Everything changed for Callia Cordasco when she joined the indoor track and field team at High School North.
Cordasco was a freshman coming off playing on the freshman field hockey team when she signed up for indoor track. She had participated in track in middle school, but hadn’t been a part of anything like what she found with the high school program. Practices started with inspirational stories from coaches Brian Gould and Matt Warren.
She said she was excited hearing about the accomplishments from the past. “I was amazing that our program had done that much and I had the opportunity to be a part of it,” Cordasco said. “I didn’t want to let my teammates and my coaches down knowing that’s what they could do with any average athlete.”
Cordasco never went back to field hockey or any other sport. She made the switch to year-round running right then and there.
“Once I started winter track it was like, ‘this is 100 percent for me,’” she said. “The program’s amazing. I love all my teammates. It was the perfect place for me.”
Cordasco’s affinity for running has climbed each year since, even after sustaining a stress fracture that ended her sophomore season of cross country. It was a sudden end after an incredible summer of training, but Cordasco put a spin on her tough luck.
“There was nothing I could contribute to the team,” Cordasco said. “The only thing I could contribute was to the spirit and culture. That’s really what I dove into, and it helped me lead the team in my junior and senior years.”
Now a senior, Cordasco has fine-tuned her training to stay healthy. As she has gotten more invested in her training, it’s transformed her lifestyle.
“I’m really into nutrition,” Cordasco said. “I like trying new plant-based recipes and cooking things with veggies and fruits. I’m not completely on a vegan or vegetarian diet, but I’m trying to move closer to it, because I think it’s the next step for me to take to help the environment.”
Friends and family are important to Cordasco. She loves to care for and walk her dog, Chewy. She is also a self-described wanna-be chef.
“Running brought me into that,” Cordasco said. “I knew I needed to eat healthier. At that point, it wasn’t my competition that motivated me. I would look at really fast girls’ Instagrams, and they’d have food Instagrams, and they’d post what they’re eating. If they’re eating this, I thought I should eat this. I ended up mimicking their diet or lifestyle.”
Cordasco bought cookbooks and scrolled through the Internet looking for ways to eat better. She has tried to mimic the habits of successful runners.
Four years after discovering her love for running, Cordasco leads the best girls cross country team in North history. With every race, the Knights snap school records and achieve new milestones. The Knights placed second at the Mercer County Championships—the team’s highest finish ever, thanks to edging High School South and Princeton High.
At the Central Jersey Group III championships, North’s improvements were even more remarkable. They finished just a point behind Mercer County champion Allentown to take third place, their best finish at sectionals ever, and their times were eye-opening. The Knights averaged 20:29 in their first five finishers—Cordasco, Salini Iyer, Etsub Gezahagne, Laura Liao and Rhythm Satav. Manya Sood and Marie Fanta rounded out their top seven in 40th and 41st. Last year, Cordasco was their top finisher at sectionals in 20:52.
“There’s been tremendous growth,” said Gould, the head coach of the boys cross country team who coaches North distance runners year-round. “Statistically it looks like overachieving. It surprised me finishing second in the county, giving Allentown a really, really good run and just falling short of second place at sectionals. But knowing the personality of the girls and seeing them every day at practice, it’s not a surprise in the moment to see how successful they are because I’ve seen the journey and the entire process.”
Cordasco dropped almost two minutes from a year ago at sectionals. She ran 18:57 to finish second overall, two seconds behind Colts Neck’s Lilly Shapiro. They were neck and neck coming into the final 200 meters.
“I was pretty disappointed at the end,” Cordasco said. “Lilly Shapiro is an amazing athlete and honestly at sectionals we were just trying to get our team to groups and give our team enough confidence going into groups with Meet of Champs in mind, not just going to groups with the mindset that we made it here. We want to do something at groups.”
The top two teams in Group III automatically qualify for the Meet of Champions plus the next eight fastest teams across all groups. Since the summer, the Knights have been aiming to make the MOC. To get there has taken a new approach.
“Something that’s been really important to us is switching our mindsets from a time goal or place goal to more of an effort goal,” Cordasco explained. “Right now we’re looking at every race as an opportunity to leave it all on the course. We want to go out there and run our hearts out instead of thinking about a time and that being our motivation.”
Cordasco also had to embrace being a cross country runner. She has had plenty of success on the track, but after missing her sophomore year of cross country and even through a solid junior year of cross country, she kept thinking she was using the fall to prepare for track. Her thinking started to change during summer camp when North alumna Simone Counts talked to the team about letting go in races.
“At that moment, I still was telling myself I wasn’t a cross country runner, and then Coach Gould started to talk to us more about effort goals and not time goals,” Cordasco said.
“I finally let go at Shore Coaches and me and Salini just took off in the front, and didn’t think about anyone else running, and we did our own thing. I think that’s when I realized what she meant by let go,” she said.
Cordasco and the Knights have been on a record-setting tear since then. Cordasco set the fastest 4k time in school history this year at the Manhattan High School Invitational and is only 21 seconds off the fastest 5k time in school history.
“In middle school, I wasn’t thinking about goals I wanted or how high I wanted to finish or where I wanted my middle school team to be,” Cordasco said. “It’s cool to look at going from not having a perspective on how I want my team to be in middle school to now wanting my team to be ranked in the state and place high at NXR.”
Nike Cross Northeast Regionals were scheduled for Nov. 30 in Wappinger Falls, N.Y. Cordasco was excited to be a part of the first full North girls team at regionals.
Cordasco will continue to compete next year for her dream school, American University. She looks forward to returning to North to tell the story of her transformation and emergence into one of the school’s best ever.
“Now I can’t go to bed without running,” Cordasco said. “It’s something I need to survive at this point.”