Tyler Fu has shown every indication that he can be the latest Princeton High runner to make the big jump to the front of the pack.
Fu seemed on his way to confirming just that at the Mercer County Cross-Country Championship meet before he rolled his ankle about two miles into the race.
The sophomore managed to fight through the pain and still finished 36th overall, helping Princeton to a fourth-place finish as a team.
“When I was in the middle of running it and as long as I had my eyes on Jackson (McCarthy) and Tucker (Zullo) I felt good,” said Fu, who finished in 17 minutes, 27 seconds in the race at Washington Crossing Park in Pennsylvania on Oct. 19. “I felt confident and my mind was in the right state of mind. I am the kind of runner who feels a lot better in a race than when I start it. I tend to feel pretty nauseous before a race. But once I am in it and once the adrenaline gets going I start to feel a lot better.”
Zullo finished fifth in 16:12 and McCarthy placed sixth in 16:14 to lead the way for Princeton. Sophomore Jacob Bornstein was right behind Fu, finishing 39th in 17:29. The Little Tigers’ fifth finisher was junior Nick Trenholm, who was 47th in 17:43.
West Windsor-Plainsboro South won the team title with 53 points, while West Windsor-Plainsboro North placed second with 93 and Hopewell Valley finished with 98. Princeton finished with 133 points. The Hun School finished 11th and Princeton Day School came in 15th.
“Tyler has been running under the radar. No one has really been keeping an eye on him,” Princeton coach Jim Smirk said. “I think he was a little disappointed in his day. I think his disappointment is that ‘I can’t wait until that next step.’ He is being a little impatient there. He is supposed to be impatient, these guys want to run great. As a staff and as a team we are thrilled with the emergence of Tyler Fu. He has been strong, aggressive, fast. He is doing all of the right things and we are glad that he is making that step forward.
“He is a guy that if anybody asked six months ago who he was, I am not sure that anybody would know and that is what you want to see, kids take those steps forward and proving to themselves that they can be valuable in a team setting.”
Had Fu not been slowed over the final mile by the rolled ankle he was poised for a finish near the top 20.
“I kept (Zullo and McCarthy) in my sights and was feeling really good all the way up until when I rolled my ankle,” Fu said. “That was the thing that killed my race. I had a good amount of time to go. I was still in a tactical mindset. I was thinking who can I pass and how can I get more spots? So when it hit me, when i rolled my ankle, I felt like I got shot. Time seemed to slow down and i knew in my head i registered there goes my race and that was pretty depressing.”
Although Fu finished further back than he had hoped, he seems primed to be a big part of the Princeton lineup when the state sectionals are held Nov. 3 at Thompson Park in Jamesburg. Smirk felt like the Mercer meet helped answer some of the questions he had about his team heading into the meet.
“We solved a lot of question marks for us,” Smirk said. “Tucker won his first invitational last week at Thompson Park in the Fall Classic. That is his first major win. I think that gave him some confidence and then coming here today and executing the way he did just builds on that.
“I do have to give a little shout out to our number four man, Jacob Bornstein. He is a sophomore and he doesn’t want anyone to know but he is 78 pounds of superhuman. We have a nickname for him, 'the woobi', because when everything else goes crazy he is in there and he just settles us down. It is amazing that a kid who is a sophomore can contribute that way and really quiet down the nerves and just do good.”
With Bornstein improving and Fu making big strides, Princeton could be poised for a strong performance in the Central Jersey Group IV meet.
“This season was probably the most stable progression I have had,” Fu said. “I see myself progressively getting better in terms of my times and my place. I have been bouncing ideas off my teammates and it is just about getting a lot of feedback and passing it around and learning how to fine-tune myself into the best runner I can be.”
Hun was led by the 20th-place finish of senior Martin Adams, who ran an impressive 16:55. Freshman Harry Carter finished 52nd in 17:48, while the next three runners for the Raiders were Laim Kelso (69th), Jack Bristol (86th), and Andy Deng (97th).
Princeton Day was led by sophomore Gunnar Klingman, who was 49th in 17:44. Junior Kevin Dougherty finished 50th in 17:45. The next three runners for PDS were George Ma (99th), Tharun Potluri (111th), and Justin Mortman (117th).