With no sectional championship meet to break the monotony of post-superstorm Sandy training last Saturday, St. John Vianney girls cross country Rich Agnello took his team to Holmdel Park for a 2-mile time trial at race pace.
Agnello and his top two runners, juniors Tara Connelly and Courtney Thompson all thought the time trial went well heading into Saturday’s NJSIAA Group Championships back on Holmdel Park’s vaunted state championship course.
Despite a long layoff from racing, the time trial was merely a prelude to what Connelly and Thompson were able to do on Saturday.
Connelly, who had never run faster than 19:08 at Holmdel Park, came cruising out of the backwoods on Saturday morning and comfortably won Non-Public A in a monster personal best of 18:40. Thompson, who had finished ahead of Connelly at the Monmouth County and Shore Conference Championships earlier this season, stayed up for second in 19:01.
“I definitely had to work in those backwoods because you never know what’s coming up behind you,” Connelly said. “We push each other all the time. Practice, races, she’s pushing me, I’m pushing her. Knowing it’s your teammate is tough, but if it wasn’t going to be me winning, it would’ve been my teammate.”
Connelly and Thompson were joined by Bishop Ahr junior Rachel Belmont going up the hill towards the top of ‘the bowl.’ Connelly finally created some separation from the other two going into the last mile before pulling away for the win. Thompson dropped Belmont at that point in an effort to make up time on her teammate.
“At the 2-mile is really when she found another gear it seemed like,” said Thompson, the Monmouth County champion and Shore Conference runner-up. “I was just trying to go with her, but my legs were heavy going down those last hills and my footing was off. It wasn’t as good as I wanted, but I’m not going to complain.”
St. John Vianney’s 1-2 finish helped it eke out a third-place team finish with 120 points and a spot in Wednesday’s Meet of Champions as a team.
Red Bank Catholic, which was bidding for a third straight Non-Public A title and a state-record 17th overall, was stunned by Mount St. Dominic, 51-57. For the Lions, it is their first state title after finishing a close second each of the last two years in Non-Public B.
For the Caseys, sophomore Eryn Mills finished fifth among scoring teams in 19:40, while sophomore MaryKate McNamara was eighth in 19:49 to pace a 5-8-10-15-19 showing. The Caseys’ team average was a respectable 20:07 with a 57-second spread.
In Group II, defending Meet of Champions winner Rumson-Fair Haven is through to Wednesday’s MOC after finishing third 115 points. Junior Jackie Gottuso finished 12th in the 19:40 for the Bulldogs.
That race was won by perennial state heavyweight Voorhees with just 34 points after a 2-3-5-9-15 finish. The Vikings, who registered the best team average of the day at 19:17.20, are the favorite on Wednesday with Group IV winner Hillsborough (64 points, 19:28.20 team average) looking like the biggest threat.