In a sport where the mental part of the “game” is sometimes more important than the physical requirements, Zeke Dawkins knows what it takes to win.
Last year, as a sophomore, he won the individual title at the Blue Hen Conference cross-country championships, helping lead Newark to a second-place finish. He then finished 15th at the state meet as the Yellowjackets placed sixth overall.
This year, Dawkins has set the bar even higher for himself.
“My personal goal this season is to beat our school record currently held by Jarod Wilson at 16:01,” Dawkins said.
Always the consummate teammate, he admitted that his personal goal takes a back seat to a high team finish at any meet.
“I genuinely think our team is stronger than it’s been in years, and I feel that if our team stays healthy and stays consistent, we could win the Blue Hen Conference championship,” Dawkins said.
Dawkins may be the leader of the pack, but he certainly isn’t running alone.
Sophomore Alejandro Lobo has earned a spot as the No. 2 runner in just his first season of running cross-country.
“He got started during spring track and built on that by running a lot of miles over the summer,” head coach Mike Mooney said.
Seniors Isaiah Gerard and Matt Guckenberger train year-round and are “way ahead of where there were last year,” according to Mooney.
Mooney pointed out seniors Evan Prusisz and Bailey Polecaro as having solid seasons so far, and a pair of juniors are proving to be solid contenders.
“Evan and Bailey have been giving it their all to make this final season something special,” Mooney said. “Juniors Caleb Cutler and Colin Seeman have grown into young men and are taking on more work and responsibility.”
The Yellowjackets have a nice balance of running acumen and experience, and there’s not a big difference in times from top to bottom, which is exactly how Mooney likes it.
“I think everyone sees what is happening,” Mooney explained. “We have a lot of guys on or near the same level. These guys will push and encourage each other day in and day out. Our best teams have always taken on a pack mentality. They are very conscious that this is a team effort and that it takes everyone to make the most of this opportunity.”
That opportunity comes in Division 2 for the first time in school history, and the Yellowjackets are taking advantage of the move to Flight B in the Blue Hen Conference. Newark outran Glasgow and McKean in a Tri-Meet on Sept. 17 with Lobo finishing first in 18:42 and Dawkins second, crossing the finish line with a time of 19:26.
“I am pleased with the overall makeup and effort being put forth by this team,” Mooney said. “It will be a little different being in Flight B and D-2 this year. We will continue to seek out the highest level of competition to keep it interesting as we prepare for the championship meets at the end of the season.”
Those competitions include the White Clay Creek Classic in Newark, Bull Run Invitational in Parkton, Md., Paul Short Invitational in Lehigh, Pa., Manhattan Invitational in New York City and the Joe O’Neill Invitational at Bellevue State Park in Wilmington.
Mooney is hopeful that the Yellowjackets’ treks across several state lines pay off when it’s time to compete at the conference, county and state championships, and that it pays off down the road in life as well.
“We consider competing in a varsity sport to be a vital part of a student’s education,” Mooney explained. “Concepts of preparation and teamwork provide a tangible foundation for much of what is to come in their lives. Traveling affords the opportunity for our students to learn from experiences, adapt to different situations and to build self-confidence.”