Ward Melville Boys Cross Country 2014

Ward Melville Boys Cross Country 2014

Ryan Fan, Sports Editor

The Ward Melville Boys Cross Country team faces a season with great potential and opportunity. The team returns from a season in which it placed fourth in the county, with five of its top seven runners returning. Last year, Northport’s top Cross Country team graduated five of its top seven runners, while Sachem North’s second place team graduated its top two runners.

The Ward Melville team faces fierce competition from Northport, Sachem North, and League I rivals Commack. Led by seniors John Ripa, Charlie Theiss, James Esernio, and J.P. Humphreys and junior Mike Reilly, the Ward Melville team looks to win a league title, and more importantly, its first county title in decades.  Last year’s alumnus, Nick Peltier, is psyched for this team’s potential. He says, “I know I’ll hear great things, and I hope to see the team at make the state championships.”

What separates the Ward Melville team from its county rivals is its incredible depth: six of its top seven runners have run under 4:40 in the mile; two, Charlie Theiss and John Ripa, have run under 4:30. These seniors see this season as their pivotal opportunity to redeem their hard and excruciatingly painful training from the past three years.

Second year coach, Gregg Cantwell, has his runners on a high mileage, high intensity training regime. The runners average 50-70 miles per week, with some runs being as long as 14 miles. Some days, the training program is so rigorous that the team is expected to run twice a day: in the morning before school and during practice. “We always thought Cantwell was crazy, but when he made us run twice a day, we knew he was insane,” joked senior J.P. Humphreys.

Coach Cantwell devises his training program from his past experiences as a member of the Ward Melville team (from 2001-2004), member of the University of Delaware team (2005-2009), coach of the McGann Mercy High School Cross Country team, (2011) and assistant coach of the Smithtown Cross Country team (2012). As the protégé of previous Ward Melville coach, Jerry Vessichio, he merges these experiences into an evidently successful training program. “I wouldn’t be the coach I am today without these influences,” Cantwell said.

With a combination of Cantwell’s youth (26 years old) and the runners’ humor and immaturity, the team has a facetious culture akin to that of a college fraternity. “We’ve made so many inappropriate jokes that adults have had to complain to coach,” said senior John Ripa.

But meshed within this jocular nature are familial bonds stronger than words can describe. Members of the team are very supportive of each other in times of athletic struggles and personal hardships. As talented the team is at the moment, its members are not immune to bad races. But when these bad races happen, other teammates seek to cheer the runners up by whatever means necessary. “There are times for joking and there are times when we need to be there for each other,” said senior Charlie Theiss. “We always are.”

Recently, the team placed fourth in the Warwick Wave Mania X-C Festival merged varsity race. Unfortunately, Sachem North placed third. “It was a good start to our season but we have bigger goals ahead and a lot of work to do,” said Coach Cantwell. One can only imagine how difficult this “work” will be.

“Even if we fall short of winning the county title this year, I still think this season will be a success,” said junior Mike Reilly. “We’ve grown together and had a lot of fun, and that’s more than we can ask for.”