Austin True turned in his finest season to help the High School South boys cross country team remain among the top 10 in the state during a transition year.

The Pirates placed ninth at the Meet of Champions Nov. 23 at Holmdel Park to cap a season that began last summer with the naming of new head coach Craig Tipton after Kurt Wayton resigned.

Austin True running in cross country for West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South.

“He changed up training a little bit and that helped me a bit, but I also think it was the mindset I had coming into the season,” True said. “I knew it was my last one, and I wanted it to be a good one.”

True alternated with fellow senior Ben Fanta at the top of the Pirates lineup. True was the highest finisher for the team in its second-place finish at the Mercer County Championships.

“I thought I’d be second on the team this year,” True said. “It was pretty nice to be first. Me and Ben were going back and forth throughout the season. We ended up pretty close time-wise. It was always good to have him there because we always pushed each other through the races and it always ended up benefiting us both with our competition rather than just one of us being out there.”

South took third at the Central Jersey Group 4 meet to advance to the Group 4 state meet where their seventh-place finish earned them a wild card spot in the Meet of Champions.

“I didn’t know, but as the season went on, I spent some time going back through the years in MileSplit,” Tipton said. “I saw the first places at counties and the first places at sectionals and the high places at Meet of Champions, between second and fifth, even one sometimes.”

True was pleased with the trajectory of his career. His final year of high school running was his best. He got his start while in middle school and grew increasingly invested in the sport over the last four years.

“I ran all of middle and now high school,” True said. “It’s been fun. I’ve always been pretty decent at it. I enjoy it and I got into high school and it made me love it even more.”

Where True found his experience paying off most was when it came time to run some of the championship meets. He recorded a personal record at Washington Crossing for the county meet, and finished with two good races at Holmdel Park in the state’s final two stages. He moved up 22 places from his Group 4 finish as a junior and jumped 21 places from his MOC showing of a year ago.

It helped that he had competing and training on some of the same courses over four years. Even a course like Holmdel with its famous hills was more manageable.

“It definitely got me accustomed to Holmdel as a course,” True said. “In the last few years I noticed the hills were always a problem and I kind of sluggishly went up them. This year I felt like it was a lot easier and it was good to know the course and where to go and how the hills worked.”

True’s consistent improvement is an example to those that are following his class in the program.

The Pirates are determined to keep their program strong and have the potential to do so. Tipton said he would like an earlier and better start to summer training and sees a strong group to pick a top seven from for next year.

“We have kids like Aryan Bhujbal, Adrien Vincent and Christian Gobo, going from middle 18:00s to under 18:00 at the JV meet,” Tipton said. “I think we see a lot of people like Alex Fisher and Vladimyr Rehl who are going to be ready to take up varsity spots in the future. I was very careful about making sure none of our top runners were hurt and throughout the whole team.”

This season set the stage for the Pirates to remain a powerhouse. The team didn’t lower its standards despite a change of leadership, and they maintained high expectations right through the end of the year.

“We were aiming for something similar to last year’s performance toward the end place-wise, but then that didn’t end up coming around which was a little disappointing,” True said. “We made it to Meet of Champions and got ninth compared to fourth last year. But our time and team average was better than last year’s so it’s improvement and we’re happy.”

This story has been edited to correct Adrien Vincent’s name from AJ Vincent.