Given its illustrious history, the Old Bridge High School boys cross country program is hard-pressed to break new ground. But on Saturday the Knights achieved a first — and a second and a third — at the Greater Middlesex Conference Championships.
Seniors Nick Price, Sam Habib and Taylor Casserly garnered the top three places to lead Old Bridge to their seventh straight team title. It is believed to be the first 1-2-3 sweep in the history of the meet, which dates back to 1985.
“It’s awesome because Old Bridge has had some amazing teams,” said Price, who broke the tape, covering Thompson Park’s 3.1-mile course in a time of 16:19. “With that we’ve kind of set ourselves apart from the other guys.”
Since Cedar Ridge and Madison Central were merged to form Old Bridge in 1994, the Knights have won this meet 14 times in 18 years. Before that Cedar Ridge won eight straight from 1986-93. The coach of both of those dynasties, Rich Gebauer, has seen it all — but nothing quite like this.
“That’s never happened before, not 1-2-3,” he said. “Any of those kids could be considered county champ when you think about it.”
Gebauer had a feeling his team would excel after it dominated the Fall Classic here two weeks ago. Habib edged Price by five seconds to win that one. The roles were reversed here, with Price pulling away over the final quarter-mile to best his fellow senior by one second.
“At the beginning of the hill (in the final mile), Nick was a little bit ahead of me,” Habib said. “Once he saw me and we were next to each other it was like, ‘OK, time to go,’ and we both picked it up. Nick seeing me there really helped him push but he did all the work. I’m really impressed with him.”
Price, who had never won anything beyond a dual meet, said it was “rough” to have to beat out Habib for the gold but added, “We both wanted it real bad.”
After their homestretch dual, the fast-closing Casserly flew third home in 16:27.
“It’s really crazy,” Price said of the sweep. “We knew we could do it, though.”
Rounding out the scoring for Old Bridge were senior Ryan Colon (sixth place, 16:35) and sophomore Mike Milazzo (13th, 16:58). The Knights posted 25 points, which Gebauer said it’s the second-lowest score at the GMC meet in program history. Their average time of 16:32 indicates they will be a major factor in next week’s NJSIAA Central Group IV race here and the state Group IV meet at Holmdel Park Nov. 10.
“Being together in that one front pack helps us get through the race,” Casserly said. “When we’re coming in and we see each other, we know we’re in good position.”
J.P. Stevens was the surprise runner-up with 83 points. Freshman Robert Catinello (ninth, 16:45) led a group that included junior Panth Patel (16th, 17:06), sophomore Daniel Galarza (18th, 17:08), junior Mark Cooke (19th, 17:09) and senior Parag Bapna (21st, 17:10). The Hawks averaged 17:03. This marks their highest finish ever at the GMCs.
This was Old Bridge’s meet, however. It usually is, but not quite to this degree.
“This is our place, this is our course,” Casserly said. “Our legacy here has been tremendous.”