Dan Romano has been the front-runner for the boys’ cross-country team at Mansfield High since his breakout season last fall, as a sophomore. But he continues to work through one small issue: flat feet.
He sports a $90 pair of light blue Saucony shoes with neon green laces, recommended to him by workers at the local Marathon Sports store. There is no support in the arch of the shoe, which isn’t typically good for flat feet, but in his case, it helps his comfort and performance.
“Last cross-county season I had some shin problems because my feet are legit flat,” Romano said. “I started running in a more minimalist shoe, and I haven’t had any issues since. There’s less of a heel to it, it’s a 4-millimeter heel drop instead of 12.”
He has steadily matured as a runner and was the top overall finisher at the Ocean State Invitational in Warwick, R.I., on Sept. 28.
Romano came to the sport via track after quitting baseball his freshman year. His coach, Julie Collins, a 13-year veteran at the helm of the Hornets boys’ track team, has also fronted the cross-country squad for 10 years. She recruited Romano for the latter.
Collins concedes that initially Romano did not showcase anything special in track, but his potential emerged as he continued to work. She also made sure to “nurse” his foot condition by avoiding damage by overuse.
“You gotta watch out for Danny Romano,” Collins said. “And I don’t want to warn the whole state, but this kid is the real deal. All the good coaches in the state already know it. He is in the best shape of his life.”
Romano said cross-country is perfect for him because the mentality it requires suits his personality: The mantra that hard work will yield successful results, as well as the fact that he is in control of his own destiny.
He does not need music or any other outside influence for motivation because the running experience, along with the camaraderie of the team, are enough to get him into the zone.
Senior captains Val Madonna-Lendvai and Mike Yang have enhanced the sense of family to the point where teammates refer to them affectionately as the “team dad and team mom.”
Madonna-Lendvai harps on runners to get enough sleep, eat well, and keep on task both inside and outside the classroom.
He also implemented a change in preparation: The Hornets have escalated their speed and have limited their workouts in the woods.
“This year we switched it up a little bit,” Madonna-Lendvai said. “We stayed on the roads, tended to go a lot faster. We went 7:30 pace [per mile] for long-distance runs, this year we go around 6:45 to 6:20 pace. That just really helped build aerobic fitness, especially in preseason.”
He said the impetus for introducing a high-octane workout was seeing graduates move on to popular running schools like Rhodes College (Conor Monks), Villanova (Josh Lampron) and the University of New Hampshire (Brendan McCarthy) and the hope that he and his teammates could follow in their footsteps.
Yang added that as a captain, he has seen the benefits of giving teammates a little push to help them focus and improve. A captain, he said, must be an active, dedicated and mentally tough leader.
Still, luckily, he said, there are leaders and hard workers on the roster beyond the three captains.
“I think that’s one of the great things about being on a team,” Yang said. “You always have people like that. I just had one of the hardest workouts of my life today and it took a very long time.”
The team had skipped last weekend’s workout to ensure it had fresh bodies for Saturday’s Hockomock league championship meet.
But the larger goal lies two weeks down the road at divisionals, then the state championship in mid-November. Romano said the Hornets have been practicing at the divisonals course in Wrentham so they will be familiar with the layout.
“I’m very excited,” Romano said. “I just go out there, have fun, and run.”
Twins battle for No. 2 spot
Sophomore twins Kacie and Kelly Higgins are tackling the trails together for the first time this fall at Weymouth High.
Kacie was the No. 2 runner behind Ashley Betts last fall, while Kelly played soccer. They did run track together last spring. Betts, a junior, is still the leader, but Kelly is giving Kacie a battle for the second spot.
“Last year she wasn’t on the team because she played soccer,” said Kacie. “I liked it, it was a chance to get away from her because we’ve always been on the same team. This year, I don’t like that she’s been beating me, but it’s good that she helps our team.”
Previously, all three ran for the Hingham-based South Shore Fireboltz. Their chemistry was evident in the Twilight meet last Saturday in Barnstable: They each finished the course in under 19:50.
Coach Mike Miller said a “pack mentality” has emerged among the teammates during races because they end up with similar times.
“That group has been better than we could’ve expected,” Miller said in reference to his top three, along with senior Katie Leahy. “They all just work really hard and that’s what it comes down to.”
Pembroke boys have another perfect season
The Pembroke boys wrapped up the regular season at 7-0 for their sixth straight undefeated campaign under coach Greg Zopatti.
Zopatti has led the Titans to two nationals appearances, three all-state championships and helped them claim five consecutive divisional titles in nine years.
“Not a lot of people consider running a team sport,” Zopatti said “But we do here.”
Senior captains John Valeri and Christian Stafford have been interchangeable at the No. 1 and No. 2 racing positions at dual meets, but Stafford has taken the lead at Invitationals.
Valeri said the program showed it could compete by winning last Saturday’s Twilight meet in Barnstable. Pembroke’s top seven runners won the big-schools division, while the next seven placed second among small-school teams.
“I feel extremely fortunate to be a part of such an amazing program,” Valeri said. “We’re going into the state season with confidence.”