There is winning, and then there is winning big-time.
For Rachel Belmont and the Old Bridge High School girls cross country program, the latter applied at Saturday’s Greater Middlesex Conference Championships.
Belmont smashed the meet record with a time of 18:38, helping the Knights to dethrone three-time defending champ Metuchen for their first county crown since 2005.
“To see not only me win, but my team win, is the greatest thing in the world,” Belmont said. “I’m so proud of everyone. I hope it inspires the freshmen and the underclassmen to carry this on.”
Belmont is no stranger to the winner’s circle; she placed first at this meet last fall. But then she was a student at Bishop Ahr, and her winning time of 19:05, while good, did not threaten the record books. On Saturday her 3.1-mile clocking of 18:38 smashed the meet standard of 18:58 set by Bishop Ahr’s Angelica Brinkofski in 2008.
Metuchen sophomore Rachel Suss finished second in 19:30.
“I was just so happy with that time,” Belmont said. “Coming into today my goal was to get into the 18:30s.”
A different strategy did the trick. Heeding advice from former Old Bridge boys GMC champion Travis Mahoney, who became a collegiate All-American at Temple, Belmont set a conservative pace early before turning on the gas in the second mile. It was the same tactic she employed in a 5,000-meter workout on the track Tuesday, which incredibly timed an identical 18:38.
“That workout gave me confidence for today,” Belmont said. “I was like, ‘OK, I don’t need to go out in a 5:40 first mile. I can go out slow and still run a fast time.’ Cross country is all about being progressive and smart. This is probably one of the only smart races I ever ran in cross country. I usually just go for it from the start.”
Her teammates were just as poised. Senior Shanna O’Mara (third place, 19:45), junior Alyssa Kramer (ninth, 20:32), sophomore Michelle Sech (16th, 20:53) and freshman Allie Hussey (17th, 20:59) tallied 46 points and a 20:09 average. Runner-up J.P. Stevens scored 104 points, followed by South Brunswick (119) and Metuchen (128).
“This is exactly what we hoped to do,” Old Bridge coach Steve Gajewski said. “We thought we could do it. They worked really hard all summer, worked hard all fall. They did the work and they were rewarded for it today.”
It was a gut-check race for Kramer, who had been sidelined by a hip injury and only resumed running last Monday.
“Everyone did their thing that they had to do, and I did what I had to do,” Kramer said. “I’m very proud of to be part of a winning team.”
TEAM SCORES: 1. Old Bridge 46; 2. J.P. Stevens 104; 3. South Brunswick 119; 4. Metuchen 128; 5. East Brunswick 140; 6. Woodbridge 152; 7. Edison 202; 8. North Brunswick 242; 9. Middlesex 264; 10. John F. Kennedy 336; 11. Highland Park 347; 12. Bishop Ahr 350; 13. Spotswood 351; 14. South Plainfield 353; 15. Monroe 368; 16. Dunellen 369; 17. Cardinal McCarrick 426; 18. Perth Amboy 459; 19. Colonia 470.
TOP INDIVIDUALS: 1. Rachel Belmont (Old Bridge) 18:38; 2. Rachel Suss (Metuchen) 19:30; 3. Shanna O’Mara (Old Bridge) 19:45; 4. Dianne Ferraro (South Plainfield) 20:02; 5. Jennifer Salvatore (North Brunswick) 20:04; 6. Sarah Frost (East Brunswick) 20:08; 7. Brianna Davis (Metuchen) 20:21; 8. Renee Osma (Edison) 20:25; 9. Alyssa Kramer (Old Bridge) 20:32; 10. Jeneia Rios (Woodbridge) 20:40; 11. Zenzali Lael (South Brunswick) 20:41; 12. Elizabeth Chiu (J.P. Stevens) 20:41; 13. Ashleigh Anderson (J.P. Stevens) 20:42; 14. Kimberley Campbell (Woodbridge) 20:47; 15. Elisa Meranchik (South Brunswick) 20:48; 16. Michelle Sech (Old Bridge) 20:53; 17. Allie Hussey (Old Bridge) 20:59; 18. Karen Done (Perth Amboy) 21:00; 19. Brillian Bao (J.P. Stevens) 21:01; 20. Christine Belbey (John F. Kennedy) 21:01; 21. Jessi Clark (Middlesex) 21:02; 22. Niaomi McGarrell (Edison) 21:06; 23. Annalyse Varlow (South Brunswick) 21:08; 24. Stephanie Lu (Old Bridge) 21:10; 25. Reggie Ramekar (J.P. Stevens) 21:17.