by Andrew Garda

When Matt Bach accepted the job to be Montclair Kimberley Academy’s cross-country coach, he expected there to be some hiccups during the transition period. After all, he was replacing Tom Fleming, a beloved legend in the track and field community who died last spring at the age of 65. Bach knew Fleming, and felt it was important to continue his work at MKA.

But the transition period has been smooth, with nary a bump in the road.

He credits that to the hard work of the runners on his team, especially the veterans.

“I do have a strong team to carry Tom Fleming’s legacy forward,” Bach said after a recent training run. “He has provided me with a team that is already very talented and done hard work in the past.”

The group is led by seniors Nick Wilson and Matt Petricelli, both longstanding members of both the MKA track and field and cross country communities. They bring the work ethic Fleming taught them to practice every day.

Bach says Wilson is coming off a breakthrough 2016 while Petricelli had a lot of success last spring with the track team.

While Bach follows in the footsteps of Fleming, Wilson and Petricelli are coming out from the shadow of an MKA runner who loomed large over the program.

Billy Massey has moved on to college, and that leaves a bit of a vacuum. Wilson and Petricelli have welcomed the challenge to carry on their former teammate’s legacy just as Bach carries on Fleming’s.

“They’ve realized there’s a gap in leadership ... and they have stepped up to lead the team,” Bach said. “They’ve encouraged the younger runners ... who they know are the future of the team. The guys who will be filling in for them when they leave.”

Part of their efforts involved keeping the team running during the summer, and their efforts show, as the runners look strong. However, as each athlete has their own training plan, success is up to the individual.

Running, Bach will tell you, is an all-season effort.

“To be a truly great runner,” he said, “you have to train year round.”

When it was time for preseason workouts, Bach said he and his assistant coach, Ilirjana Lulgjruej, came away impressed.

“I think a lot of the athletes did their summer running. I tried to emphasize how important summer running is. It’s your foundation for the preseason and then the season.”

Having a squad already working hard means Bach gets to see who else he can expect to step up.

girls squad

That includes the girls team, led by senior Anna Bradley. Bach calls her a “machine” and says she is a dedicated and consistent runner, a great example for the younger runners. There are only six girls, but Bach said they are a tight group, with the sixth runner not far behind the first, something that will help in scoring. If the fifth or sixth runner is close to the first, more than likely they are placing close together as well, which helps maximize the points a team gets.

Both the MKA girls and the boys have been working hard all summer, and performing well during championship season late this fall will be the payoff.