Most high school cross-country coaches will talk about their top seven runners, the ones they are pinning their hopes on for a successful season.
Bishop McGann-Mercy coach Les Williams? He has exactly seven runners this fall.
A key to the Monarchs’ success will be staying healthy because at the moment there are no other runners to step in.
“We have a very young team,” Williams said. “I’m happy we got seven guys. They’re working very hard.”
A veteran of more than four decades of coaching cross country and track and field, Williams understands the challenges of coaching at a small school. When he coached at Bellport, a much larger school, as many as 25 runners came out every fall season.
So Williams has had to be creative and ahead of the curve.
“As soon as June ended, I got on the list looking for freshmen and sophomores [at Mercy],” he said. “A lot of these kids get taken up for the football program because you’ve got the coach right there, who’s always in the building. I’m not in the building anymore.”
Williams, a retired history teacher, found several willing candidates, and he has been encouraged.
The Monarchs are a young team with no seniors, one junior, three sophomores and three freshmen.
Sophomore Michael Senica is poised to be the team’s top runner, even though this is his first experience at cross country. Last year he was clocked in a school-record 10 minutes, 56 seconds for the two-mile run. Senica, who earned All-County in outdoor track last spring, spent the summer training for the fall.
Williams said he got similar vibes as when he first met Dale Kelly, the former anchor of the team who is attending Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
“It’s like Dale,” he said. “As soon as I was introduced to him, I said this kid is going far.”
In his first cross-country race ever at a crossover meet, Senica finished fourth in 19:47. In his first race at Sunken Meadow State Park at the Bob Pratt Meet last week, he ran five kilometers in 18:31.7, good for 19th place out of 136 runners.
Williams said Senica recently told him: “Coach, I’ve got to find my pace.”
“I started laughing because he’s got an awful good pace right now,” he said, adding that Senica “can be something special.”
“Can he make the state meet?” Williams asked. “Got a good possibility. He’s hanging right in there. It’s early. You never know but he’s very motivated.”
The oldest Monarch is junior Robert Halbersen, who returned to the team after competing as a ninth-grader. He has finished second behind Senica in several races. Freshman Anthony Varacchi also has posted encouraging times.
“All of our kids are getting better. They all knocked off two or three minutes off their time,” Williams said.
Sophomores Phillip Marino and Robert Penn and freshman Robert DeWitt and Matt Sherman round out the squad.
Williams’ goal is seeing his runners improve at every meet.
“I would like to see kids place,” he said. “I don’t know if we’re going to have a winning record. They’re getting better each day I work with them. I could see them doing well at the end of the season.”