This may well be the year that the Bordentown High School boys cross country program came of age.

A season that began with an all-time turnout of over 40 runners, was highlighted at New Egypt High School in late October when the Scotties won the first Burlington County Patriot Division championship in school history. And despite the fact that Bordentown did not have its best race in the Central Jersey Group II sectionals, the good news is that the team’s top three runners are sophomores and its top five runners are underclassmen.

“It was really good,” said sophomore Rishi Machanpalli, the Scotties No. 1 runner. “It was the first time we ever won the Patriot Division so that was pretty exciting. Even more exciting is our team’s pretty young, we’re all returning so we might win it three years in a row if we keep working.”

The Scotties also hope to improve on their sectional showing, as they finished in 15th place in the November race.

“We did pretty bad this year, hopefully we improve,” Machanpalli said. “A lot of it was inexperience and conditions. Hopefully we work hard this summer and do better.”

Brian Wheeler, who completed his first full year as head coach after taking over during last season, was a stand-up guy when it came to discussing the sectionals. Asked if it was a learning experience for his young team, he said “It was much more a learning experience for me.”

“I got them to peak for the Patriot Meet, and I thought that would last a little longer,” Wheeler said. “A lot of it falls more on my shoulders than theirs. Next year I’ll know what to do to help us last a little longer.”

The good news is, peaking for the Patriot Meet worked to perfection as Bordentown jammed four finishers in the top 10 and had all seven runners in the top 20 to edge Cinnaminson by three points. As Wheeler pointed out, even though only the top five finishers count in the team score, Bordentown’s sixth and seventh runners—seniors Andrew Gaudreult and Ethan AmanKwah—finished ahead of Cinnaminson’s fifth runner to make the Pirates final score higher. That was extremely important after Cinnaminson took the top three spots.

“Cinnaminson won the past five years and they have one of the best kids in the state,” Wheeler said. “To beat them felt pretty good. And we finished 10th in the whole county going against some Group IV schools. The Cherokees, the Lenapes, the Moorestowns have three times the enrollment we do. I would like to get a little better next year, obviously win the Patriot Division again and maybe get better in the sectionals where we can qualify for the states.”

Machanpalli knew that if everyone ran their best, the division title could be within their grasp.

“In the beginning of the season, we looked at the times of last year from the guys coming back, and we also had some pretty fast sophomores who weren’t on cross country but were on the track team, so we felt we had a pretty good shot,” he said. “It was really close, but luckily we pulled it out. That we won against a good team makes me very happy.”

The ceiling for Machanpalli, who is at the top of the sophomore class academically, is extremely high, as he never ran before high school. He showed up last year thinking cross country was a half-mile race, having no notion of a 5K.

“He came out and was like ‘What is this?’ and he still did very well,” Wheeler said. “He had a good summer and it will be nice to have him the next couple of years.”

Machanpalli put in a ton of training last summer, “from 35 to 50 miles per week,” and dropped his best time from 18:40 to 17:39, which he ran while finishing fourth in the Patriot meet.

Sophomore Tyler Gentry was the number two runner in just his first year of cross country. Gentry was fifth in the division race in 17:58.

“He did spring track last year and really enjoyed it,” Wheeler said. “It took a little convincing to get him to come out for cross country and did well. He works on Mondays and Tuesdays and had to do a lot of workouts on his own which is very hard. He was able to do it.”

The third 10th-grader is number-three runner Nick Eiffert, who was eighth in the Patriot race (18:16). He is another first-year runner after doing soccer last year.

“He was anywhere from number one to number three and ended up third at the end of the season,” Wheeler said. “Out of everyone, I think he actually loves cross country, something I could see him doing when he’s in college.”

The four-five runners helped make Bordentown one of the true feel-good stories in cross country this fall. Junior Greg Poole is a special needs student now in his third year of running, while Renzo Almeida has autism and is in his first year of doing cross country after trying spring track last year. Poole was ninth in the Patriot race (18:27.61) while Almeida was 13th (18:42).

“They’ve been doing well, and have been big assets to the team,” Wheeler said. “The other guys take them under their wings, but they’re just part of the team, they’re athletes. It’s not a feel-sorry-for-them type of thing. There’s nothing different about them in our eyes other than we needed them in order to win.”

“We all welcome each other,” Machanpalli. “We hang out with them outside of cross country, too. They try their best. We all just try our best.”

And the best could be yet to come.