by Andrew Garda

Billy Massey won both the 1600-meter and 3200-meter races, completing a three-peat as the double state champion in those categories, as the Montclair Kimberley Academy Cougars continued to perform well at the NJSIAA Non-Public B this past weekend.

MKA finished third in the state, with 47 points coming from four athletes in the distance events, who swept in the individual events as well as advanced in the 4x800-meter relay.

While Massey was making his career mark, one of his teammates was doing the same.

Nick Wilson dropped 5 seconds off his personal best in the 1600-meter, finished second behind Massey with a time of 4:25.63, nearly 4 seconds ahead of the third-place runner. He then struggled a little on Saturday during the 800-meter, falling to eighth place with 300 meters to go.

Interim coach Alden Basmajian said that though he was down, Wilson never gave up.

“He stuck to the plan we laid out before the race and took off coming out of the turn,” Basmajian said in an email. “Nick was behind for 799.8m of the race and won on a dip at the line.”

Basmajian said Wilson also dropped 3 seconds off his personal best as he sneaked past Mater Dei Prep’s Patrick Osborne, winning with a time of 1:57.74.

Matt Petrocelli, who beat Massey in the 3200-meter race during the NJSIAA Sectionals on June 26, ran to a strong fourth-place finish in the 3200-meter this weekend as well.

For the girls, Anna Bradley ran a new personal best in the 1600-meter, nearly beating the school record. The freshman fell just 1 second short as she finished eighth in the final.

Meanwhile, Anna Schaller finished third in the girls 3200-meter with a time of 11:49.66. Like with Wilson in the boys 800-meter, Schaller found herself back in the pack and in fifth place. Basmajian says she really kicked it into gear in the last 80 seconds, moving all the way up to third and securing a spot in the upcoming Meet of Champions.

Basmajian said he was proud of all of the MKA competitors, not just last weekend, but over the course of the season as well. He has really seen a singular focus, though, over the stretch during the NJSIAA Meets.

“Over the last couple weeks, we have started to dial in the race speed with some shorter workouts,” said Basmajian. “They were patient with the longer distance strength work and now are ripping through races and dropping times every time out.”

What’s critical has been their cool under pressure. Runners like Wilson and Schaller may fall behind, but they trust in what they’ve been taught and don’t panic.

“They have confidence in their abilities, know how to execute race strategies, and are fighters until the end,” Basmajian said.

“We set out with some ambitious individual and team goals and they came to practice every day ready to work and pursue those. Some days were easier than others, but in the face of adversity, none of the athletes were willing to back down.”

Basmajian points out that the payoff is not only an appearance for many of them in the upcoming Meet of Champions, but setting new individual, school and meet records as well. Despite achieving so much success, though, the athletes continue to push themselves and one another.

“What I’m most proud of, though, is their willingness and desire to be there for each other,” Basmajian said. “Not a practice goes by that I don’t hear encouragement for teammates. This goes [both] within discipline and across from sprinters to distance to throwers alike. There is a true camaraderie and an investment in seeing each person succeed. Practices have been hard, they’ve been pushed to their limits and beyond, but they know everyone is there with them and it makes each person stronger.”

While that’s always important, it’s perhaps never been more critical than it was this season. With the death in April of coach Tom Fleming at the age of 65, this season held new and unusual difficulties for these high-schoolers.

They’ve had each other to lean on though, and that has made a difference.

For Basmajian, who has been the interim coach since Fleming’s death and will be moving to Virginia after the season ends, it is a time and a team he won’t soon forget.

“This has been one of the more memorable track and field seasons, for better or worse, in recent years and we still have one more week to go. It’s been a privilege being their head coach through it all.”