When J.P. Kaminski started at the modified level in 2002, the idea of ressurrecting a then-defunct Varsity Cross-Country program at Dobbs Ferry seemed like a pipe dream.
A Dobbs Ferry XC program which underwent a period of prosperity in the 70s and 80s had floundered, significantly.
Then, as interest continued to dwindle, cross-country was cut from Varsity Sports altogether.
In the fall of 2002, Kaminski walked in the door while simultaneously walking into a modified program with the interest sorely lacking.
Dobbs lacked the student interest, the overall numbers, the commitment, and the facilities (even at the Class D/C level) to field a team on the Varsity tier.
With all the time and energy invested into the then-state champion football team and a reputable soccer team, Cross-Country was simply out of the picture.
Long gone. A distant memory.
Kaminski, who still talks to his high school coach weekly and discovers new workouts to implement for his runners every season, was optimistic about renewing the program.
And while it started with the modified program, Kaminkski's vision and ultimate goal (the re-birth of the Varsity team) never wilted.
With an infusion of runners the next two years, the dream soon became reality.
With every long distance run Kaminski took his small core of athletes on, every set of intervals, every Invitational meet he entered the Eagles into, and every brisk run on the nearby Acquduct, Kaminski helped groom an inexperienced Varsity group carrying plenty of potential.
He made note of their progression and raised the bar, significantly.
Kaminski, who says he always wants his student-athletes to shoulder the same passion for cross-country and track and field as him, has helped launched several careers as well.
"He's the driving force behind the distance runners, not only in cross-country but in winter track and in spring track," said Dobbs Ferry Athletic Director Jim Lindsay of Kaminski, who ran cross-country and track at SUNY-Oswego.
"The kids really buy into the program he's running. He holds them accountable for getting to practice on time, getting their school work done. Under his tutelage, we've got Paulina Nunez, who is a senior at Binghamton. We've got Patrick Wortner running for SUNY Geneseo. He's their eighth runner as a freshman, and he's really pushing the seniors. He's almost qualified for the nationals."
Kaminski has established a running culture at Dobbs Ferry.
The athletes understand that in Kaminski's high-intensity environment they cannot take the experience as one would running club.
It's a serious, endurance and momentum-bleeding Varsity sport and the stakes are raised in a competitive, evenly-matched Rivertowns cross-country landscape.
"He had some young kids that showed potential (when he started)," explained Lindsay.
"A lot of times potential is an overused word. He's actually gotten the most out of his runners. He's pushed them to really reach their potential."
Running with the kids, riding his bike out on the trails and challenging every runner (from the leader of the pack to the kid in dead last gasping for air), to keep up with him as he altered speeds, Kaminski ratchets up the intensity levels in practice.
This energy has translated to the courses this season.
A unique blend of upfront strength, depth, and pack running has catapulted Dobbs Ferry back into the realm of Section 1 relevance.
Having recently captured a league championship on the boys side and a second place finish on the girls side (with Sarah King, one of New York State's elite, placing second behind league champion Annie Field of Irvington), Dobbs Ferry has ascended to higher heights.
Through Kaminski's strict rules for his runners, his lofty expectations, and high-order commitment he commands his athletes to subscribe to, Dobbs Ferry (which fell a place shy of capturing a Sectional Championship two years) has grown and prospered.
"It's become more of a communical type thing here at Dobbs Ferry," said Kaminski.
"You build from the ground up. You start with the young kids, really getting them interested. We're peaking at the right time now. Today and tomorrow are real light days for us. The County Meet is going to be a big test for us. We're going to see runners that we're supposed to beat, it's going to be some chances to go head-to-head with them. I personally don't think we have as much depth as I thought we would have at the begging of the season. But they're coming along. The most important thing is everyone is healthy."
Dobbs Ferry hasn't boasted individual talent of this caliber since the late 1960s, when brothers Steve and John Hunt emerged as Class C state champions.
Dobbs features Brendan Wortner and King, both of whom are surefire shots to return to the state championship meet. Dobbs' lone senior, George Epstein, has come into his own lately.
Epstein possesses the potential to join Wortner and King on the bus to the state championship meet at Pawling.
"If you had told me then that I would be running No.2 in the league back when I started, I would have laughed," said Epstein, who took No.2 behind Dobbs' standout junior Wortner to complete the 1-2 punch which helped Dobbs' boys capture the league championship last week.
The Eagles eked out a 1-point victory over favored Irvington to take home the title.
"If you had even told me that I would be running under 20 minutes for a 5K I would have laughed. Nevertheless, as the seasons passed, as we gained more runners, and coach Kaminski began to really focus on the team."
Epstein has been running since the seventh grade. He's been under Kaminski's tutelage since he was an eighth grader.
Now a senior, Epstein knows that earning a berth in the state championship would be a nice way to cap off his career.
After clocking a 17:14 5K at the Warwick Wave Mania Invitational and then emerging as the second fastest in the league, a state championship appearance would also be a memorable sendoff for the senior.
Esptein is also cognizant of the fact that the final three meets are the most pivotal of the season.
The Eagles compete in the Coaches Invitational this weekend, which is essentially a tune-up for the Westchester County (Oct. 30) and Section 1 championship (Nov.5) meets.
"Coach has given us a few talks about how the races before were just sort of a build up to what's coming," Epstein explained.
"Everybody on the team knows that we're coming up on some of the hardest courses of the season. We're also going to be facing people who want nothing more than to win. It's going to take a lot to stay in our good place. I think that he's mainly looking for 110% effort in the coming races. Obviously we'd be ecstatic if we won any of these races but I don't think it's an expectation."
Epstein continued, "We all know that Brendan and Sarah have that goal (to get back to the state championship) down. They've been to the last two state championships. I know that these next three races, especially at Sectionals, I have to fight if I want to join them."
You can bet his longtime coach will be there, pushing him through that fight.