MKA’s Anna Schaller stays ahead of MHS’ Meghan Hessler in the final stretch of the girls Varsity 5k. Schaller took first with a time of 18:46:10 with Hessler close behind with 18:49:60.

by Andrew Garda

Montclair Kimberley Academy and Montclair High School’s track teams had a big day during the Essex County Championships on Friday, Oct. 27, led by Cougars runner Anna Schaller, who won the Girls Varsity 5,000 meter race with a time of 18:46.10. Her time was over 3 seconds better than MHS’ Meghan Hessler, who finished second with a time of 18:49.60. MKA’s Anna Bradley took fifth place with a time of 19:28.80.

This was the first time an MKA runner won counties.

“Anna had an absolutely stellar day today,” MKA coach Matt Bach said after the race. “I was even a little bit worried seeing her out in front at the beginning, I was hoping she’d let some of the other girls do the work. But she led it right from the beginning, shoulder to shoulder with Anna Bradley and she started opening up a pretty sizable gap around the second mile.”

Bach was impressed by Hessler’s effort down the stretch as well.

“You gotta hand it to [Hessler], who was second. She had a lot of heart and she fought to try and close that gap, but Anna was too strong and held it off to the finish.”

Bach said that Schaller’s time was a personal record, and a minute faster than she had ever run before.

For MHS coach Sophia Kenny, Hessler’s work during the race once again proved how deep and committed her team is.

“Meghan has been a great asset to the program,” Kenny said after the meet. “She didn’t run cross country last year, since she was playing soccer. She decided this year that she wanted to come out to run. It’s been a wonderful addition to the program, even with our transfer Lola [Scarpone], who has been an asset to the program as well. Our number three and number four girls, Ellie [Keating] and Allie [Pintado-Urbanc] have been nothing but consistent in their performances. So as a squad together, I’ve had to change out my six and seven runners because each meet someone wants to run faster than someone else and they can compete for the top spots for next week.”

The Montclair Mounties squad finds itself in the middle of the pack of 142 runners as the gun sounds during Friday’s Varsity Boys 5k finals. MHS would have two runners finish in the top ten, and the boys team would finish second overall.

The internal competition certainly helped the Mounties take third place in the girls varsity section as a team. Strong performances by Matilda Ferguson (14th place, 20:18.10), Eleanor Keating (17th place, 20:28.00) and Pintado-Urbanc (28th place, 21:17.50) helped put the Mounties into their spot in the winner’s circle.

“Our girls team has been in battles with Millburn for years and now West Orange,” Kenny said. “It’s really teaching them to step up.”

Like the MHS girls, the MKA girls have been hard at work and competing for spots and Bach has liked what he’s seen.

“There’s been some challenges but overall it’s gone extremely well. Those who have embraced the change this year seem to have done particularly well. [Schaller] has done very well on the girls side and she’s sort of reaped the rewards from that. It’s been exciting to watch.”

With Schaller running strong times, Bach is certain the Cougars can show well at NJSIAA Sectionals next week.

On the boys side of things, MKA once again had a strong showing with Nick Wilson taking third with a time of 15:44.20 and Matt Petrocelli finishing eighth at 15:51.60. Charlie Koenig finished in 11th with a time of 16:10.10.

Again, Bach was very pleased by the showing.

“There’ve been some bumps in the road overall, but generally, as a team, it’s been a great progression,” Bach said of the guys. “This race, one of our biggest on the season, was great and we had a number of [personal records] today, which means we’re peaking at the right time.”

As these performances come on the heels of winning the NJ Prep B State Cross Country meet on Wednesday, Oct. 25, it certainly appears as if Bach has a point.

Mountie runners from left, Sebastian Urquidi, Dale Ross and Stefan Urquidi push through the middle of the Essex County Championship 5k. Stefan would finish fifth and Sebastian nineth, while Ross would finish 17th out of 142.

Clustered around the Cougars were plenty of Mounties. Stefan Urquidi and his brother, Sebastian, both ran PRs on Friday, Stefan finishing fifth with a time of 15:47.40 with Sebastian not far behind in ninth place with a time of 15:57.70. It was the first time either had managed to make a sub-16 minute time on a 5k course.

“The week prior … I was actually sick,” Stefan Urquidi said in an interview on Monday. “So as far as training I was a little reserved. [So] going into the meet … the mindset was just ‘run the first mile as fast as you can and if you pass out, you pass out, or if you PR then you PR.’ High risk, high reward.”

“My job is a lot easier,” Sebastian Urquidi said. “I just follow Stefan.”

As a group, the MHS boys ended up with all seven of their runners in the top 50 at the finish, giving them second place in the team scores, just behind powerhouse St. Benedict’s Prep and ahead of Seton Hall Prep.

Kenny was very excited by the performance.

“Their best ever [overall] was I think third place a few years ago,” she said. “So to finish in second behind St. Benedict’s, that is a tremendous feat.”

Now both the Cougars and Mounties set their sights on the NJSIAA Sectionals, which will be run on Saturday, Nov. 4, at Garret Mountain in West Paterson. A challenging course that is less flat than this past week’s race at Brookdale Park, Garret will mean the runners have to adjust their planning.

The Urquidis know their approach will have to shift.

“For me it’s really important to get out at the start because Garret is one of those courses with a very open start and then a bottleneck sort of funnel part,” Sebastian said. “So you definitely want to be at the front of the pack when you get up there.”

His brother agrees.

“I think it is really important to get good positioning that first mile, and to really take advantage of the downhills,” Stefan said. “The whole second mile, that’s really as flat as it gets, so … not only should you be setting your positions to be competitive at the finish, but you should also be preparing yourself both mentally and physically for the uphill at the end of the course.”

*An earlier version of this article stated that Meghan Hessler’s time was three minutes slower than Ana Schaller’s first place time. It has been corrected to read three seconds. We apologize for the error.