With one teammate out with an injury and another performing while under the weather, cross-country runner Kevin Cianfarini knew he had to be at his best Saturday at the South Jersey Group 2 Sectionals.
The West Deptford High School junior produced one of his top efforts of the season, finishing the race in 10th overall and leading the Eagles to a third-place finish in Group 2.
It marked the first time all season Cianfarini was the first Eagles runner to cross the finish line.
“It’s a nice feeling,” Cianfarini said. “You work hard for it all season and then when you get it and you pass the finish line, you are like ‘Yes, this finally happened.’”
Teammate Ray Parsons finished 11th as West Deptford advanced to the State Tournament for the second consecutive season.
“I’m still kind of in shock,” said West Deptford coach Mark Drummond. “None of the race went as planned, with a guy hurt and the long layoff. I can’t say I was the most confident person in the last few days, anyway, but somehow we did it.”
Parsons has been the Eagles' top runner throughout the season with Dale Johnson typically second or third and Andrew Coppola also factoring into the scoring. However, Coppola was unavailable with an injury and Johnson was slowed by an illness, putting more pressure on Cianfarini and Parsons to lead the way.
“The whole race we were supposed to stick together,” Cianfarini said. “When we were in the woods I was actually screaming at him to get up with me and he would get up there and then pass me and it would be back and forth. It just so happens we interchanged this time, which is a good thing for the team.”
Cianfarini was not the only Eagle to step up Saturday. Freshman Mitch Wiliczek was inserted into the lineup for Coppola and exceeded expectations as the team’s fourth runner to cross the line.
“In terms of stepping up, Kevin had his best race of the season, which obviously made a big difference for us,” Drummond said. “Ray was right there with him, so those two worked together. Also, I can’t say enough about Mitch Wiliczek stepping up and being our fourth man today. If he just ran as a freshman and said, 'This is where I am supposed to be in terms of the lineup' then we would have been out of it.”
Haddonfield won the race, as expected, and will be the favorite in the Group 2 state meet Saturday at Holmdel. West Deptford hopes to show well also after escaping Delsea.
“We were planning a little bit different, but a couple of mishaps happened and for what happened we still did OK,” Cianfarini said.
On the girls’ side, Millie Kipp placed third, finishing behind a pair of Haddonfield runners. Kipp was West Deptford’s only chance for a state berth as the squad has been reduced to four members and thus, could not qualify as a team.
Kipp’s result matched her third-place finish at Sectionals a year ago, which came under much different circumstances. Kipp has been limited in her workouts as head coach Bob Cooper continues to ease her back from an offseason foot injury. Cooper said Kipp’s mileage has been extremely limited this year, with more focus on hard 400s and 800s combined with a slower tempo for longer distance runs.