by Andrew Garda
BROOKDALE PARK — It’s rare that anyone finds a second place finish a massive disappointment, but that was the case for the Montclair High School boys cross country team at the Essex County Championships on Oct. 26.
After Montclair’s girls team took first in the 5k event, led by Meghan Hessler’s second overall time of 18:48.50 and landing three runners in the top 10, the Mounties boys ran their race.
Led by Stefan Urquidi’s third place finish time of 15:38.50 and Aidan Ward’s seventh place time of 16:09.40, the Mounties ran well and were awarded first place.
Ten minutes later, in the middle of celebrating their dual wins, the Mountie boys were forced to hand their trophy back over.
According to officials, a runner who was not supposed to be in the race had jumped into the race in the middle of it, finishing at 13. Once he was discovered and disqualified, the officials needed to move the runners behind him up and re-tabulate all the points.
The result, several minutes later, was Montclair in second and St. Benedict’s Prep moving from second to first.
Despite that, it was a great day for Montclair cross country as not only did MHS place well, but Montclair Kimberley Academy runner Anna Schaller finished first in the girls event. That, along with Anna Bradley’s fourth place finish (19:39.50), helped the Cougar girls finish in fourth place overall.
Further, beyond Hessler’s excellent time, Eleanor Keating (19:53.50) finished in seventh and Lola Scarpone (19:55.20) finished in ninth for the Mounties. On the MHS boys side, Sebastian Urquidi had an exciting finish to his race, pushing St. Benedict’s Prep runner Alfred Chawonza over the last 15 yards, and finishing just behind him by only three-tenths of a second.
“I know the course and where to push, because I knew I had the downhill to cushion,” he said after the race. “I know what it takes to finish here because we run here almost every other day, so I just felt like if I push, maybe people from other towns won’t know what’s happening and that gives me an advantage.”
Urquidi said races like this one don’t let you worry about exhaustion, and that any speed you have built up just serves as momentum coming through the finish.
Sebastian’s brother Stefan agreed that knowing the course helped. In Stefan’s case, he was trying to bounce back from what he felt were some disappointing recent times.
“That was really something that was messing with me mentality,” he said. “So, this week the whole time I was really just thinking about grinding this meet out, whatever it took.”
Urquidi said he decided to stick with the lead pack early, no matter how fast they went.
“[Ronald] Kigen and Ramsey [Little] are both great runners, and I held onto them for the first mile,” Stefan said. “I came through around [a time of] 4:50, my fastest first mile. From there it was just hanging on, it was just grit.”
On the girls side, Hessler was motivated by a second place finish in 2017.
“I wanted to just get out there and just finish the race, try and do the best I could,” she said. “I wanted to win but I didn’t quite get that.”
Hessler has been dealing with some knee issues, she said, and that has hampered her season a little.
“I haven’t been racing that much, so I’m happy with how I ran, I’m happy I finished and I’m not mad at myself.”
She was also really pleased with her team.
“We’ve been doing really well as a team so far with the past few invitationals and the past few meets in general,” she said. “We knew coming in here we’d be a pretty strong team but anything can happen once the race goes off. So, having it all come together and having us finish in first as a team, feels good.”
Much like Hessler, Anna Schaller was happy with how the race went and her performance.
“This whole season has really been centered on groups and the state meets, so I feel like I’m still climbing. Obviously this course is super-fast so I don’t know if I’ll PR again this season, but I just think it’s another step towards that.”
She also credited the coaching staff, including head coach Matt Bach, with helping her and the team achieve success.
“He runs a really goal-oriented program,” Schaller said. “So we want to make sure we aren’t peaking too early and that’s definitely why I’m taking steps up every week.”
Next up for the Mounties is the NJSIAA North 1 Sectionals at Woodland Park on Saturday, Nov. 3, while the Cougars won’t run again until Nov. 10 and the NJSIAA Group Championships.