The senior standout has been an integral part of the Friars' journey toward becoming one of the top cross-country teams in the state. He and his teammates have pushed and, at times, clawed their way over the last four years. That work, however, has St. Anthony's in prime position to fulfill Brancaccio's observation about where this team is headed.
"The main goal for us come championship season is to win the Federation Meet," Brancaccio, 17, said. "Beyond the Federation Meet, we want to make as much noise as we can at Nationals. I don't want to place too many expectations or limitations on us; I just want to see how fast we can get. We definitely have a shot at it. The mentality and the fitness are all there so we really do have a shot at it."
"We are all really close [as a team]. I've just been reminding everyone what the goals are. All the seniors have taken the [leadership] role in their own way. We're leading by example. Us being so close as a group has really helped us out."
The tight-knit atmosphere that has been fostered at St. Anthony's has been a huge contributing factor to the Friars' early success this season. They won the Regis Invitational's Division B title on Sept. 17 at Van Cortland Park, easily outdistancing second-place Xavier. The Friars had six top-10 finishes led by Brancaccio, who took second in a personal-best time of 13:08.20 on the 4,000-meter course.
That effort came on the heels of a Sept. 10 victory at The PTXC13 in Kutztown, Pa. St. Anthony's took the top spot by a wide margin, outpacing second-place Cumberland Valley. The Friars placed five in the top-10 on the 5,000-meter Farm Course. Brancaccio placed second with a personal-best time of 16:20.80 for that distance.
It hasn't just been Brancaccio, though. Sean Dearie, Jack Morelli and Regan Macpherson all had a strong first two weeks. So, the team victories validated the kind of work Brancaccio and his teammates put in over the summer following a disappointing end to the 2021 cross country season. Brancaccio missed the Federation meet because of Covid.
"Last year, the team made it to the Federation Meet after an okay Intersectionals," Brancaccio said. "We did good for the situation we had. I wasn't racing. I got Covid right after the league championships. And, before I knew I had Covid, I raced in the Intersectionals and after that I definitely knew I had Covid. We made the Feds, though, so that was something.
"Last week [in Kutztown] it was just kind of a reassurance of the work that we put in over the summer," Brancaccio said. "We have a good solid base to work off of. I felt good. I had a couple of little regrets; maybe I should have pushed a little harder here or there. But I did run a good race for the first time out and to have the team do as well as it did, especially in a bigger race, is great."
Brancaccio has gotten adept at dealing with adversity, though. Covid is just one issue with which he has dealt over the course of the last year. He suffered a severely sprained ankle in the spring that limited him during the championship part of the schedule.
"I started running with confidence and enjoying running more than worrying about expectations [last winter] at Nationals," said Brancaccio, who remains undecided as to where he will attend college. "And that carried right through the spring. I had a good steeple at The Loucks Games [placing sixth] but I sprained my ankle right after that at our league championships.
"I had two bone contusions and I was in a lot of pain. Mentally, that was tough to get through. I ran on a sprained ankle in the Intersectionals and the State Championships. That carried over into the summer by I think because of that I am more mentally prepared for this season than I have been for any season so far."
Brancaccio entered the summer with the belief that if he and the team trained properly, they would enter the season they would have success. That belief has translated into a strong start to the season, both on a personal and a team level. Now, it's just a matter of seeing it through to the end.
"It just showed how bad we wanted it and how we are going to get there," Brancaccio said.
It's a Federation title or bust. Brancaccio expects nothing less.