Dan White, Tyler Bork, Dean Gervasini, Jared Taylor, (back) Howie Schulz, Ryan Schreyer and Jon Freeman line up at the start of the Mercer County Cross Country Championships varsity boys’ race Oct. 19, 2018 at Washington Crossing Park.

It’s kind of difficult to define the Robbinsville High boys’ cross country season. It was good, but not great. The effort was satisfying, but the end results, not so much.

“Overall, I couldn’t ask for much more as a team in terms of our performance this year,” said senior Dean Gervasini, the team’s No. 3 runner. “We all had really high expectations for ourselves after an incredible season last year (winning sectionals and reaching Meet of Champions), and after every meet this year we would always be really hard on ourselves for not living up to those expectations.”

There is, however, a however.

“However, we all worked really hard since the early summer and a few people stepped up into varsity spots who we may not have expected to step up like they did,” Gervasini continued. “As a Group II school, it’s always hard to find that depth that some of the other schools have, but we worked with what we had and really performed well against some of the bigger schools later on in the year.”

Head coach Anthony Dentino thought along the same lines as his runner.

“In general, I think we had a solid season, but it wasn’t quite everything we’d hoped for,” Dentino said. “At the beginning of the year, we had some questions that were left unanswered. While I think we all wanted more, it was extremely gratifying to see that we had our best race of the season at the Group II state meet. The kids ran tough all year and really stepped up despite struggling during the middle of the year. I think we are all proud of a sixth-place showing (in states), especially knowing that if a couple breaks had gone our way, we could’ve ended up in fifth, fourth or even third.”

The Ravens finished eighth in the Mercer County Championships at Washington Crossing Park, with Jared Taylor being the top runner in 16:46. A season highlight came at the Central Jersey Group II sectional meet, when Dan White’s fifth-place finish (in 17:00) paced Robbinsville to a fourth-place finish at Thompson Park, which advanced the Ravens to the Group II state meet.

“It’s always an accomplishment to make it to states,” Gervasini said. “We have a long-held tradition of excellence that goes back to when the program was first started, as every year we’ve sent a team to states. Doing it again this year even after losing some key people who graduated last year was really awesome.”

At the state meet in Holmdel Park, Robbinsville finished eight points behind fourth-place Holmdel and was unable to advance to the MOC. But Gervasini noted that the Ravens did out-run their seed.

“I am really happy with how states turned out, considering we were ranked 11th based on sectional results,” he said. “Being sixth and only eight points away from fourth was frustrating, but it still makes me happy to know we were right there in the mix against teams who were ranked a lot better than us previously in the year.”

Dentino felt that, for the most part, Robbinsville gave a strong effort in the championship meets.

“While eighth place in the county was extremely disappointing, the reality is that Mercer County is one of the very best counties in the state,” the coach noted. “It is full of great athletes and great coaches and if you have an off-day like we did, you will pay for it every time. We also were in a very strong section, and competed well against very good teams within Central Jersey, and again against the entire state’s Group II schools.”

A highlight in the state meet was the effort of Gervasini, who was the Ravens top finisher in 24th place with a time of 17:29.

“Dean never had a full summer of training due to injury, so we were really excited to see how things would shake out for him,” Dentino said. “He also always had more confidence in himself with track as opposed to cross country, but started to realize just how good he was this year. He ran very well at counties, sectionals and groups.”

Gervasini, who is looking into The College of New Jersey and Elizabethtown to continue his running career, had to overcome a mental speed bump in September.

“I think I had the lowest point in my running career in the middle of the season,” he said. “None of my races were going well, and running was really becoming a chore rather than something I loved doing. I let coach Dentino know that I was feeling unmotivated, and his guidance throughout the year really helped me get back into the right mindset when it mattered. Gradually, my passion for the sport grew, and I started being excited to race again.”

Rounding out the top four were White at No. 1, Taylor at No. 2 and junior Tyler Bork at No. 4.

“Dan is a really smart racer and a tough kid,” Dentino said. “He really stepped up for as at the sectional championships. Jared has grown tremendously mentally and physically since I’ve gotten to know and work with him. He is a true two-miler/cross country guy and has come a long way with putting together strong races.”

Bork had to overcome some adversity as he battled some “nasty illnesses” over the course of the season.

“He struggled to find his groove,” Dentino said. “With that being said, Ty is a very talented and very tough kid, and stepped up when we needed him. He finished as a very solid fourth for us at sectionals and at groups.”

The major question entering the season was who would fill in the five-through-seven spots. That was answered by Jon Freeman, freshman Ryan Schreyer and Zack Siracusa.

“These three consistently trained together, worked out together, and found each other during races,” Dentino said. “Jon is someone has been in the program for four years and has developed incredibly well. He is a consistent runner and hard worker, and it was really exciting to watch him come into his own. Likewise, Zack is a senior who has been with the track program for quite some time. However, Zack transitioned from soccer to cross country this season. He is unafraid and knows how to put his head down and compete.”

With five of the top seven graduating, Schreyer (along with Bork) is the hope of the future.

“Ryan was a huge part of this group,” Dentino said. “Ryan possesses a lot of talent, but what is so exciting about him is that he races with purpose and grit. We are excited to have him back and see how things play out over the next couple of years.”

As for next year, Dentino will count on some other freshmen who entered the program this season.

“We will be in rebuilding mode without a doubt, but we are really looking forward to it because of the challenge,” the coach said. “One of our points of pride is that we are the smallest public school in the county, yet we consistently churn out successful teams because we have a positive atmosphere and terrific kids who buy into the system day in and day out. For our younger guys, it’s now their turn to answer the call and make these next few years special as those before them have consistently done.”