The Rumson-Fair Haven girls cross country team, a Shore Conference public school program without much history once the calendar turns to November, winning last fall’s NJSIAA Meet of Champions for the first time is nothing short of impressive by itself.
The backstory behind this group and how it almost never came to be makes winning every title in sight last fall even more impressive.
The way Bulldogs co-head coach Tim McLoone tells it, then-junior Rachel Christ was an average runner and didn’t do particularly well as a sophomore. She spoke of not running at all as a junior, but finally decided to give it a go in late August. Her racing last fall told the rest of the story.
Individual titles at the Monmouth County and NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II Championships, a runner-up showing at Shore Conference and a fifth-place finish at Group II all led up to a ninth-place finish at the MOC in 18:35 to help the Bulldogs win the MOC with 126 points.
All of that led to Christ being named the 2011 Asbury Park Press Runner of the Year. Not bad for a girl who seemed ready to give up the sport.
“She reeled off about eight straight really great races to close the season. She was outstanding,” McLoone said of his No. 1 runner. “She trained herself to a great degree and she has that determination and focus that all the great runners have. Once she was aboard last year, she was determined she was going to do it.”
With Christ leading the way last fall, Rumson flew under the radar at the start as it began the season unranked. The Bulldogs rode that notion to team titles at all five championship meets last fall, but the days of little notoriety are over.
Christ is one of five returners for McLoone co-head coach Henry Mercer and the bar is now raised. The same great depth at the fourth, fifth and sixth spots also appear to be there for McLoone and Mercer, but there is one depth problem as the season gets under way.
Sophomore Hannah Anderson, who was a key scorer as a freshman, has been injured of late, is just now getting back into training and according to McLoone, may not race this fall.
Anderson’s prognosis heading into October and November is still up in the air, but what isn’t a mystery is that Rumson is now the hunted thanks to the MOC win. With what’s coming back, it’s not unreasonable to think the Bulldogs could win the MOC again.
The usefulness of preseason polls is debatable, but for the record, Rumson is the consensus top-ranked team in Monmouth County and the Shore Conference and is among the top 2-3 in the state in several statewide polls.
On paper, the season could come down to showdowns at Group II and the MOC between Rumson and perennial MOC threat Voorhees, which has won eight state group titles in the past 12 years and begins this fall ranked in the top 25 in multiple national polls.
“We feel we have a shot and our goal is to get seven girls under 20:00 at Holmdel,” McLoone said. “That should be our goal. If we put seven under 20 and someone beats us, that other team had a tremendous day.”
“We can’t control the other schools do. It was an unusual year last year because no one got hurt and I I feel like no one else had a fifth girl. That was unusual and I’m not sure it will happen again. In any case, let’s just control what we can control. If someone is going to have a legendary year, we can’t do anything about it.”