H.S. Cross Country: Pioneer’s Noah de Ruiter captures win, Mahar scores team victory

  • Runners from the second wave take off at the starting line during a meet between Pioneer and Mahar in Orange on Tuesday. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Runners from the first wave take off at the starting line between Pioneer and Mahar in Orange on Tuesda visiting Mahar in Orange. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Runners from the first wave take off at the starting line in a meet between Pioneer and Mahar on Tuesday in Orange. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • The start of the third wave of runners during a cross country meet with Pioneer visiting Mahar in Orange on Tuesday. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Mahar's Stephen Gaj crosses the line second overall during a meet against Pioneer on Tuesday in Orange. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Pioneer's Noah de Ruiter heads for the finish line en route to a first place showing against Mahar on Tuesday in Orange. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Mahar's Jeff LaPlante finished third overall during a meet against Pioneer on Tuesday in Orange. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

Staff Reports
Published: 11/4/2020 11:24:36 AM

ORANGE — You would have never known Pioneer’s Noah de Ruiter hadn’t run a race in over two weeks. 

Due to a positive COVID test in the school community, the Panthers cross country team was unable to practice or have any meets for the last two weeks. Instead of taking the time to relax, however, runners like de Ruiter decided to get into better shape, and the results showed Tuesday in a meet against Mahar. 

The Senators took the overall race, 20-41, but de Ruiter was the first to cross the finish line with a time of 20 minutes, 41 seconds, almost two minutes faster than any other runner. 

“It was a personal victory,” de Ruiter said. “I’m cool with the first-place finish. I hadn’t done that against Mahar before. It’s a good course. Normally, I don’t run as well in the cold but I don’t think the cold affected me much today.”

De Ruiter credited the virtual program his coach, Gina Johnson, put him through to have him ready to race on Tuesday.  

“We went into virtual cross country,” de Ruiter said. “We’ve been getting workouts from our coach and an outline of what to do each day. Since we had two weeks without meets, it was a great time to do some harder work like hills and speed work, because we had the time to recover before the meets. It paid off.”

Though the Senators didn’t have the top overall finisher, they did have the next three runners across the line after de Ruiter. Stephen Gaj took second with a time of 22:40, followed by Jeff LaPlante in third (23:10) and Dan Kidwell in fourth (23:38). 

Gaj, who said he felt the bitter weather hurt his time, is in his first year running cross country. Despite being new to the sport, the sophomore has seen improvement in his times as the season has gone on due to a rigorous training regimen. 

“It’s going pretty well this year,” Gaj said. “I’ve cut my times down by five minutes. That’s from four miles running every day with sprints and stretches and cool downs and everything. I’m pushing myself and training and trying to make the improvements I need, too.”

With Mahar not having enough girls to qualify for a team score, the race was only scored based on the Pioneer boys against the entire Senator squad. That meant Pioneer’s Sahana Heilman’s time of 24:08 didn’t count on the scoreboard, but it was the fifth-fastest time overall. 

Heilman said the environment helped push her to keep pace and post an impressive time.

“It was different,” Heilman said. “It was more exciting being with the front runners. We were able to work out hard without the meets without anything the last couple weeks.”

Jonathan Bodenstein (seventh, 24:43) and Madix Wegiel (10th, 26:40) were the other Pioneer runners to score in the top 10. Mahar’s Mike Gemelli took fifth with a time of 24:10, followed by Jeff Kidwell (sixth, 24:21) and Marshall Ames (eighth, 25:56). Delaney Parker, the top Senator girl finisher, took ninth with a run of 26:04. 

One of the changes to the 2020 cross country season has limited away teams from participating in a walkthrough of the course before the race. It’s been an advantage to the home team, knowing the ins-and-outs of their own trails while opponents must learn the course on the fly.

“I didn’t realize until the first meet this season how much the walkthrough does for me,” de Ruiter said. “We ran a course about the same length as ours and I was expecting to do it in 18 or 19 minutes and it ended up being a little over 20. I think part of that was not knowing the course beforehand. It happens to everyone so I can’t complain.” 


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