It’s safe to say that veteran Secaucus High School cross country coach Stan Fryczynski has been around the block a few times in his nearly 50 years of coaching the sport.
Fryczynski, who also serves in the prestigious role as the executive director of the North Jersey Interscholastic Conference, certainly knows when he has the makings of a championship squad.
So it was last November that Fryczynski, the man who wears the same old weather beaten and sun bleached blue bucket hat at meets, planted the seeds for what was going to be a season to remember in 2019.
The Patriots had just finished second to McNair Academic by 24 points, but Fryczynski started to dream about the year ahead.
“We talked about it at season’s end last year,” said Fryczynski, the former athletic director at Secaucus. “We laid it out with the team goals for this year. The kids all bought in. They were very focused and very steady from the beginning. Everything was put into place.”
It meant that the Patriots had to make sure that they had proper workouts in the summer months, because cross country champions are not just made in November. Like the best of fall plants and vegetables, a cross country champ has to be nurtured and cared for. It has to be fed and watered. It has to be carefully watched, just in case nothing falters.
So Fryczynski addressed his team at season’s end in 2018 and pointed toward 2019. A state sectional title was the goal. Everything was there.
“He did say that,” said senior Daniel Chinchilla. “He said that we were close and that next year, we could blow it out of the water. And yes, I believed him. I think the entire team worked really hard. But that’s when we got it in our heads that we could win this year. It really boosted our confidence.”
Chinchilla (yes, just like the high-priced furs) was never much of a runner before two years ago. He was previously a student at Hoboken Charter, a school that didn’t field a cross country team.
But watching a movie changed his Chinchilla’s life forever.
“I was in Spanish class and we watched a movie called ‘McFarland, USA’” Chinchilla said. “And I just fell in love with the sport.”
The little known Disney movie, based on a true story, starred Kevin Costner as a former football coach who teaches a group of Latino students how to be cross country runners and they eventually win a California state championship.
Once Chinchilla saw that movie, he wanted to become a runner. It also helped that his stepmother, Christine Nardone, was an avid runner who competed in 5-kilometer road races all the time.
“I loved baseball,” Chinchilla said. “I didn’t know anything about running. I knew she liked running. I went with her once and I liked it. But I didn’t even know Secaucus had a team.”
Chinchilla became such a proficient runner that he was the top man for the Patriots as the season began in earnest in early September.
“When the season came, we were ready to roll,” Fryczynski said.
The Patriots knew that they were moving toward a championship season when they won their class, the 1A bracket, at the Xavier Invitational on the famed Van Cortlandt Park Sept. 21.
“The Xavier meet was a tell tale story,” Fryczynski said. “When we ran well at the Stewart Invitational [second to the perennially tough Union Catholic squad], that was the clinching point. I knew it the back of my head that the rest of the way would be a good run.”
But Fryczynski didn’t foresee the team receiving a major blow.
Sebastian Flood started running when he was a sophomore at Secaucus.
“All I heard back then was ‘Let’s make it to the Group meet [the NJSIAA Group championships at Holmdel Park],’” Flood said.
But in late October, Flood suffered a severe injury to the sciatic nerve in his back.
“I didn’t tell anyone what I was thinking,” Flood said. “But what passed through my head is that my season was over. I was actually having trouble walking. I said to myself, ‘If I’m having trouble walking, then how could I run?’ I didn’t think it was possible.”
But Flood took some time off from running and worked diligently on getting healthy. In somewhat lucky fashion, Secaucus was off from school for a week for fall break.
“So I would stretch for three hours a day,” Flood said. “I would then go to physical therapy. It was hard.”
Fryczynski knew that he might have to field a team that didn’t include Flood.
“We hoped that it wouldn’t be long term,” Fryczynski said.
But Flood did not compete in a few races, including the Hudson County Track Coaches Association championships in Bayonne Park Nov. 2. He didn’t know what his future looked like.
“I was thankful to have that week off,” Flood said. “I did so much stretching during that time. Maybe that time off was the best thing to happen to me. It was all mind over matter.”
Flood toed the line with the rest of his teammates at the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I championships at Greystone Park last week.
“I was hoping that I didn’t have to drop out of the race,” Flood said. “The pain was there a little, but I made it through.”
Chinchilla went out with the lead pack.
“I told him to just stick with them and ride to place,” Fryczynski said.
Chinchilla finished second to James Troiano of Whippany Park, who won the race in 16:42.10. But Chinchilla crossed the line in a sizzling 17:00.90.
Flood was sixth in 17:18.90.
“I even surprised myself,” Flood said. “I was hoping for a little better time.”
Freshman Younes Abada was seventh in 17:23.50 and senior Mohammed Alobaidi was ninth overall in 17:40.80.
Senior Mohamed Abada, the older brother of Younes, was 13th and junior Vishwa Naik was 14th overall.
Only five athletes are eligible to score, but the Patriots had six runners among the top 14. That’s incredible consistency and it was enough for the Patriots to claim their first state sectional cross country title since 2005.
Fryczynski is proud of his team.
“With Flood, I’m real happy with his place,” Fryczynski said. “I wasn’t sure what we would get out of him. I gave him the green light to drop out if he needed to, but he kept going. Younes keeps getting better every race out and learning along the way. He has all the talent to be a good one. I’m sure we’re talking about him a lot down the line. Mohammed Alobaidi has beaten a lot of kids this year. Mohamed Abada is a first-year cross country kid who has learned a lot in a short time. Vishwa has improved every step of the way.
Added Fryczynski, “It’s an impressive victory. It was a cold, bitter day, but they were focused and not going to let this one slip away. We’ve been runner-up a lot of times. It’s nice to bring one home.”
Needless to say, the seniors all appreciated the work that came with the state sectional trophy.
“It’s such a crazy thing,” Flood said. “One year, we’re jumping for joy with finishing fourth, but this year, we made it happen.”
“This means so much to me,” Chinchilla said. “Not knowing anything about the sport until two years ago, I think I even surprised myself.”
But not the guy in the blue bucket hat. He knew all along.
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com. You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com, listen to his Hudson County Sports podcast, this week’s guest being Lincoln football coach Robert Hampton (find it on YouTube) and follow Jim on Twitter @ogsmar.