The Lyndhurst High School girls’ cross country team was not expected to be a contender in 2020. That’s basically because veteran coach Michael Picardo had no idea what kind of a roster he was going to have – and Picardo had to deal with the obstacle of a coronavirus pandemic.
“I had two seniors (Tanveer Kaur and Emily Gabriel) who worked hard during the summer and carried us,” Picardo said. “They had organized team workouts all throughout July and August. I was able to communicate with them through Zoom meetings. But they were the ones who got everyone together to run.”
So Picardo had no idea how good his incoming freshmen would be.
Picardo also didn’t know about some athletes who decided to change sports.
Basically, Picardo had no idea about how his team would fare.
A little more than two months later, Picardo has a solid idea that the Golden Bears are indeed a good program once again.
That’s because talented freshmen Lynn Doke and Julia Sales joined the program. And it’s because Tara Kibbe decided to join the cross country team after playing soccer last year as a freshman.
The influx of new blood has enabled the Golden Bears to climb all the way to a second place team finish at the recent North Jersey Interscholastic Conference-Colonial Division championships at the Garret Mountain Reserve in Woodland Park.
Doke finished first overall in 22:22, with senior Kaur fifth in 22:59 and junior Ariana Perez eighth in 23:20.
The biggest setback in that race was that Kibbe lost her place in the race and had to regroup.
“I just went the wrong way,” Kibbe said. “I realized when I saw no one behind me that I made a mistake. I actually ran into a coach who told me I was going the wrong way. I really didn’t want to stop running, so I just turned and kept going. I saw how many people were in front of me.”
Kibbe recovered somewhat to finish 22nd overall in a pedestrian 24:19. If Kibbe doesn’t lose her way on the course, the Golden Bears would more than likely won the race.
Kibbe didn’t sulk long after the race. She managed to recover nicely to finish 22nd overall at the North Jersey Invitational, a race that included all of the schools in northern New Jersey and featured 300 runners. Kibbe finished the course at Garret Mountain in a brisk 21:16.
“I didn’t think it would be anything like this,” Kibbe said of running cross country. “I was lucky to have people like Emily and Tanveer as role models. They worked me hard. It’s crazy, because I never even thought about cross country.”
Doke has a league championship to build upon.
“I had no idea what this would be,” Doke said. “I wanted to play soccer, but I hurt my foot. I didn’t know how good I could be. I thought the seniors would do better than me. And Tara is just so good.”
Picardo is pleased with the way his new team has developed.
“Every race, they’re posting PRs (personal records),” Picardo said. “If you would have told me that I would have a girl win the league meet and the team would take second, I would have signed on the dotted line. I had no idea how this would turn out.”
Picardo was asked about each of his runners.
“Lynn has been a pleasant surprise,” Picardo said of Doke. “Every race, she keeps getting better. She’s a great kid who works hard. She just took off (at the league meet) and kept going.”
Kibbe has now proven to be a runner for the future.
“She’s a bulldog,” Picardo said. “She does everything right. She’s a quiet leader. Nothing seems to faze her. But she’s a joy. She’s like a gift from the gods. When I saw her run, I said, ‘We have a chance to be pretty good.’”
Kaur was a transfer from Belleville who emerged as a leader.
“She went from being a JV (junior varsity) runner to our best runner,” Picardo said. “She’s our consummate leader. She’s what every captain should be. She does everything for us. She’s one of the main reasons why we’re here.”
Perez is a junior who has also improved tremendously.
“It’s the first year she’s been healthy,” Picardo said. “She had a stress fracture and had knee surgery. If she’s fully healthy, she might be our best runner. She’s starting now to get in shape.”
Perez was the second Golden Bear to cross the line Saturday at the North Jersey Invitational, coming home in 23:21, good for 52nd overall. Doke was 57th overall in 23:40.
Emily Gabriel has also been an inspirational leader.
“There’s no one I’d rather have than Emily,” Picardo said.
Julia Sales, the other freshman, finished 67th overall at the North Jersey race.
“She is a warrior,” Picardo said. “She’s had shin splints, so we’re looking to see how she improves.”
Sophomore Jimena Capurro is the seventh Golden Bear runner.
“She’s a first time runner,” Picardo said. “She’s good friends with Tara and wanted to run with her.”
The Golden Bears will now move on to the NJSIAA North Jersey state sectional meet at Garret Mountain this weekend.
“I think we’re on to bigger and better things,” Kibbe said. “I’m now looking forward to next cross country season as well.”
Needless to say, it’s all been fun for the coach, who was caught off guard by the team’s success.
“I didn’t expect any of this,” Picardo said. “I’m dumbfounded. It’s all just dumb luck.
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Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer
Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.
It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.
In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.
In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.
He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.
During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.
Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.
Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”