Verona’s boys and girls cross country teams are heading to Branch Brook Park on Tuesday for the Super Essex Conference Championship race, and Coach Gene Leporati is comfortable with what he sees.
“The boys and girls have very identical teams,” says Leporati, “and that doesn’t always happen.”
Both teams have a mix of veterans and new challengers. For the boys, seniors Nick Lukas and Eddie Congdon have returned to form the nucleus of the team. Vinny Puchik, who had been a soccer player, came out for cross country for the first time this year. “He has really been surprising,” says Leporati. The girls can count on returning stalwarts Kelly Scully and Heather Sweeney. Leporati notes that Marybeth Grund, a sophomore, “has stepped it up big.” The seven-runner group that the girls will send out on the Branch Brook course also includes a freshman, Melanie Egan.
But Verona still faces some big challenges this season, its first since Dave Oster–a standout for Verona in past–left for the University of Syracuse. Its division is dominated by Jeramy Elkaim, a Livingston high school senior who was the North Jersey, Section 1, Group 4 champion last fall and shattered the record for the 3,200 at the Meet of Champions this past spring.
As for the rest of the season, the team faces a dual meet with Passaic County Technical Institute at Garrett Mountain on October 18, and then the county championship at Brookdale Park on the 29th, as well as the group meet in Holmdel.
Leporati hopes to have Verona runners in that meet, and to some day have more venues like the two-hill Holmdel course for his runners locally. “The Hilltop could be a great place,” he says. “It has the potential to be a very nice cross-country course.”
(Photos courtesy Meg Slotkin)