BASKING RIDGE, NJ — Jackson Barna, a junior at Ridge High School, has been setting the pace as a distance runner at the school since he was a freshman.

The latest in Barna's long line of cross country achievements was his first-place finish at the Colt Invite in Holmdel last week. Barna won the 5K race with a time of 15:50.51.

"Jackson has shown tremendous talent from the very beginning of his high school career," said Ridge cross country coach Nicole Gilhuley. "He stood out by running under 17:00 in his first race at Holmdel freshman year. He had a natural knack for running and knowing how to race especially in cross country."

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Barna has been named the Valairco Heating & Cooling TAPinto Basking Ridge Athlete of the Week.

As a sophomore, Barna's victories included the Somerset County Championship, and he helped Ridge win a sectional team title. Barna individually placed fourth in Group 4 and seventh at the Meet of Champions. His biggest individual accomplishment last year was placing seventh in the state at the Meet of Champions and breaking 16:00 on that course.  

"During winter track last year, he was truly a team player and dropped down to run in our nationally ranked 4x800 and Distance Medley team," Gilhuley said. "That team won the Millrose Games and was anticipating running at New Balance Nationals before the shutdown. He helped the team win county, conference and sectionals. He individually placed 10th at the Meet of Champions running a school-record time of 9:17 in the 3200."

Barna has built upon his myriad achievements during his sophomore year.

"No matter what Jackson did as a sophomore, it continued to get better, and he knew how to perform under pressure and get faster at the right times," Gilhuley said. "This season with COVID got out to a late start, but in Jackson's first race he ran a 15:25, which was a personal best by about 20 seconds. We were invited to the Colt Invitational at Holmdel in which Jackson won and ran a personal best on Holmdel's course. Although he has only raced twice this season so far, the two races have shown that he is one of the best cross country athletes in New Jersey, and there is a lot more to come from him." 

Barna took time this week to respond to some questions from TAPinto Basking Ridge.

Q: What are some of your personal goals for this year's cross country season?  
A: We may get another opportunity to run the state championship course at Holmdel, and I would really like to run in the 15:30s

Q: What has been the best advice you have received from a coach?
A: I think the best advice I've received is from coach Gilhuley, and that is to trust myself and trust my training.  

Q: What has been your most memorable performance to date?
A: One of my most memorable performances happened at the meet of champions in my sophomore cross country season. I ran 15:50 placing 7th individually and helped our team medal for 6th place.

Q: Are you aspiring to run X-C in college? Have you started to look at schools?
A: I definitely want to run in college and have started narrowing down a list of schools that I really like. I'm hoping to find the right balance between a good education and a fast team.

Q: What do you like most about Ridge High School?
 A: I really appreciate the mix of outstanding athletic programs and the academic opportunities Ridge has to offer. 

Q:Do you have a favorite subject?
A: I like math and science because they are challenging, and like running, I enjoy a challenge. 

Q: Who is your favorite athlete?
A: Steve Prefontaine is my favorite athlete, he was the most gutsy and brave runner ever.

Q: Do you have a role model?
A: My parents are my role models because they worked hard to build a successful business.

Q: What do you like to do when you are not running?
A: I enjoy getting outdoors, going hiking, skiing, and biking with friends and family.