Dickinson High School's cross country team will be featured in the sports pages of The Hudson Reporter.
Come to think of it, most people didn't even realize that Dickinson even had a cross country team. When you think of cross country locally, it's usually the same suspects, like St. Dominic Academy among the girls and Memorial with both programs. Dickinson is generally an afterthought. Or perhaps not even a thought at all.
But things have certainly changed, with Dickinson fielding competitive teams in both the boys' and girls' divisions.
The Rams had a very enjoyable weekend at the Brett Taylor Invitational at Darlington County Park in Mahwah.
The Dickinson boys' team finished second overall among the Class A Division (Groups III and IV in enrollment), trailing only Middletown North. The Rams placed ahead of such local schools as Union Hill and North Bergen and such solid cross country programs as Pascack Valley and Hackensack.
The Rams' girls' team placed fourth overall, trailing team champion Garfield, Mount Olive and Memorial.
It's quite an accomplishment, considering that Dickinson has never been considered a local cross country power.
But head coaches Leo Laboy, the boys' head coach, and Rafael Tejada, who coaches the girls' team, have worked diligently in bringing the Rams' program to respectability.
"I think it begins with the kids who are very dedicated," said Laboy, who coaches the Dickinson indoor and outdoor track teams and added the cross country team this year for the first time. "The kids work out on their own and practice on their own. We like to be considered as a blue-collar team, as a team that works hard and overachieves."
Laboy gave a lot of the credit to assistant coach John Kennedy, who was a long-time track coach at Ferris and is an accomplished marathon runner.
"John is the heart and soul of the team," Laboy said. "He's been motivating the kids to drop their times. We have runners who have dropped their times like three minutes already this year. That's really something."
Laboy was the coach of the Dickinson junior varsity soccer team, but changed over to cross country this season.
"I wanted to make sure that we built up the track program all year round," Laboy said. "We had to rebuild it and make sure that we had kids who wanted to learn and who wanted to run. Coach Tejada used to handle both teams by himself and that was a little overwhelming. But now the kids have all bought into the hard work and dedication."
Laboy was asked if he was surprised with the performance at the Brett Taylor meet.
"Not at all," Laboy said. "The kids have been running really well. We thought we could do well there. Incredibly, our No. 3 man was hurt. If he could have participated, it would have made a big difference. It doesn't surprise me at all."
Leading the way for the Rams has been junior Miguel Tlatelpa, who finished sixth overall at Darlington, but he has been the best consistent performer this season.
"His best time is 17:20," Laboy said. "He's made some huge strides this year. He didn't run cross country last year because he was hurt, but he was the county freshman champion two years ago, so we definitely knew he had potential."
The second runner is senior Hitesh Monga, who actually finished ahead of Tlatelpa at Darlington last Saturday, placing fifth overall.
"He's just come from nowhere," Laboy said of Monga. "This is the first year that he's really excelled."
The third runner is senior Chadwick Monroe, who missed last week's event due to a sprained knee.
"He's basically a middle distance runner who has greatly improved in cross country," Laboy said. "He'll be fine with the knee for the rest of the year."
The rest of the varsity starters include junior Sam Ghattas and junior Eddie Cruz, both of whom are running close to 18 minutes for the 3.1 kilometer cross country courses. Sophomore Matthew Mieles has also been a steady performer.
Freshmen Joanthony Santiago and Angel Alicea have shown a lot of promise. They both ran in the sophomore race last weekend instead of the freshman bracket and finished third as a team.
Laboy credited the workout regimen of the team.
"We never have two hard practices back-to-back, so that helps them recover," Laboy said. "We have a distance workout, then a track workout and finally a hill workout. We have also had the luxury of going to the different courses this year, so that helped us learning the different trails."
The Dickinson girls' team, led by Tejada, has also enjoyed success in the early going. Tejada enjoys having to work with just one team.
"It's so much easier," Tejada said. "I can focus on the one team and work with the bottom runners as well as the top runners. The older runners can take care of themselves. I can work on developing the younger ones for the future."
Tejada was pleased with the performance of junior Arati Patel, who ran a 21:28 at Darlington, good for fifth place overall. Sophomore Courtney Emden ran a 22:22, good for 12th. Senior Daisy Gallegos, junior Amanda Intromasso and senior Alicia McLean, the sister of two Dickinson football players, Andrew and Chris, round out the varsity squad.
"We're very happy, because we're looking solid for the future," Tejada said. "But we're not going to be satisfied until we're at the top. We know what success feels like, but we won't stop until we get to the top."
Laboy feels the same way.
"I'm very proud of what we've accomplished," Laboy said. "We have a great group of kids who are trying to get others to come out for the team. All of our kids are great students as well. This event was a great stepping stone, but I think we're going to turn some heads in the future."
The heads are already turning. Dickinson has a viable cross country team. Make that two. Mark it down.