Lakeland Boys Cross Country: A Year Full of Surprises

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Courtesy of Mr. G. Lutz

LRHS boy’s varsity cross country had an exciting 2020 season, with many players stepping up to make names for themselves.

A Season with Challenges

Despite losing their top three runners from last year and being plagued by closures, injuries, and other health issues, the 2020 Lakeland cross-country boys had a surprising season in which they turned a rebuilding year into another excellent season.

After losing superstar, and now alumnus, Jesse Campoverde, there was a big hole to fill.  Not to mention two other first-team All-County runners, alumni Zach Voll and Mason Murphy, had also graduated from Lakeland Regional High School.

Courtesy of Mr. John Caldwell

In addition to the obvious gaps needed to be filled, the season seemed increasingly more difficult due to the concern and uncertainty revolving around the COVID-19 pandemic.  With the possibility of being shut down at any moment, runners knew championship opportunities could be lost in the blink of an eye.  Practices could be shut down as well, forcing runners to workout on their own.

While closures would impact the year and cause some losses, the boys took the opportunities they could to bring home some silverware.  Coach George Lutz exclaims, “I thought we were rebuilding, so my goals for this year were relatively low.  Not only did we meet the goals, we far exceeded my expectations.”

 

Beginning of the Season

Courtesy of Mr. John Caldwell

 

On October 3, the Lakeland team ranked 21 in North Jersey lined up at the Season Opener Invitational at Garret Mountain.  Sadly, the team was missing two of their top seven runners.  However, the team performed exceptionally well.  Captain and senior Ethan Lehr ran a 17:30 for third place and sophomore Owen Horevay ran a 17:33 for fourth.  Sophomore Nathan Caldwell, junior Owen Gibson, and captain and senior Connor Fanning rounded out the top five runners that day.  While the team originally placed second in the meet, the results were overturned and LRHS won the meet.  They went home with the silver; however they soon exchanged it for the gold.

Only two days later, the team competed at the Big North – Division C Batch meet at Darlington Park.  Despite placing three runners in the top ten and having a 1-2 finish, they fell short to Fair Lawn.  However, two great individual feats came out of this race.  Horevay ran a 16:41 for first place and Lehr ran a 16:48 for second.  Freshman Ilmi Kaba, who had a good freshman season, explained how Horevay was one of the key runners that “made an outstanding effort during practice that led to him winning a varsity race.”  

Sophomore Divine Crilly and junior Daniel Devine also made their first appearance this season, with Crilly running a 18:17 as Lakeland’s fifth fastest runner, and Devine running a personal record of 19:31 as Lakeland’s seventh.  Caldwell (17:25), Gibson (17:30), and Fanning (18:27) were the other runners in Lakeland’s top seven for the race.  

Many personal goals were broken that day.  Lehr mentioned, “My individual goal was to break 17 minutes, which I accomplished.” Fanning said, “The only goal I had was to break 20 minutes.  I blew that out of the water by my new personal record of 18:26.”

Courtesy of Mr. John Caldwell

On October 10, only seven days after their first race, their last until almost a month later would come.  At the Back to the Mountain Invitational at Garret Mountain the team ran a good team race.  Led by Horevay, they appeared to finish second again.  Only until after they began their trip back to the school did they realize the officials forgot to include Lakeland’s Gibson who ran a 18:15.  With the extra boost to the team, the boys won the meet.

In just one week, the team skyrocket from being ranked 21 in North Jersey to being ranked third.  Coming off of two back to back weekend wins at invitationals, the morale was high, but it soon plummeted as LRHS announced it’s first closing of the year.

 

The Shut-Down

Courtesy of Mr. John Caldwell

The news came in on the night of Thursday, October 15 that LRHS would be closing its campus to in-person learning and athletics due to COVID-19 related health issues with-in the school.  The closure would last until Monday, October 26 and prevent the team from competing in three meets, the most important of which was the Big North – Division C Championship, where the boys looked to defend their title as Independence champions.

The bad news wasn’t over yet, as the school notified students and parents of another change.  The distance learning and athletic shut down would continue until November 9.  This would cause the team to miss three more meets, including the Lou Fraulo XC Invitational meet being held in lieu of the Passaic County Championship.  However, the school allowed athletics to come back on October 31, and the team would get two meets back.

A lot of uncertainty surrounded the time, but most of the boys kept up their work and it paid off as the season resumed.  Fanning explained, “Running on my own was the only thing I could do in hopes that we’d return sooner rather than later.”  Lehr took a similar stance, saying,  “I dealt with this situation by keeping my head held high, [along with staying] in shape for whatever there was to come.”  While Gibson also continued to run, he noted, “The most disappointing part about this year is just that as a team we didn’t get to many of the fun meets that usually bring the team closer together.”  Coach Lutz emphasized “I think the team handled the situation very well.  The two most difficult things were to not be able to run a normal schedule and to miss practice times with the entire team because of the limitations put on us by COVID – 19.”

 

End of the Season

Courtesy of Mr. John Caldwell

The first meet back occurred only three days after restarting practices at Garret Mountain.  The Lou Fraulo XC Invitational would determine the county champion.  Lehr took third place with a Garrett PR of 17:15 and Horevay, fifth, with a Garrett PR of 17:22.  Lehr expressed that his third place finish was his favorite part of the season.  While Caldwell and Gibson didn’t fare as well as they’d liked, Fanning had a Garrett PR for 20:06 rounding out the top five.  The team took second place at the meet, behind Clifton.

The North Jersey Finale on November 7 brought together the top teams in North Jersey.  While the team didn’t live up to their ranking or expectations, they were able to set aside the loss and focus for the State Sectionals.

One week after the North Jersey Finale the team took to Garret Mountain one last time for the NJSIAA Sectionals – North 1 Group 2 Meet.  The team’s expectations were high and they were looking to win their second sectional title in a row.  Lehr led the team, finishing fifth place with a 17:24.  Horevay finished seventh with a 17:27 and Caldwell finished 12 with a time of 17:45.  Gibson finished 27 running 18:28. Crilly ran a 19:25 (45), Devine ran a 20:36 (77), and Fanning ran a 20:40 (79).  The team, despite the oddities surrounding the season, still took third in the section out of 16 teams.

 

Closing Remarks

The season was one full of ups and downs.  It was more successful than everyone thought it would be.  Coach Lutz said,  “[I was] exceptionally pleased with the performance of the team this year.  I thought we were in a rebuilding year and we won two Championships and contended to repeat as the North 1 Group 2 Sectional Championship.  We were only 8 points away from repeating.”  He continued to go on saying, “I think some of the keys were the additions of Nathan Caldwell and Daniel Devine.  Also the strong performances of Ethan Lehr and Owen Horvey, throughout the season.  I think the entire team did a great job, especially in light of the situations we ran under this season.”  Lehr was also “extremely surprised at how well we did this year,” saying, “ We did really well this year even after losing our top 3.”

Despite the excitement and joy surrounding the success of the season, the seniors were still left wanting more.  Lehr, who ran for two years, said “As satisfied as I was with the season this year, I do wish we had more.”  He wished he could continue to improve.  Fanning, after running for all four years explained, “It’s sad that my final year ended up like this, but I’m really satisfied with how the team as a whole performed.”  Good luck to the seniors in their future endeavors.

The season was full of surprises: random shutdowns, new runners, overturned results, COVID-19 struggles, falls, and losing shoes midway through the race.  Despite all of this, the 2020 cross country boys put together a very good (and surprising) season.