VERONA, NJ - A Verona senior has spent a lot of time practicing and preparing for his final season as a Hillbilly cross country runner and although it is still early in the season, his hard work and talent has earned him praise and already some wins. That senior is Jason Siegelin and he is this week’s TAPinto Verona/Cedar Grove Hillbilly Athlete of the Week.

“It feels amazing to be Athlete of the Week, especially because the team and I have been working so hard and practicing nearly non-stop throughout the spring and summer,” Siegelin said. “There has been a lot of adversity in the forms of fatigue and school, but overcoming this has made every ounce of work worth it.”

Fatigue and schoolwork are not the only challenges the Hillbillies are facing this season. The team will be running many challenging and technical courses against some tough teams, Siegelin said, and he personally hopes to improve his speed and stay healthy. Even with a difficult season ahead, the star athlete is confident in his teammates.

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“Even though the team will be tested a lot throughout the season, this makes me all the more proud to represent Verona with the guys next to me,” he said. “We have the opportunity to represent our town and ourselves as best as we possibly can.”

So far, the Hillbillies are 4-1 after two meets with almost all of the runners getting around 20 minutes or under in the 5K race. Siegelin’s personal record is a time of 19:19 in the 5K, 4:53 in the 1600 meter run in track, and a 2:06 in the 800 meter run.

Although his times are already impressive, Siegelin hopes to improve his time even more and run the 5K in under 19 minutes. On a faster course, such as Brookdale Park in Montclair, he hopes to run it in under 18 minutes. The runner also wants to maintain his hard work at practice and represent his team and his town the best he can.

“Our goal as a team is to qualify for the State Group Championships at Holmdel and to continually beat our own personal records,” Siegelin said. “We are constantly pushing ourselves further to be the fastest we can.”

One person who recognizes Siegelin’s dedication and talent is Coach Laura Palmerezzi, who said the cross country captain is most deserving of the Athlete of the Week honor.

“Jason has led the boys cross country team to a 4-1 start in the SEC Liberty Division in the last two weeks of competition,” Palmerezzi said. “He is a very dependable captain who is a role model for the underclassmen cross country runners. His hard work ethic has paid off. I have seen much improvement in his running, both increased mileage and in leading track workouts.”

Although the season is just beginning, Siegelin said the highlight so far has been beating Cedar Grove and East Orange at the second meet of the season. Despite hot weather and difficult conditions, the men put in their best efforts and came out with impressive times.

It is conditions like those that push Siegelin and his fellow runners to work even harder and love the sport even more.

“I love cross country because it is a true test of mental and physical strength,” Siegelin said. “There are no timeouts and no excuses that any runner can make. We have to find the strength to persevere and face every obstacle, whether that is pain, fatigue or anything else, head-on.”