Shane Vostenak never had a cross country race quite like the Olympic Conference Championships on Oct. 23.
The Bishop Eustace senior runner completed the race with a time of 16:50.68, finishing in 15th place overall and first place out of runners from the National Division. It was the first time Vostenak ran a time of less than 17 minutes in a 5K race in his career. But when Vostenak got home, he realized his job wasn’t finished.
“I was very glad to get it under 17 (minutes)” Vostenak said. “But I went home and looked over at my mirror and said, ‘Not enough. I have to keep going.’”
Posted on the mirror in his bedroom is a time Vostenak has never reached: 16 minutes and 30 seconds. This elusive time is one Vostenak is determined to reach before his final high school cross country season ends and one that could place the Bishop Eustace senior among South Jersey’s top runners by season’s end. Vostenak will lead the Crusaders into the Non-Public B Group Championships with an opportunity to place in the top-10 individually and punch a ticket to the NJSIAA Meet of Champions.
To even talk about qualifying for the Meet of Champions is incredible for Vostenak considering how short his running career has been. Vostenak didn’t join the cross country team until his junior year. During his first two years of high school, Vostenak was a pitcher for Bishop Eustace’s baseball program.
It was during his sophomore year when Vostenak was talking with one of his friends on Bishop Eustace’s crew team about the running they would do around Cooper River Park as part of their training. Vostenak decided to run the park himself and found he enjoyed it. After a conversation with his dad, he decided to try out cross country his junior year.
“We did summer practices (at Pennypacker Park in Haddonfield),” Vostenak said. “I was already pretty decent. I was beating a couple kids on the team already. I felt accomplished. It was a good feeling to be decent at something to start with.”
Vostenak enjoyed the workouts and bettering his time, saying how an athlete’s success in cross country is determined mostly on work ethic and determination.
“For baseball, it’s a lot of skill,” Vostenak said. “If you’re good, you’re good. If you’re not good, you’re not good. For running, it’s based on how hard you try pretty much. You want to do five miles instead of six? You’re not going to do as well. You do six miles instead of five? You’re going to get better.”
In 2018, Vostenak was part of a senior-heavy Bishop Eustace team led by all-South Jersey selection Connor Melko. This year, Vostenak has gone from newcomer to team leader as the Crusaders’ fastest runner.
“His attitude and his mindset is very infectious amongst the members of our team,” head coach Mike McClain said. “They see how he’s handling it. They see how he mentally parses workouts or race strategy in his head. They follow that lead and they do extraordinarily well from it.”
For the boys
Shane Vostenak #1 in the division #15 overall 16:50
Anthony Faust #4 #34 17:28
Ryan Carney #6 #40 17:37
Brendan Johnson #15 #88 19:25
Dan Colden #21 #98 19:48
John Stewart #30 #128 22:16
Nate Earney #31 #131 22:40
— Eustace XC T&F (@EustaceXCTF) October 24, 2019
Vostenak believes he has become a lot stronger mentally this season and it has allowed him to improve his times dramatically from 2018. Last season, Vostenak struggled to finish in less than 18 minutes in most of his races. In 2019, nearly all of his times have been under 18 minutes.
“Pacing was difficult for me,” Vostenak said of his biggest struggle in 2018. “I tended to go out slower than I should have because I didn’t want to die during the end of the race. I was scared of that.”
This year, Vostenak has figured out the proper balance between getting off the starting line too fast or too slow, and his efforts have paid off. He finished in 11th place at the Ray Hoagland Invitational on Sept. 21 with a time of 17:39.59 and in ninth place at the South Jersey Track Coaches Association Open with a time of 17:10.74. Those races led to Vostenak’s career-best performance in the conference championships.
Vostenak’s success and love of the sport has completely changed his athletic career. He gave up baseball last spring in order to compete on Bishop Eustace’s winter and spring track teams and focus on running full-time. A little more than a year after running in his first race, Vostenak is now contemplating running in college after drawing interests from multiple schools, including a couple schools at the Division-I level.
Before his high school cross country career ends, however, Vostenak is hoping to make some noise at the Non-Public B group championships at Holmdel. Last year, only nine runners in the Non-Public B race finished with a time of less than 18 minutes. Vostenak ran a time of 18:17 in the New Balance Shore Coaches Invitational at Holmdel and feels he has the potential to improve on that time and qualify for the Meet of Champions.