Nottingham High School junior Jon Torres finishes the cross country course at Mercer County Park. In just his first season, Torres set several school records and finished fifth in the Mercer County Championship.
Nottingham High School junior Jon Torres finishes the cross country course at Mercer County Park. In just his first season, Torres set several school records and finished fifth in the Mercer County Championship.

Jon Torres enjoyed his first season of cross country, though he still catches himself looking over at the soccer field.

“It’s still hard just watching my teammates play on the soccer field,” said the Nottingham junior. “I wish I could be there. You have to do whatever you have to do to succeed in life.”

Following a strong outdoor track and field season, Torres decided that what was best for him was to give cross country a chance. He had run the long-distance races in track and field with success, and he wanted to see if that success would carry over to cross country. But that meant giving up soccer.

“It was a very hard choice,” Torres said. “Ever since elementary school, I liked playing soccer. It’s always been my hobby. I’m better in cross country than in soccer so I decided to run to get seen by coaches and make something out of my name. I knew I’d have a good season in cross country and be more successful in cross country than in soccer.”

Torres jumped right to the top of his new sport. Not only did he lead the Northstars team, but he led the field in most every race. It was all a nice surprise for Torres.

“I thought it was pretty cool,” he said. “At the same time, it sets expectations on me. I knew I had to work to meet those expectations of the coaches.”

Nottingham head coach Dave Tees was impressed all season by Torres. Torres’s addition gave the Northstars a great starting point.

“He didn’t get beat until the Princeton meet,” Tees said. “We raced them at Mercer County Park, and Alex (Roth) only beat him by seven seconds.”

Over the final weeks of the season, however, Torres didn’t get the same chances as many of the state’s best runners. He started to have trouble with his quad and knee and that limited his training. He could not continue the regular hard workouts leading into the Mercer County Championships, yet he still finished fifth in 16:28. Princeton’s Roth won.

‘I don’t want to miss out on that experience of being able to go to Meet of Champs. I’m going to be training to get ready for next year.’

“It could have been interesting if Jon had stayed healthy,” Tees said. “It would have made for a more interesting counties. It was the type of thing that it was nagging him. Every time he increased the intensity, he had to back off.”

Torres ended his season after the county race when his doctor determined that racing hard could lead to a stress fracture that would take months to heal. That prognosis left him out of sectionals. Nottingham placed 12th at the Central Jersey Group III sectional led by Jose Colon’s 38th place finish.

“I felt sad for me,” Torres said. “Before counties, the past two weeks I hadn’t been able to practice well due to my injury. I’ve had to sit out a lot and run just a little bit of mileage. Going into counties I knew I wouldn’t be in my top shape. I still had to try. I’m not satisfied with fifth place honestly because I knew I could have done better. I just wish I was able to practice well and be well prepared for counties.”

Torres still closed his first season filling his resume with highlights. He set school records at the Mercer County Park (15:59) and West Windsor-Plainsboro North (15:34) courses. He ran 16:14 to open the season at Veterans Park. He was the top finisher in the Colonial Valley Conference Valley Division Championship in 15:52 on Oct. 10, but it was hard to do the same in the county meet.

“He just didn’t have the legs under him, you could see,” Tees said. “He was really competitive. He ran that county race on pure guts. He just wanted it. You could see where he wanted to go, you could see what he wanted to do, but his legs couldn’t get him there. It took a lot for him to just finish fifth because it’s a really competitive field.”

Torres is hoping that rest and rehabilitation with biking and swimming will give his leg time to heal while keeping his conditioning up so he will be ready to compete in the track and field season. He is following the instructions of his doctor and the Nottingham trainer, but it’s not easy taking time off.

“It’s boring,” Torres said. “You can’t do anything all day. I’m a very athletic person. I enjoy sports a lot. Having to just do nothing is boring for me.”

The injury has him more motivated for a big return. He is already looking down the line for the chance to compete again next year in cross country. He wants the opportunity he didn’t have this year—to run in some of the top races of the year while healthy.

“I’m going to come back because missing out on sectionals, it sucks,” Torres said. “I don’t want to miss out on that experience of being able to go to Meet of Champs. I’m going to be training to get ready for next year.”

It helped that Torres had a solid team behind him. Fellow newcomer Kenly Souffrant was a steady training partner for practices, and the returning team members led Jose Colon helped keep them on course.

“They helped a lot,” Torres said. “They’re very supportive. We all push each other to get better. The kids from last year that ran cross country taught us the courses so we wouldn’t get lost.”

The additions of Torres and Souffrant made the Northstars a more competitive team within the county and sectional.

“It’s good to have him,” Tees said. “He got first place in each meet except for the Princeton meet. You still have to have the depth behind him. It’s a really competitive league when you’re going against teams like (West Windsor-Plainsboro) South and North that have 50 boys on their team. They have middle school programs that have kids running together for three years. Some of those programs, their kids are getting upwards of 50-70 miles per week. We’re doing about 35-40. For him to go off that training and be able to compete at that level, that’s pretty good.”

Torres was happy that he made a difference for his new teammates. Nottingham finished ninth at the county meet this season, one year after they finished 18th out of 18 teams.
“The team as a whole was a lot better than the team last year,” Torres said. “This year we all pushed each other, especially our fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh runners to get faster to help us as a team. We were able to have a better record than a lot of years.”

Torres helped the cross country team improve and found himself enjoying his new sport. After giving up his first love of soccer, he discovered success in cross country beyond anything he had imagined.

“It actually motivates me to want to be better,” Torres said.