By Christian Lynch
Last year, the Kingsway boy’s cross country team completed its greatest season in school, South Jersey, and state history, as it won the State Group 4 Championship. Before that, its only other state championship occurred in 2012-13, when it was in Group 3.
It was a long build-up, as most of the starting lineup had been together for three years. At the state championship last year, the boys ran the fastest team time in State Group 4 history and put up a record-setting score.
After graduating five of its top six runners from last year’s team, it appeared that Kingsway would be rebuilding for the first time in a long time. Opposing teams were licking their chops, waiting to jump on this young squad and take them down.
The Kingsway boy’s cross country team had other plans, as they proceeded to win the program’s third state group championship, upending huge pre-meet favorite Westfield in the process, 91-97.
Along the way, the team also won the Tri-County Royal Division title, the Tri-County Conference overall title, the Gloucester County title, the Shore Coaches Invitational title, and the South Jersey Group 4 championship.
The question remains – how did this unexperienced band of brothers pull off this type of season?
“This program is about tradition, pride, and excellence,” said senior captain Kieran Burns. “We graduated some of the best runners this school has ever had, and it was time for the next crew to step up and carry this team. That’s how great programs should operate.”
This sentiment rings true throughout the team.
“As a young runner, you learn quickly that your time will come,” said senior captain Danny Reynolds. “My number started to get called last year at times, so I knew what I had to do this year. We had other guys step up this year who started to get some valuable experience last year when they could. It paid off.”
Going into this season, the boys knew that they had some good young talent waiting in the wings, and they continued to press the envelope with these guys at practice. Once the season began, they were put into positions to learn how to win championships. These experiences paid huge dividends during the post-season.
“These new guys were constantly learning how to win throughout the season,” said senior captain Gavin Wagner. “Their experience at States wasn’t as new to them as it might have appeared. Everyone was prepared for this moment.”
After defeating favored South Jersey rival Cherokee in a long-awaited battle, Kingsway faced Westfield as well as powerhouses North Hunterdon, West Windsor Plainsboro South, Princeton, Ridge, Scotch Plains, and, once again, Cherokee. All of these teams were ranked in the New Jersey Top 10 rankings throughout the season.
Last year when the team won, everyone knew immediately that this race was over, as they threw up a historically dominant race. This year, every runner and spectator waited with anticipation for the scores to be announced.
When the head official came over and announced that Kingsway had won by six points, it set off a spectacular celebration, while the other teams in New Jersey watched in shock and disbelief.
The old saying “tradition never graduates” certainly has some meaning with this program.