Sophomore Payton Weiner knew how much talent and depth Haddonfield girls track’s distance running team had entering the 2019 season. But she never anticipated the Bulldawgs would have the success they did at the 2019 South Jersey Group 2 sectional meet.
The Bulldawgs put up a monstrous performance in the three distance races at sectionals, sweeping first, second and third place in the 1,600- and 3,200-meter runs and taking first, second and fourth place in the 800-meter run. Haddonfield dominated the distance events behind a young core of runners who are just as close off the track as they are in their finishing order in meets.
“In the beginning of the season, if you asked us if we would be in those places, I don’t think any of us would have thought we would have done so well,” said Weiner, who took second place in the 1,600 and 3,200.
“It’s really cool that I’m part of a team that’s succeeding so much,” added sophomore Sarah Naticchia, who placed first in both the 1,600 and 3,200. “I never thought I would be part of something so special.”
Sectionals was a truly special meet for junior Lilly Sirover and sophomores Naticchia, Weiner, Olivia Stoner, Lindsay Colflesh and Allison Colflesh. The group of six was responsible for the outstanding finishes in the three distance events and combined to score 78 of the team’s 117 points to boost Haddonfield to the team sectional championship.
What’s even more remarkable is one year ago, the only girls in that group of six to qualify for an individual event at the NJSIAA Group 2 Championships were Lindsay and Allison Colflesh. This year, all six girls made it to states with times considerably faster than in 2018.
“A year ago this time, we weren’t even sure we would qualify for states,” Stoner said. “A year ago this time, we ran 20 seconds slower. Just to see the growth over the past year has been crazy.”
The distance team shares a very tight bond in a mostly individual sport. Sirover believes this tight bond has been the secret behind the team’s success in 2019.
“It’s been really fulfilling and rewarding to see each other’s successes and it’s been really great to see the team spirit,” she said.
“The impact they’ve had on each other has been tremendous,” Haddonfield head coach Jason Russo added. “They’re re-defining fast for each other in the group. That, in turn, re-defines fast for the girls who aren’t racing at this point in the season. It invigorates the other girls who are getting ready to compete.”
The tight team chemistry was apparent at sectionals. In each of the three distance events, Haddonfield’s runners focused on running together in the same pack to help push each other to season-best times. The team-first strategy paid off.
“Literally the whole race we worked together as a group,” said Sirover, who finished third in the 3,200 behind Naticchia and Weiner. “I think there’s something really special about that because eight laps is very hard to do and very long.”
Sarah naticchia, Payton Weiner and Lilly Sirover sweep the 3200! Lilly runs a pr!!! pic.twitter.com/kUx0acaFxi
— Dawgs XC / T & F (@dawgsxctf) May 25, 2019
“When you see the last lap of an event or the last 200 meters of an event, you always saw the Haddonfield girls coming in with a kick,” said Stoner, who finished in fourth place in the 800 behind winner Allison Colflesh and second-place Lindsay Colflesh. “That was really special that we were able to close the race as well.”
In the 1,600-meter runs, Naticchia, Weiner and Allison Colflesh all had the goal of getting their times under 5:10. All three were able to achieve their goals, with Naticchia less than three-tenths of a second ahead of Weiner at 5:03.26 and Colflesh finishing with a time of 5:07.01 in third place. Having the support of her teammates is what Colflesh remembered most from that race.
Sarah naticchia, Payton Weiner and Allison Colflesh sweep the 1600 at sectionals finishing 1-3 pic.twitter.com/DpVzDQEES3
— Dawgs XC / T & F (@dawgsxctf) May 24, 2019
“Just having them being there and cheering you on and supporting you after the race, it really touches your heart,” she said.
The team-first atmosphere is a hallmark of Haddonfield’s track program. Russo preaches a team-first mentality to all of his athletes and believes his distance runners exemplify it.
“It’s not about who wins,” Russo said. “When we talked about sectionals, the message I gave them was at the end of the race, I want the three girls to look at each other and say, ‘Look at what we did,” not, ‘Look at what I did.’”
At the start of their high school careers, Haddonfield’s distance runners set a bunch of short and long-term goals. Now, the six girls find themselves needing to completely rewrite their goals list. In just a couple short years, they’ve already run faster than they ever expected in high school.
“I’m meeting goals that I wanted to reach by the end of high school,” Weiner said. ”I have to set new goals. I love it, it’s so awesome, all of these (goals) I’ve checked off already.”
The good news for Haddonfield is Sirover still has one season of high school track left and the five sophomores have two years to achieve new goals. And there’s no telling how fast any of them will be when they finish their careers.