The Kingsway girls’ cross-country team, the two-time defending South Jersey Group 4 champions, graduated three Division 1 caliber athletes, including one of the greatest runners in South Jersey history in Rachel Vick.
They had a season-ending injury to another projected starter. They were relying on three unproven freshmen. It looked like the juggernaut finally was going to go down hard.
However, no one bothered to notify this current team that they were not supposed to be a contender in their own division, let alone a contender for a South Jersey championship and a national championship contender.
Subsequently, the Kingsway girls’ cross-country team went on to go undefeated in dual meets, winning the Tri-County Conference Royal Division title. They won the Shore Coaches Invitational title for the first time in 27 years. They won the Gloucester County and Tri-County Conference Championships, sweeping the first five spots.
The girls then won the South Jersey Group 4 Championships for the third year in a row over preseason favorite Shawnee. They finished a close second to the number 1 ranked team in the Northeast US, North Hunterdon, at the NJ Meet of Champions. This was the best finish at the Meet of Champions in the program’s long, storied history.
Then, on Nov. 25, Kingsway shocked the national running community by finishing a close second to North Hunterdon at the Nike Northeast Regional Championships in Wappingers Falls, NY to qualify for the Nike National Championships in Portland, Oregon.
Kingsway is the first team from South Jersey to EVER qualify for the national championships.
Quite simply, none of this success was supposed to be. So how did this happen anyway?
It must be noted that the team did go into this season with Alexis Mullarkey, one of the top returning girls in South Jersey. She did go on to win the Gloucester County and Tri-County titles individually.
Lauren Krott, another holdover from last year’s team, really improved, finishing second at the South Jersey Championships while being selected as an All-South Jersey and All-State member.
Allie Pierontoni, another returner, earned first team conference and county honors.
However, the newcomers really pushed things forward. The aforementioned freshman, Ashlynne Burke, Sydney Watts, and Caleigh Kupniewski, grew to become three of the fastest freshman in New Jersey with all of them earning all-conference honors.
Another key addition was Kylie Anicic, a former starter on the girls’ soccer team. A standout distance runner on the track team, she decided to give cross country a try in her final year, and it ended up being a great move for herself and the cross-country team. Individually, she earned All-South Jersey, all-conference, and all-area honors.
Along with a strong sub-varsity unit supporting them, these girls put everything together at the right time. They also finished as the number one ranked team in South Jersey, winning their third consecutive South Jersey Cup.
“This season is an example of what can happen when you don’t put limits on yourself,” said Head Girls Coach Caitlin Hess. “We have a saying that ‘tradition never graduates’ that goes back to former head coach Milt Fredericks. This program truly believes in that mantra. In more recent times, we have seen this exemplified on the boys’ side, and, this season, we saw it on the girls’ side of the program.”
“This season’s success is indicative of the girls’ commitment to that mindset. They want to keep the torch going.”
Needless to say, it is hard to keep a good program down.
By Christian Lynch