Strong football and cross country seasons end

John Perling, Sports Editor

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Bernards Football season came to a sudden conclusion with the loss to Cedar Creek in the Central Jersey, Group 2 Semifinals.

The Mountaineer offense never seemed to find its footing and get consistent points on the board, and they were limited, in part, because sophomore RB Michael Leanza went out early in the game. Junior Luke Burns took on some of Leanza’s carries in an effort to make-up for the loss, but the Mountaineer’s still fell short.

The Pirates’ offense hosts the 3-star, Purdue-commit Malachi Melton, who played a key role on both sides of the ball for Cedar Creek.

Bernards committed three turnovers in the first quarter, and Cedar Creek soon made the game 28-0 early in the second quarter.

The Mountaineers finally got on the board in the second quarter when Steven Lopez kicked a 25-yard field goal. However, Melton returned the favor, as he returned the ensuing kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown and Cedar Creek led 35-3.

With 6:17 left in the first half, the Mountaineers reached the end zone when captain Teddy Gouldin ended a seven-play drive on a 42-yard touchdown pass to senior-captain Jackson Tantleff on a 4th-and-17. Lopez added the PAT and the Mountaineers trailed 35-10 at halftime.

After halftime, the Pirates pulled away and scored two touchdowns and a field goal in the second half, making the final score was 50-10, closing the season.

The team finished 8-2 for the second season in a row.

In reflection upon the season, Leanza said “This season, the team was more motivated then we ever have been. We had a great season this year, and that was because of the work we put in during the offseason. The returning players are even more excited for next season.”

“We lost the game but the loss does not define this team or the program. 8 wins and a home playoff victory! Proud of these kids. Thanks to the seniors for a great ride! We will be back!” the Bernards athletic department said in a tweet after the game.

Girls Cross Country had another strong season and the team saw a lot of younger runners step up to the plate. The girls’ team saw their second straight sectional title and placed 6th in the county.

Caroline McDowell, senior captain for the girl’s team, said, “I thought the season went well for the girls. It was a successful year winning another title and I’m proud of the younger runners for keeping the pack tight. I can’t imagine my falls without running and the fact that it’s over is devastating.”

At the Skyland Conference meet in Phillipsburg, the girls placed 9th in a hard-fought battle with Del Val. Freshman Maggie Dolan took down the tough course with a 22:01 time, and Freshman Ivey Mistele ran a 22:52. Delaware Valley beat the girl’s team by only one point (256-255).

At the group championship meet, the girls had a lot on the line. They were looking for a spot on the podium, but just fell short placing 8th behind Rumson-Fair Haven. McDowell lead the way at the group meet dropping a 20:38. Behind her was Junior Olivia Musum (20:58) and Sophomore Anna Damratoski (21:04).

Coach Szostak spoke on the girl’s season and mentioned the young runners that stepped up.  He said, “The girls had a great year and overcame a lot of obstacles, like illness and injury.  We were also very young and had 3 or 4 freshmen in our top 7 for much of the season.  For the girls to repeat as sectional champions was a great achievement.  Caroline McDowell was a terrific captain and really kept the girls together during all the ups and downs.”

Boys Cross Country had a strong pack that has trained repeatedly for the past few years. Varsity consisted of 5 Seniors and 2 Juniors. A strong sign about the future for the boy’s team was the freshman team’s dominant performances at Shore Coaches and Counties. Freshman Pat Griffin and Tyler Stevens led the way for the freshman team.

Many saw varsity as looking mediocre towards the beginning of there season, but as training started to really lock in, major improvements came along with it. At the Greystone invitational in October, Senior Eddie Byers achieved a PR of 16:16 and the rest of the pack came in right with him. It was a top highlight of the season and hinted that the future looked solid.

It’s what Captain Ryan Kleinert has been telling them all along, stay patient and the success will come.

Ryan Kleinert also added his thoughts on the year, saying “The boys looked unbelievable this year. It was the first time Bernards XC qualified for the Meet of Champions since 2013! I’m proud of the fellas.”

At Skyland Conferences in October, Boys placed 3rd in the small team’s division which was a rough disappointment. Rival Voorhees HS placed 2nd and beat the boys by a large margin.

Counties were successful, as the boys finished second right behind Group 4 school Ridge HS. Coach Szostak told the guys that it’s one of the toughest counties in New Jersey and a silver medal was very impressive. Freshman boys also won the county title as they took Ridge by 3 points. A second-place finish in a tough county showed progress towards the postseason.

The Sectional meet at Graystone Park is always a highlight for the program. The team competes in the North II Group II section and has arguable been dominating that section for a couple of years. The boys won their second straight title at the meet Captain Ryan Kleinert and Tim McGrath led the way for the boys, with Ryan Kleinert running a PR of 16:36 and McGrath right behind him at 16:41.

The Group Championship meet was an amazing race for the Bernards boys. The pack of 5 stayed together, and Tim Griffin showed up as the number 5 runner. Griffin stepped up, and ran a great race of 17:22. The boys finished 2nd in the group and beat rival Voorhees by a 30 point margin.

Placing second gave the boy’s an automatic qualification for the Meet of Champions on November 23rd. Top 20 teams in the entire state will be running on the 23rd, including individual runners. Coach Szostak was proud of one of his best groups.

He said, “The boys had an all-time season.  Repeating as sectional champions in dominant fashion, winning 2 invitational titles, and placing 2nd in Group 2 for the whole state was amazing.  We were one of the elite teams in all of New Jersey–we were the 15th best in the whole state, public or private, small or large.  Any time a team from Bernards, as small as we are, is in the top 20 for any sport, it is a great achievement.  We consistently beat Group 4 schools this year in our conference, county meet, invitationals, the state meet, etc.  This Saturday, the boys will run in the State Meet of Champions, where only the state’s 20 best teams compete.  The boys also ran the fastest time at the state course, Holmdel, in my 18 years of coaching.  It was quite a year.”

Despite graduating five Seniors, the team still has high hopes for future seasons.