OPXC Update: The Road to Success Building in the Early Season

Thomas Hunt, Co-Editor

           Despite being just 3 meets into the seasons, the potential of the 2022 Oratory Prep Cross Country team is already shining through. After losing varsity runners Ciaran Bowler and Jake McChesney to their respective colleges, big shoes were left to be filled by second year captain Gus Russo (Sr.) and first year captain Tommy Hunt (Jr.). However, based on September performances, it is clear that the captains have stepped up to the plate, as has the whole team. 

      The Rams season opener took place at the Roxbury Invitational on September 10th – OPXC’s first

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 true test. Deviating from the typical 7 runner varsity format, Roxbury decided to break up the varsity races into two categories. The first of these categories was the ‘Fastest 4’ as followed by the second grouping: the ‘Future 4’. The fastest 4 race had a widespread set of times over the 5k distance- topped by Junior Tommy Hunt in 17:31. Following Hunt was Senior Augustus Russo in 18:17, Sophomore Declan Kelly in 18:32 and Junior Dean Webber in 19:05. Top performances in the Future 4 and JV races included: Junior Conor Heffernan (18:46) as well as Sophomores Tim Callahan (19:11), Tristin Knight (19:26) and Austin Knight (20:14). Also notable is the performances in the Freshman race which further proved the future of OPXC is bright. On the 1.6 mile course, Connor Bassolino, Shane Costalos and Cathal Hishlop shined in the season opener, which only built further anticipation to see how they would fair in a 5k, along with their injured (at the time) classmate, Chase Lynch. 

         Following Roxbury, OPXC made the trip down to Lakewood to compete in The Battle @ Ocean County Park on September 16.  Like Roxbury, The Battle @ Ocean County Park deviated from the typical varsity format and opted to make it a class meet. What this means is that there would be a Freshman, Sophomore, Junior and Senior Race, each grade running at different times. The Freshman Four of Connor Bassolino, Shane Costalos, Chase Lynch and Cathal Hislop all showed their potential once again, with Aidan Lontai embodying what it means to be a cross country runner, giving everything he had and fighting to the finish. The Sophomore Race saw Declan Kelly run 18:02, coming one step closer to the desired sub 18 minute 5k. The brother duo of sophomore’s Tristan and Austin Knight also had great performances – both of them running their personal best. In the Junior Race, Tommy Hunt was once again the front runner in 17:24; however important pieces to the junior class, Bobby Bajkowski and

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Rome Brachfeld, were both out with injuries. In light of their absences, Conor Heffernan and Dean Webber stepped up, and had strong showings. In the senior race, Gus Russo ran a personal best of 17:49; Gus was followed by Colin Reis and Brendan Milton. This was Oratory’s first time running at Ocean County Park, and set the Rams up well to tackle the very familiar Oak Ridge course in Clark for the Stewart Memorial Invitational.

The Stewart Memorial Invitational at Oak Ridge was by far the most promising race for OPXC, to this point in the year. This race was especially promising because, out of the 21 runners who ran, 15 of them ran personal best. In the varsity race, junior Tommy Hunt became just the 6th Oratory runner to ever break 17 minutes in the 5k! Although Hunt’s 16:52 was good enough to place 9th, even greater was how the team collectively ran. Sophomore Declan Kelly had a breakout performance running a personal best of 17:34, and was followed by Senior Gus Russo who also ran a personal best of 17:47. The scoring 5 was rounded out by Conor Heffernan and Tristan Knight, both running 18:48 – however, one of the best performances of this meet was from the sixth Ram across the line. With Dean Webber and Tim Callahan missing the meet, freshman Connor Bassolino was thrown into the varsity race as the 6th man, and ended up running 19:09. This time is not only the fastest time run by a freshman this year, but is also

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faster than both Declan Kelly and Tommy Hunt ran their freshman year. This is especially significant because Hunt and Kelly are the two fastest runners on the team this year. The JV race was led by junior Rome Brachfeld; in his first race back he was able to run a 19:34 as he is slowly returning back to form. He was followed by a group of freshman: Shane Costalos, Chase Lynch and Cathal Hislop – all who were running their first all out 5k. The scoring 5 in the jv race was rounded out by Senior Brendan Milton, with junior Sam Rothman not far behind. 

These opening races have been good learning experiences for the team, adding an extra element for OPXC’s preparation for championship season. Watch out for the Rams as they compete at the Union County Conference Championships on 10/11, the Union County Championships on 10/20, as well as the New Jersey Catholic Track Conference (NJCTC) Championships on 10/29, and the Non-Public A Championships on November 5th.