The J. Taylor Finley Middle School co-ed cross country team was strengthened this year, but still needs to take another step next fall with hopefully the addition of more girls to the squad.
The season started with 16 runners, but after seven joined the team while the year was underway, the campaign ended with 23 athletes participating. Social studies teacher Jarrad Richter was Finley’s coach.
“I had a lot of fun with this year’s squad,” Richter said. “It was the biggest team in terms of numbers that I’ve had in my four seasons as coach and it was certainly the biggest team I’ve had in terms of energy level. They pushed each other in practice and cheered for each other during meets. It was a great season.”
The top runners included Eric Heinz, Ronan Driscoll, Julia Goodwin and Piper Davis. Heinz captured four first place finishes in meets along with a pair of runner-up performances and one third place effort. The eighth grader placed fourth in a field of 199 at the Sunken Meadow Invitational, which serves as a kind of informal county middle school championship.
“After a great season as a seventh grader, Eric came back and ran even better this year,” Richter said. “He puts in the work at practice and really loves the sport and I think he has the ability to be an elite runner at the high school level.”
Heinz registered his first-ever sub-6:00 mile at Stimson (5:57) and then followed that up with an encore performance at Candlewood (5:51).
Driscoll was second once, third once and fourth once and he took 23rd at Sunken Meadow. “Ronan joined the team this year as an eighth grader and he was a great addition to the squad,” Richter said. “He was right in the thick of things in every race he ran this season.”
Goodwin also excelled, finishing in second place in one meet in third place in two contests and fourth place twice. She was 30th in a field of 171 at Sunken Meadow.
“Julia really trained hard during our practices this season and it showed in her performance at the meets, especially at Sunken Meadow, where she beat last years’ time by two full minutes,” Richter said.
Davis finished third in one race and fourth in another. She was 37th at Sunken Meadow. “Piper also decided to join our cross country team for the first time as an eighth grader and she made the most of her season, demonstrating great leadership ability and willingness to push herself and her teammates,” Richter said.
In the final meet of the season, Heinz, Driscoll, Lucas Biancardo, Adan Ntambwe, Chase Anastasia, and Greyson Henderson all finished in the top 10.
The Finley boys also finished eighth overall at Sunken Meadow in a race that featured 18 Suffolk middle school teams.
On the girls’ side, Goodwin turned in the most exciting finish of the season at the last meet, running shoulder to shoulder with Elwood’s top girls’ runner for the last quarter mile and eventually capturing her first second place finish of the season.
Looking ahead to 2023, the team should feature ten returning boys and three returning girls. “I plan to promote the cross country program during seventh and eighth grade lunch periods in the opening days of school next year to increase student-athlete participation,” Richter said. “I also intend to further hone our conditioning program to improve times and overall team records.”