There’s very little that can knock Greg McGuire and Marleigh Puglia off stride.
The two standout runners for Schalick High School were poised to cross the finish line of their scholastic careers this month, chasing dreams of a state title and qualifying for the season’s biggest venue, the Meet of Champions.
However, the coronavirus pandemic delivered an unexpected detour.
After years of running against the clock, time had run out before either harrier could even hit the track.
“It’s disappointing because we all have goals we wanted to reach and we didn’t get the chance to achieve them,” said McGuire, who was on pace to compete at this weekend’s state championships.
“We were working hard to get to this point and it’s devastating that we can’t finish it,” said Puglia, who was a member of Schalick’s two-time defending state champion 4×800 relay team.
McGuire established himself as one of the top 800-meter runners in South Jersey, entering the spring season as the owner of five consecutive sectional titles, including three outdoor titles. He won last year’s 800 in a personal-best time of 1:57.07.
That success was leading up to what should have been some impressive final laps for the senior.
“Everything you do builds toward senior year and Greg was on his way for a big season; the sky was the limit for him,” Schalick coach Justin Franzwa said. “He had a lot of goals I believe were within reach.
“I was sending him workouts to do (in March and April), and he was sending me his logs and pace sheets. Everything was looking great. It kills me that he didn’t get one last chance to compete.”
After another standout indoor season that included a second place finish at the state meet, McGuire set his sights on his biggest challenge, breaking Cosmo Pirozzi’s school record in the 800 (1.55.34) set in 2016.
“That was the No. 1 goal,” said McGuire, who also ran a PR 4:32.25 in the 1,600 last spring. “I finally went sub-2 indoor and I was feeling stronger and stronger, especially as workouts for the outdoor season started.”
McGuire was poised to defend his sectional titles, make a run at a state championship and earn a trip to the Meet of Champions, something he was able to accomplish in indoor but had eluded him in outdoor.
“Greg definitely ranks as one of our best distance runners of all-time,” said Schalick coach Steve Pierangeli, who has been involved with the running programs at the school for close to four decades. “He has the awards and was a focused, dedicated runner here.”
McGuire’s athletic ability wasn’t limited to running on the track.
He utilized his speed in football where he was a defensive back/wide receiver for his two years in high school. He would employ his stamina in soccer for his final two years, helping the Cougars win a Tri-County Conference title in 2019 and was an all-conference selection last fall.
McGuire can also swing the sticks. He works part time at Centerton Golf Club and has shot an 84 for a low score.
While his coaches tried to get him out for cross country many times, McGuire looked at the fall as a chance to play something else and stay away from potentially “burning out” on running.
Puglia parlayed her skills into success in cross country and track. In the fall, she was the Group 1 sectional champion in 2017. After a hip flexor injury hindered her junior season, she was a captain on the sectional team champions in November.
Puglia’s growth in the sport and the classroom was measured in huge strides.
“She’s one of a kind,” Schalick coach Melissa Pine said. “She’s a very hard-working young lady, whether it’s on the track or in the classroom. It’s been neat to watch the progress she’s made in both areas and watch her grow. She’s a great student and just loves to run.”
Puglia points to her sectional title as the highlight of her scholastic career.
“It was one of the biggest days of my life so far,” she said. “It was one of those big ‘Wow’ moments. When I crossed the finish line, I felt like I got to my goal and that’s an incredible feeling.”
Franzwa said Puglia’s strategy for running was simple:
“She just attacked it,” he said. “She’d just say she was going to win that day. She wasn’t being cocky about it, it was just the way she thought about it going into that race that day.”
More goals would be achieved in track as Puglia teamed with Amanda Chomo, Julia Smith and Chloe Gerstenbacher to win the 4×800 state title in 2018. Last spring, the quartet, with Amy Chomo replacing her sister, successfully defended their title.
While both runners deal with the disappointment of having their scholastic careers cut short, they won’t stop running any time soon. Both will compete in cross country and track at the collegiate level.
McGuire, who applied for the U.S> Naval Academy and says he’s currently on the waiting list, will attend Central Connecticut State in the fall where he plans to study civil engineering. He’s already started the college experience, beginning his workouts for his new running program this week.
Puglia recently committed to attend Rowan College at Gloucester County and run both cross country and track while studying in the health science field.
While both runners didn’t get a chance to finish what they started at Schalick, their accomplishments have given future generations something to strive for.
Tom McGurk is a regional sports reporter for the Courier-Post and The Daily Journal, covering South Jersey sports for over 30 years. If you have a sports story that needs to be told, contact him at (856) 486-2420 or email email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @McGurkSports. Help support local journalism with a Courier-Post subscription.