BASKING RIDGE, NJ — When the Ridge High School boys cross-country team swept the top three places at the Section 2, Group 4 championship meet at Oak Ridge Park in Clark last weekend, Will Pinto was right in the middle of the fray.
The senior's time of 15:49 was second only to teammate Jackson Barna's 15:17, and helped the Red Devils win the boys' team competition going away.
Back in September, in a scrimmage meet, Pinto won that race at Oak Ridge Park with a time of 16:13, but he significantly boosted that time when the spotlight of a sectional championship was on the line last week.
As a junior, Pinto's personal best time was 15:52 at the 2019 Roxbury Invitational. Pinto recorded six top 10 finishes as a junior, including fourth place in the 2019 sectional championship.
Pinto is the Valairco Heating & Cooling TAPinto Basking Ridge Athlete of the Week.
"Will is the captain of the cross-country team this year," Ridge cross country coach Nicole Gilhuley said. "Since he has been on the cross-country team the team has got a lot better, and that has a lot to do with him. Last year was the first time the boys medaled in the Meet of Champions (placing sixth) since 2010. He has been a contributing member of the varsity team since his freshman year. Last year and this year he has consistently been our second-best runner. He was ranked in the top 20 returning runners in the state for this season."
As much as Pinto has excelled over distance courses, his coach insists he's even better in track events.
"Between cross-country and track and field, he has earned four Meet of Champions medals so far even with missing last spring due to the COVID shutdowns," Gilhuley said. "Although Will has helped us significantly in cross-country, I would say Will is better on the track. He is a three-time All-American in the 4x800 and was on our nationally ranked Distance Medley Relay team. He helped the 4x800 win Nationals during his sophomore year. His versatility has been the best part of training him. I can put him in almost every event and he will help the team. He runs everything from the 400 hurdles to the 5K. Overall, he will do anything to help the team succeed and has truly been a pleasure to coach."
Pinto took time this week to respond to some questions from TAPinto Basking Ridge.
Q: What were some of your personal goals for this year's cross country season?
A: Some of the goals I had this season were to bring the team closer together. We had spent a long spring and summer apart and a key part of cross country is trusting your teammates to run fast and score low. Holding everyone accountable and having strong underclassmen helped a lot, but making a continuous effort to making sure everyone was on the same page about our goals as a team was a primary focus of mine. Another goal was to run faster than I did in previous years, which I did.
Q: What has been the best advice you have received from a coach?
A: The best advice I have gotten from a coach is to stop worrying about the outcome of a race and to just run. My coach, Nicole Gilhuley, knows exactly what to say to the team the point across, and having learned this from her very early in my high school career, has helped in numerous races, whether it be nationals or scrimmages.
Q: What has been your most memorable performance to date?
A: My most memorable performance to date depends on the season. For cross-country, it was earlier this year where I ran 15:46 to get fourth at a very competitive race against a bunch of teams ranked in the top 10 for the state. For indoor, it would have to be the Millrose Games where my team and I won the high school boys 4x800 in 7:50, a U.S. #1 at the time of the race. For outdoor, it would be when we won nationals my sophomore year in the 4x800, where I split a 1:53.
Q: Are you aspiring to run X-C in college? Have you started to look at schools?
A: I do intend to run in college, and I have started the process of looking at schools. The current dead period gets in the way of talking to coaches in person, but so far nothing has been affected too much.
Q: What do you like most about Ridge High School?
A: The best thing about Ridge High School in my opinion is the fact that they are so strong academically and in athletics. All of our sports perform at a very high standard, and the tradition of success at Ridge creates so much motivation for everyone to be at their best at all times.
Q: Do you have a favorite subject?
A: My favorite subject would have to be law. I took the law classes that Ridge offers and I really enjoyed them, specifically our law seminar class. We did a lot of mock trials and I found it fun to create arguments and being challenged by my peers.
Q: Who is your favorite athlete?
A: My favorite athlete is Connor McGregor. The level of dominance he had in the sport of MMA was unmatched, and even though he had a lot of controversies, it was very hard to count him out since he had proved himself time and time again.
Q: Do you have a role model?
A: My role models are the past captains of the Ridge XC/Track programs and my parents. Each captain taught me something and how to hold myself in regard to school and sports, while my parents have sacrificed a lot to help me achieve my goals.
Q: What do you like to do when you are not running?
A: When I am not running I really like to read and code. Right now I am reading a lot of non-fiction books about economics, and recently I just finished a personal project that took forever to code.
Q: Did the COVID restrictions in the spring/summer affect your training at all for the fall X-C season?
A: The COVID restrictions did affect the team's training because we were not permitted to meet over the summer and during the spring, and with the track team we had, we were capable of winning multiple events at nationals. Over the summer it was hard to stay in touch with the team, but the team trained diligently and got the work done. We have been lucky this fall and not too much has changed from previous years, however groups and meet of champions was canceled.
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