top runner Francisco.
“He’s terrific,” Pichardo said. “He’s been our consistent leader. He wants it the most.”
Pichardo didn’t want to compare his last champion with the current bunch – except in one area.
“They’re getting to have that edge,” Pichardo said. “That team in 2010 had a swagger about them and this team is getting there. This team wanted to get a taste of what the other teams achieved and they got it. But they’re still hungry. I’m hoping that this is just the tip of the iceberg. It’s very satisfying.”
Pichardo believes that the Golden Bears have a shot this Saturday at finishing among the top three teams at the overall Group I championships at Holmdel Park, which would give them a chance to compete again one week later at the NJSIAA Meet of Champions, also in Holmdel.
“We have a lot of hard work ahead of us, but they’re capable of qualifying,” Pichardo said. “It was great to see them come together and get this one. I’m very excited for them. They have matured and come a long way. This was a huge first step for them. It’s a young team and we bring everyone back.”
Pichardo likes the state of the program.
“We have depth,” Pichardo said. “We have about 10 kids who could run varsity. When has that happened before? This group really pushed each other and it paid off.”
“This is amazing,” McDermott said. “We really did have high hopes coming into the season. We expected to do something good this season. This was our year. It’s tremendous that we’re all coming back next year. Hopefully, we can repeat.”
“It’s really exciting,” Francisco said. “We’ve all worked so hard together. We push each other and this is the result.”