WESTFIELD, NJ — Zachary Spergel finished the 5-kilometer race first, leading the varsity cross-country team to the Watchung Division Championship of the Union County Conference.

His 16:33 time at the race in Clark Oct. 17 was the third fastest overall of the meet. Spergel, an 18-year-old Westfield High School senior, is this week’s Ron Bansky and Associates Allstate Westfield Athlete of the Week.

Coach Christopher Tafelski said the team’s plan was to race hard in preparation for more demanding competition ahead, and Spergel delivered.

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“Those races will require us to establish a good early position in order to secure places we need to perform well as a team,” Tafelski said. “The windy conditions last Thursday added an extra level of challenge, but Zach was undeterred. This is a big step forward for Zach, who has been much more comfortable going out more conservatively and methodically advancing his position over the course of the race.”

Spergel said the cross-country team is strong this year with a significant group of runners returning from last year. It showed at the meet.

“The conference meet was good for us,” he said. “We went out there with a strong group of guys and went away with the top two spots.”

Spergel, who also runs winter and spring track, said the best part of running cross-country is the sportsmanship.

“It’s the guys on the team,” he said. “It’s a great group of people. We enjoy training together and running together every day. It’s what makes the experience special.”

The team heads into the county meet at Warinanco Park next Tuesday.

While running is time-consuming, Spergel said, he still finds time to participate in the high school’s Environmental Conservation Club. His favorite subjects are chemistry and math, said Spergel, who is applying to colleges.

Tafelski described Spergel’s embracing a change in his approach to running as something the senior's younger teammates can model.

“Zach has embraced the challenge of trying a new approach to racing, and it paid off nicely last Thursday,” Tafelski said. “It’s a great example for his younger teammates that succeeding means trying something that feels extra difficult or even risky.”

Email Staff Writer Matt Kadosh at mkadosh@tapinto.net; Follow him on Twitter: @MattKadosh

The Allstate Westfield Athlete of the Week is sponsored by Ron Bansky & Associates Allstate Agency. Located 502 East Broad St., the agency has been protecting local families and business owners for over 19 years. Call them at 908-301-0711 for a new auto, home or life insurance quote this week and if you mention the Allstate WHS Athlete of the Week they will make a $25 contribution to the Westfield Boosters Association! To learn more, visit ronbansky.com.