Despite being a four-year starter on Lyndhurst’s girls soccer, Kayla Carrino admits she’s “been dying to do cross country since I started in high school.”
Next fall, she’ll get that chance.
Carrino, a standout distance runner for the Golden Bears’ indoor and outdoor track teams, committed to run cross country at Seton Hall University. Her recent decision and signing is one that might have caught many by surprise if for no other reason than the fact that Carrino competed in a cross country meet in her high school career.
“It was a little difficult, but I just told the (college) coaches that my loyalty was in soccer with my coach so I didn’t want to quit her team because I was loyal to her,” Carrino said. “But once I told my story about how I wanted to run cross country, I’ve run track for all four years indoor and outdoor, they understood that I’d be good at cross country.
“My times matched up to good cross country time so when coaches saw my times they believed that I would be good at cross country because of my times.”
Carrino’s times this winter spoke for themself. On Feb. 18 at the NJSIAA Group Championships, she set school records in the 1600 Meter Run (5:24.35) and the 3200 Meter Run (11:43). Just three days earlier, Carrino won the 1600 at the Bergen County Championships with a time of 5:28.83.
“I honestly think it’s the best thing that she didn’t do cross country and I’m not selfishly saying that because I’m the soccer coach,” said Lyndhurst girls indoor track and girls soccer coach Kimberly Hykey.” Her legs have a lot less miles than these other girls that she’s going to be running with. She’s got a lot less wear and tear (on her legs). I’m sure she would have done super if she would have run cross country in high school.”
Carrino believes that soccer, in particular the running of playing 80 minutes as a center midfielder have helped prepare her for the rigors of cross country running without creating some of the wear and tear other runners may have.
This past season, Carrino was a First Team, All-NJIC National Division selection after posting eight goals and six assists to help lead Lyndhurst to a 13-6-2 record. For her career, she had 14 goals, seven assists and three All-NJIC honors.
“The training is different, but every summer I train as if I’m in cross country even though I don’t do it,” said Carrino, who has done some local events on her own including the annual Run with Tyler 5K held in Lyndhurst. “I’m not used to it, but I know what the training is like and I’ve got a feel for it.”
“I think she has untapped potential and she still has a lot in her. I don’t think she’s run her best races yet because I don’t think she’s run the events that are going to be her strongest. It’s definitely a unique, interesting thing.”
It is a perfect marriage of an overlooked runner and program.
Hykey felt that Carrino was under the radar due to her lack of cross country times. Hykey also thinks that Seton Hall’s lack of indoor and outdoor track teams leaves the school overlooked when recruiting cross country prospects.
Carrino had been hearing from smaller, local schools before the start of indoor season when she asked Hykey, who played soccer at Seton Hall, if she could reach out to the school and its legendary coach John Moon.
Within 24 hours, Moon contacted Hykey and soon thereafter, reached out to Carrino. For Carrino, who intends to study biology, after a visit to campus, she was completely sold.
“As soon as I stepped on campus I just felt at home,” Carrino said. “I know they have good programs in what I’m going into, which is biology. Also Coach Moon is an amazing coach. He’s a legend, I love him and he’s a great coach.”
Not long after that, following the conclusion of a recent meet, Moon offered Carrino a spot on the phone, which was accepted.
“She’s super deserving of it because she’s one of those kids that goes under the radar. Great, quiet, nice kid that does everything right and because of not having a cross country background, she’s not on the radar for a lot of coaches,” said Hykey. “I’m very excited for her for next year because I really think further distances are going to be her strong suit.”
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Jason Bernstein | Observer Sports Writer
Jason Bernstein joined The Observer as its sports writer in March 2022, following the retirement of Jim Hague. He has a wealth of sports-writing experience, including for NJ Advance Media (nj.com, The Jersey Journal, The Star-Ledger.)