By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
It had been a brilliant cross country season for the Lyndhurst High School boys’ team, one that culminated in the NJIC-Colonial Division championship and the second straight NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I title.
So when the Golden Bears took to the tough and treacherous course at Holmdel Park last Saturday for the overall Group I state championships, there was hope that the Bears could muster up yet another brilliant performance to move on to the NJSIAA Meet of Champions this weekend.
But it didn’t happen.
The Golden Bears didn’t get the performance they were hoping for and finished fourth, just missing on a berth in the M of C by a total of just nine points.
“We didn’t have our ‘A’ game today,” Lyndhurst head coach Michael Picardo said. “We knew we needed our best today and we didn’t get it.” Stephen Covello was the top Golden Bear runner, coming home in 14th place in 17:15.36. Teammate William Hooper was right behind in 15th place, clocked at 17.16.96. Dylan Stanco was next, earning 17th place in 17:19.14. The trio tried desperately to move up to make more of an impact, but it wasn’t to be.
“In the beginning, I got trapped in the back,” Covello said. “I couldn’t move. Going up the hill, it was pretty hard to get past anyone. I had to run on the edges, between the trees and everything. Once we got out of the woods, we had a lot of ground to catch up and it was hard. I was trying to go for it and couldn’t get there.”
Covello said that he was looking for his teammates as well.
“We tried to run as a pack,” Covello said. “Billy (Hooper), Stanco and I were all together. But I didn’t know where we were. Making up ground in a race like this with so many runners is really tough. We tried to push each other to the end.”
“I think we all got out slow,” Hooper said. “At one point, I was like in 50th place as we entered the first mile. I tried to pass so many people, but it was so hard. I got tripped about five or six times because I’m so tall and have long legs. People were hitting me left and right. Once everyone got out, it was hard to catch up. We just couldn’t get past them.”
Andre Francisco was the next Golden Bear finisher, crossing the line in 30th place. Isaiah Aviles was 58th and Anthony Dell Aquila finished in 61st place.
Despite the disappointing finish, Picardo said that the team had a lot to be proud of.
“I’m very proud of what we accomplished,” Picardo said. “In fact, I’m ecstatic. Sure, this hurts right now, but I’m super proud. This is the greatest bunch of kids I’ve ever coached. I can’t ask for anything more. We’re a true team in every sense.”
The runners themselves realized how great of a season it was.
“I’m very proud of these guys,” Hooper said. “Four years of hard work definitely paid off. It’s not the way we wanted it to end, but we worked so hard to get to this point.”
Covello, the heart and soul of the team, agreed.
“This is heartbreaking,” Covello said. “It hurts. We wanted to go out and win this. But this one race doesn’t dictate what we did all year. I’m unbelievably proud of these guys. It’s been my honor to have run with them. I wouldn’t have changed things for the world. We won back-to-back state sectionals, the first time in the school’s history. I wouldn’t trade any one of these guys for anyone.”
Covello said that there will come a time when the pain of Saturday’s disappointment will fade away.
“I wanted to get one more chance to run with these guys,” Covello said. “It’s really heartbreaking. But we accomplished a lot and I know the guys next year are in good shape to do well again.”
There’s a program at Lyndhurst now. In years past, there were teams led by Patrick Rono, who was a physical presence, a sure-fire stud.
This year’s team wasn’t blessed with a ton of natural athleticism. There were no physical specimens, no physiques that would incite fear in opponents.
But the Golden Bears had a lot of heart and desire. More importantly, they were a team.
“That sums it all up,” Picardo said. “They were a team in the truest sense. I’ll remember this team forever.”
The Golden Bears will be immortalized for helping put the Lyndhurst cross country program on the map, thanks to the diligence of the senior leaders.