Haddonfield Memorial High School’s cross country powerhouse was in midseason form on the second Saturday of the season.
The Bulldawgs girls took down three of the top 10 teams in the state, including No.3 Middletown South, at the Cougar Invite Team Challenge at Buck Mills Park in Colts Neck on Oct. 10. The senior-laden team was led by Sarah Naticchia, who ran a 18:18, the third fastest time in course history.
Not bad for a distance runner who is only in her second season of cross country. A former field hockey player, Naticchia decided to go out for winter track two years ago and the rest is history.
In addition to continuing her rise as one of the state’s top runners in Colts Neck, Naticchia also officially committed to continue her athletic and academic prowess at Harvard University during the first week of the season.
SJSW: You’ve had a pretty good first two weeks of the season. But why did you switch from field hockey after your sophomore year?
Naticchia: I started running winter track my sophomore year. I just did it to stay in shape for field hockey and lacrosse. I wasn’t expecting anything. And then as soon as I had my first race I was like, ‘Wow, this is kind of fun.’ (Editor’s note: In her first season running, Naticchia won a sectional championship in the 1,600). Being able to work hard at something and see it pay off with such quick results (was great). Field hockey and lacrosse, you kind of have to wait for the coach to put you in, or you’re waiting on other people to express how hard you’ve worked. With running, it’s all your own work and seeing it pay off is the most satisfying feeling.
At first I was still, like, yeah I still might play lacrosse and have one more season with my sister and I still might play field hockey and go to college for field hockey like my sister did. It’s a family thing. My aunts (two went to Princeton and one went to Notre Dame) went to college for field hockey. So I might just stay with it.
But (then it became) I’m not going to give up on something that I found talent and passion with. This isn’t something I’m willing to give up, so I decided to stick with it.
SJSW: What do you like most about it, the individual aspect?
Naticchia: I do, and that’s what originally I was seeking, but I think what made me fall in love with it even more is seeing how passionate the people who do it are. My coach is extremely passionate. He’s the one who convinced me to stay, Coach (Jason) Russo. I don’t think if I went back to field hockey or lacrosse I don’t think he would have let me [laughs], he’d pull me off the field.
Also, my teammates are incredible. I owe everything to them. They are so passionate and driven that if I came onto a team that wasn’t as historically successful as we are, I don’t think I would have found as much success. But because our team is so talented I was able to be driven by those really talented girls and make my way up.
SJSW: This program is something. In the winter season, Haddonfield has nine overall indoor track state titles; only Winslow has more, with 10. Only two programs in state have more. In the outdoor spring season, Haddonfield has seven (state group championships). Winslow, with eight, is only with more. And your senior-laden team is primed to add more hardware in the next eight months.
Naticchia: Yes, it’s insane. We really are so blessed to be so talented in this class. I am really looking forward to the winter and spring and I’m hoping we are given the opportunities to succeed. But it was really unfortunate … we won states in the winter track and we wanted to get the redemption for spring.
But this class is awesome and we want to get every opportunity that we can get because we want to ride out this talent.
SJSW: And many of you are continuing to run in college, right?
Naticchia: Payton Weiner is committed to Dartmouth. Allison and Lindsey Colflesh should be announcing this week, but they are definitely planning to run in college. Georgia Nussey and Olivia Stoner are, too. (Updated: Lindsay Colflesh committed to Richmond late last week and, on Monday, Allison Colflesh committed to Maryland).
SJSW: What is it about Haddonfield in the fall? Last year field hockey, girls soccer, girls tennis and both cross country teams all won championships.
Naticchia: I don’t know what it is in particular, but I think maybe Haddonfield takes preseason to the next level. We start training for fall sports in June or July and have all of this time to development as a team, and with all of this time you become sisters and brothers with your teammates. I think healthy team culture often contributes to success here. So having that time to build it is really helpful. And you don’t have (the same time) before winter and spring sports.
SJSW: But even just on the girls side, soccer, tennis, field hockey and cross country were winning sectional titles last year. This is a small school, how are there that many talented girls?
Naticchia: It’s insane. I don’t know.
SJSW: Let’s have some fun with some of your teammates. Who would you say is the funniest?
Naticchia: Oooooh, that’s a tough one! Payton has some pretty witty comments, she’s pretty funny.
SJSW: How about the best athlete in another sport?
Naticchia: I’m going to say the Colflesh twins are talented swimmers, but Olivia is an extremely talented player before cross country and track, so that’s a tough one.
SJSW: Who is the best driver?
Naticchia: [Laughs]. I’m going to say Olivia Stoner. She’s very careful.
SJSW: Best in math or science?
Naticchia: I’ll say Olivia Stoner for that, too.
SJSW: How about in English or History?
Naticchia: I’m saying the same people, but Payton Weiner is an amazing creative writer.
SJSW: Who is your favorite teacher at Haddonfield?
Naticchia: English-wise, Mrs. (Laura) Dabrowski hands down is so compassionate and courageous in her life story, she’s made every decision for herself and I admire that so much, her bravery. On the math or science side, Dr. (John) Sohn is a legend here. He’s an absolute legend who has been here for a while. He had all of this success in chemistry and then came back to Haddonfield and doesn’t take a salary. He’s doing it fully for his own love for it, it’s so honorable.
SJSW: What are you going to major in at Harvard?
Naticchia: Right now, Biology, but it’s subject to change. I want to dabble in all of the areas my freshman year and see what catches my interest. But I’ve always loved Biology.
SJSW: How would you describe the college decision process?
Naticchia: Oh, it was the longest and most difficult decision of my entire life. It started the summer going into my junior year, so it was more than a year long. I started with an extremely wide net of schools. It could have been 24-25 at one point. It was such a back and forth process about if I wanted to focus more on academics, if I wanted to focus more on athletics, where is the best balance. And I ultimately decided for the best balance, the coaches and athlete relationship was important to me, so that was a huge factor in my decision.
SJSW: Is that a Haddonfield or Harvard jacket you’re wearing? The “H” and similar colors makes it tough.
Naticchia: [Laughs] It’s Haddonfield field hockey. But yeah, I can re-wear my gear! All of the big H’s.
SJSW: With Harvard, it also feels like that would be such a hard opportunity to pass up on because of the academic profile.
Naticchia: That was definitely a factor. I didn’t want to pass up on such an incredible opportunity. But I also had been talking to the Harvard coach for the longest, a year and a half of ongoing conversation. And he expressed as much interest in me as I did in them. So it was very mutual. And I probably had three, two-hour Zooms with the team, so I felt super comfortable with them and our priorities aligned very much.
SJSW: It’s still kind of wild. You weren’t competing in this sport two years ago.
Naticchia: It’s crazy. I never, if someone told my freshman year self that I’d be going to Harvard to run cross country and track, I would have never ever believed them. So it is crazy.
SJSW: What’s your favorite thing to do outside of running?
Naticchia: Playing field hockey with my sisters (Natalie plays at Davidson College; Audrey is a freshman on Haddonfield’s team). I couldn’t ever give that up, I love doing that in my free time.
SJSW: Best book you’ve read in high school?
Naticchia: I think, “Catcher in the Rye” from freshman year.
SJSW: Favorite TV show?
Naticchia: I think “Stranger Things.”
SJSW: What if a time machine showed up right now and you could pick anywhere to go?
Naticchia: I think I would go backwards and tell myself it is all going to work out, to relax on myself a little bit.
SJSW: Let’s say we’re at the state championships and each runner gets to pick their own song to walk out to. What’s yours?
Naticchia: “I Lived” by One Republic. We listened to it all last year in cross country season, it became a team mantra.