David Chahbandour and Chris Andriana run in the boys’ varsity race in the Mercer County Cross Country Championships at Washington Crossing State Park on Oct. 19. (Photo by Suzette J. Lucas.)

Ryan Webster is at the end of his cross country career, while Makayla McCloskey is just beginning in the Ewing High School program.

Both found just what they were looking for this season with the Blue Devils.

“It’s really exciting but it’s sad at the same time,” said Webster, a senior on the boys teams. “It’s my last year. It’s going to be my last time being on the team. I was really excited to go into my senior year of cross country. I was looking for big improvements and I’m really improving on my times.”

McCloskey, meanwhile, is one of five freshmen girls that have joined the high school team. They have spent this season transitioning from the Fisher Middle School program to the next level.

“It’s a lot more difficult, but it’s a lot of fun,” McCloskey said. “We do a lot more meets.”

For most of the season, Ewing has entered its freshmen in the shorter two-mile course options at races in order to building up to the regular 5-kilometer course. McCloskey recorded a new personal best of 13:42 for two-miles at the Six Flags Invitational.

“It’s a good transition,” McCloskey said. “You get a good mix of what you’re used to from last year and what you’re expected to do next year. You get a lot stronger for the two miles than you were last year and you get ready for the three miles you have to do next year.”

McCloskey finished in 37th place (21:43) in the Mercer County Championships.

Before the meet, she said she was looking forward to the challenge.

“I’m not really nervous because whatever happens, happens,” she said. “I’ll be against a lot of older people. It’ll be a good way to see where I am and where I need to be.”

Freshman Makayla McCloskey runs in the girls’ cross country race in the Mercer County Championships at Washington Crossing State Park on Oct. 19. (Photo by Suzette J. Lucas.)

Leadership from Webster and fellow four-year member Chris Andriana has helped to unify the Ewing program, and the youthful enthusiasm of McCloskey and her class that includes Danielle Bayne, Julia Campbell, Stephanie Falzone and Meara Hayes bodes well for the future.

When the season began, the numbers were down in the program before several athletes from other sports joined. They have helped to build up the program and the outlook.

“It’s a mixed bag,” said Ewing coach Dan Montferrat. “I have a baseball player. I have a couple sprinters and hurdlers. Then I have a couple traditional distance kids. I don’t know how many wins we’ve come across—it hasn’t been many—but the guys season has been about slowly putting the building blocks together.”

Montferrat said he recruited some runners who had been cut from soccer team.

“A lot of the alumni that were sprinters that come back tell us that their coaches make them run cross country,” the coach said. “So these guys that have aspirations to run at the next level, it’s a prep for them. We’ve combined a lot of our practices this year with guys and girls.”

The boys team includes juniors Bey-Shan Clark, AJ Jolicoeur, Mirron Miller, Jaquan Pope, Arian Rodriguez and freshmen Nick Canavera and David Chahbandour.

“We’re trending upward with the way we finished compared to how we started,” Montferrat said. “We had three guys. We got it up to eight and we’re scoring every week.”

Webster has been a huge help to the team. He’s brought together a group from different athletic backgrounds to become a cross country team.

“He’s a great character kid,” Montferrat said. “He’s been with me four years. It’s like having another coach out there. He knows my expectations and how I hold everyone accountable. This ragtag bunch has been fun. They follow his lead. They’re at practice every day and they like hanging out with each other.”

Webster is looking at several southern colleges next year and hoping to use a ROTC scholarship. He’s interested in being an officer in the United States Marine Corps. Aside from the physical benefits of running as well as swimming and running track for Ewing, Webster has benefited from having to guide the cross country team.

“Throughout the years I’ve seen a lot of leadership skills and communication skills from being on the team and seeing the leadership styles of the other seniors that were on the team,” Webster said. “I’ve picked up those styles and I’m using them while leading the team.”

Webster followed in the footsteps of his brother, Chris, who graduated from Ewing in 2007. Webster has come to value being a part of the Blue Devils. He’s enjoyed seeing how each year’s group make-up changes and remains connected.

“Throughout all my years on the team, I noticed the team was really tight knit,” Webster said. “You get to know everybody. There’s a lot of camaraderie.”

Webster’s final year has been his most enjoyable. He’s seen an influx of new runners and seen them come together to compete and improve. “Everyone on the team is really motivated and committed to try their best,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of improvements from everybody on the team, including the freshmen.”

The girls team has the five freshmen and Izzy Falzone, a senior, along with sophomores Sierra Ruiz and Chantal Samuel. Falzone ran last year and came back, and Ewing is hoping it can continue to attract new runners.

“We’ll definitely scrape up some more underclassmen that do winter and spring track for next year,” said Ewing coach Meg Soltysik. “They’ll see how much they need that continuity.”

The freshmen girls give the program a good starting point to go forward. They have been through a high school season together and met every demand.

“They’ve been doing well,” Soltysik said. “A lot of the first freshman races are two miles. We went to the 5k and they struggled a bit, but now they’re seeing their times drop. The workouts they’ve been doing, they’ve been pushing each other and holding each other accountable. It’s been really sweet to see them grow together.”

McCloskey started running for Fisher in seventh grade. After playing other sports like soccer, she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do. Campbell talked her into trying cross country. Their class has stayed with it and kept running into high school together.

“It’s a lot of fun because I’ve known them,” McCloskey said. “Most of them have been doing it longer than I have actually. They’ve been doing it since sixth grade. It’s nice to see us improve. We’ve all gotten a lot better than when we started.”

McCloskey came into the season after running regularly over the summer to prepare. It helped her to get ahead, and she runs with some of the boys for certain runs to push herself more. She enjoys the training and seeing the results. Every year, she has gotten more passionate about running.

“I liked it a lot in seventh and eighth grade, but I really started trying this year,” McCloskey said. “The coaches are very motivating.”

Montferrat and Soltysik have been pushing their runners all year to hit new times. They have seen the program grow together and strive to develop. Their improvements have helped to encourage them to do more.

“I do want to try to stay on top of what I’m doing,” said McCloskey, who plans to run winter and spring track. “I think I can be better next year. I can improve.”

Her career is just beginning to take off while Webster’s is coming to a conclusion after a memorable four-year run.

“I’ve come a long way,” Webster said. “I still can’t believe these are going to be the last races in my high school career. I’m really excited and motivated to try hard to run hard and get my best time in these races.”