No longer a program that takes a back seat to football and soccer in Dobbs Ferry, the boys cross-country team has all the essential ingredients to evolve into a major contender this fall--not bad for a team that doesn't have the cross country and track facilities of most of their rival schools.
No track, no problem. Through the hallways of the school, around town, along the Old Croton Acqueduct, head coach J.P. Kaminsky has pushed his team to become a powerful force in this endurance-testing sport.
"Dedication-wise, I haven't ever had a team of this caliber," said Kaminsky, who was also a successful distance runner at SUNY-Oswego. "We had a lot of questions coming into the season, but we're going to be a solid team. Everyone just works so hard."
Kaminsky has always emphasized pack running. He envisions his top two runners well in front of the rest, with a 3-4-5 blend rounding-out the pack and piling up points. The fourth and fifth finishers are crucial to all races, and Kaminsky believes the Eagles have the depth and strength in numbers to create a formidable front five.
Dobbs Ferry boasts one of the top runners in Section I, junior Brendan Wortner, who's brother, Patrick, left a lasting legacy at the Class C school. Patrick Wortner is now running at SUNY-Geneseo.
The younger Wortner has been churning out similar times to his older brother and, Kaminsky believes, has All-State potential; he clocked a jaw-dropping 16:20 in the 5K last season. Given Wortner's work ethic and the races he turned in during the spring track season, Kaminsky envisions his top finisher shaving half a minute or more off that personal record this fall.
"He should be breaking mid-15," opined Kaminsky.
Wortner ran the state course a couple three weeks ago in an impressive 17:05.
"He's got a lot more in him, we've upped the milage, and he's definitely looking at breaking the 16-minute barrier," Kaminsky said. "Brendan runs all three seasons, and he's been running varsity since he's been in seventh grade. I expect a lot from him. His workouts this summer have been stellar. You couldn't ask anything more out of the kid. He's going to have to be the one that wants it. In the end, it's the athlete that makes it and pushes himself to the limit."
As a sophomore, Wortner finished 21st in the State Championship meet at upstate Plattsburgh. This season, the state course will be in Lakeside Park in Pawling. Wartner established a high-water mark in the mile (4:41) during the outdoor track season in the spring and was also impressive in the Steeplechase, recording a time of 10:09.
The Steeplechase is tailor-cut for a cross-country runner. It contains heavy water pits, echoing the man nature theme students are asked to identify in English class. The race is a major test of endurance and mental strength, both of which are necessities for the rigors of the long cross-country courses. Steeplechase was Kaminsky's event in college, and he's molded Wortner into a similar type of runner.
In chase of Wortner will be George Epstein. Kaminsky sees Epstein emerging into a state qualifier as well. He's been a steady and reliable runner holding the team's number-two position. Epstein also turned in a solid race at Lakeside Park a few weeks ago.
With an infusion of promising eighth graders and freshman, in addition to an experienced group of runners--many of whom have been racing together since the seventh grade--Kaminsky is confident that this Eagles team will soar this season.
The burgeoning team is no longer in the shadows, no longer overlooked.
"We're growing every year," explained Kaminsky. "I haven't been this excited about a team for three or four years."
He added: " I'm out in the hallways every day, trying to recruit kids for the team. I'm getting kids out to run, trying get them in great shape. I don't really care so much about what their times are right now. The times are going to come. If they give 100 percent effort and improve on an every day basis, the times are going to come."