During the later portion of the previous spring track season, while filling out recruitment information for just one of the colleges she had interest in, Clearview junior Abigail Waddington was asked about athletic goals for her last two years as a Pioneer.
For Waddington, the first answer was pretty easy.
“I wrote that my biggest goal was to lead my team to a sectional title,” she said. “I wanted us to be able to make that possible and to build up a program of girls that could compete for one.”
Despite never winning a sectional title in program history, it’s been a season to remember for the Clearview girls cross country team, as the Pioneers finally captured their first sectional title in program history on Nov. 6, scoring 70 points to edge out both Mainland Regional and Highland (73 points) for the South Jersey Group III sectional championship.
According to both Waddington and coach Tom Hengel, the reality of making such a goal possible, at least this season, seemed improbable from the start and throughout much of the year.
After scoring 90 points during last year’s Group IV sectional meet, good for third place, Hengel liked the team’s chances to improve upon a successful 2020 season and potentially make a run in 2021. But a very small roster from the start tempered the Pioneers’ expectations.
“It’s kind of a crazy story for us,” Hengel said. “We ended up having a pretty good year last year, and thought that this season would be an even better year … but the 16 or 17 girls we thought we’d have on the team this year coming back turned into eight, with only two of those girls having any cross country experience before this season.”
With only a few girls on the team, coupled with injuries throughout the season and an occasional COVID case or quarantine, Clearview ran in meets without the five needed runners to score, with the sectional meet being the first time all year the Pioneers had seven runners start the same race together on the line.
“It’s been really rewarding this year to overcome all of those difficult moments,” Hengel said. “You’re trying to get kids used to cross country in general and there’s no continuity in terms of practices throughout the week with injuries and what not. It made it extremely hard at times … but luckily, the girls made a huge commitment to do what they needed to do, listened well and worked hard for it to come together at the right part of the season.”
Waddington finished in second place at the meet with a time of 18:08 for a PR, finishing first for Clearview. Sophomore Margaret Wisniewski finished seventh for a PR of 19:45, while junior Abigail Kotran ran a 19:59 to finish in ninth place and sophomore Allison Roes ran a 20:41, good for 14th place.
Sophomores Rachel Jones and Lilian Nolan and freshman Anna Hagerman all ran for Clearview, PRing in the sectional meet to either score or push back opposing runners from scoring in the sectional meet.
Wisniewski and Roes were just two of the girls on the team this year who were new to cross country at the beginning of the season, with Roes joining after a positive spring track experience and Wisniewski coming on because Roes, her close friend, asked her to.
“I did soccer last fall, but once I got going with spring track last year I realized how much I loved the sport and how I wanted to keep doing it year round,” Roes said. “It was hard at first, cause I wasn’t really used to that much running, but the girls and coaches on the team made it a really easy transition.”
After a summer of training, Roes was sidelined after testing positive for COVID, setting back her training a bit upon her return. But after getting back into training, she started to feel more comfortable going into her third meet of the season, building confidence as the end of the season approached.
“By the third meet I started to feel myself again … but it was awesome to see us be able to pull this off, since we didn’t even have enough people to score as a team for the majority of the year,” Roes said.
“It’s amazing to see us come full circle from not even being able to score to winning the sectional title,” she added. “It shows how hard we worked throughout the season to get us to where we are.”
“I don’t think any of us even expected that this would be possible, since we weren’t even used to scoring as a team and seeing what we could actually all do together, we didn’t even win a single dual meet all year,” Wisniewski said.
“I think a big reason why we were able to do what we did was our determination,” she added. “We were stronger both mentally and physically after being able to overcome that as a team.”