The ever-expanding legacy the Christian Brothers Academy cross country program has been built on an abundance of things, but one thing every follower of the sport in the state of New Jersey will come back to is names.
John Coyle, Brian Kerwin, Matt Mitchell, Chris Bennett, John McCabe, Will Melofchik and on and on the list of Colts goes. Forty years of largely-uninterrupted dominance will always come back to the names.
Those names belong to just a few of the numerous all-time runners at the Lincroft school. They were part of dominant teams in their own right, having won county, Shore Conference and at least one of CBA’s state-record 18 NJSIAA Meet of Champions crowns.
All of those guys will surely agree on two things though. What they accomplished in high school pales in comparison to what current Colts squads are doing and right now is the golden age of CBA cross country, despite everything that came before.
“I think without a doubt, this is the golden age and I think the alumni would agree,” said Bennett, a 1994 graduate who now teaches at CBA and serves as an assistant to longtime head coach Tom Heath. “The one guy there for all of it, Heath, he would tell you the same thing. What they’ve accomplished the last 4-5 years is remarkable. Speaking as someone who used to wear the jersey, these kids have completely shattered the standard that guys of my era and even before me set.”
The latest example of CBA standards being shattered came on Oct. 24 when this current Mike McClemens-led Colts team averaged 15:03.79 to win the Shore Conference meet at Ocean County Park. That five-man average is the fastest ever in New Jersey, regardless of the course, and No. 2 all-time in the United States.
Four runners, including winner McClemens and fourth-place finisher Blaise Ferro, a promising Colts sophomore, went sub-15:00. That feat was once considered impossible.
“My senior year, I was first-team all-state and I would’ve been 15th at Shore Conference,” Bennett said incredulously. “At the end of the day there is no comparison between the two eras and that’s a testament to these kids. What you put in is what you get out. Kids are training smarter and harder than the teams before them. It’s a give and take and these kids are really standing on the shoulders of those before them.”
That Shore Conference win came nearly a year after CBA won its 18th MOC under the wildest of circumstances. Faced with the prospect of three championship races in an eight-day span in the wake of superstorm Sandy, the Colts trotted out senior Aaron Liberatore, sophomore Josh Kruppa and five junior varsity runners and still managed to win. Media and coaches alike noted in the immediate aftermath that it was the most impressive performance they had ever seen a high school team produce regardless of the sport.
CBA has sufficiently impressed everyone over the last year, so the only thing left to do at this point is to go win everything again.
The Colts will be heavy favorites in Non-Public and the MOC. Barring injury or illness, CBA will be favored to win the Nike Northeast Regional on Nov. 30 and a trip to Nike Cross Nationals in Portland, Ore on Dec. 7.
The opportunity to win a national championship is a key factor as to why the current Colts teams have a leg up their predecessors, who did not have the luxury of Nike pouring in millions of dollars into the sport at the high school level and forming the only true team national championship.
Since its inception in 2004, CBA has qualified for NXN six times, including the last three years. The Colts were fifth in 2010, won it all in 2011 and were fourth as the defending champion in 2012.
“The historical meaning of that Shore Conference win I think is obvious, but I think we’ve worked pretty hard to keep their eye on the prize. All of these things at this stage are great, but they have to get over it. Any type of performance including exclamation points at the end has to be saved for November and December.