The Shore Conference was well-represented on the winner’s podium at Saturday’s Central Jersey Cross Country Sectional meet, with various local competitors and teams securing titles. However, no win carried with it more emotion than the Middletown North Boys victory in the Group III race.
Led by Middletown North’s most decorated harrier, Tom O’Neill, who cut an impressive path to first place at a time of 15:30.70, as well as Justin Lippert, who placed third at 16:02.75, the Lions were able to capture the program’s first sectional crown in 22 years with a 40-point performance.
Huddled by the program’s headquarters with a trophy in tow, surrounded by his team and their congratulatory parents, Middletown North coach Rich Piro, who was an assistant with the Lions back in 1991, delivered an address that provided perspective to a collective in search of it.
“What I want all of you to do right now is look around and take in this moment,” Piro said, a stressful exuberance in his tone and demeanor. “This is an amazing time for you. I don’t want you to ever forget about this. It doesn’t happen all the time. It took me 22 years to get back here, and I remember that day like it was yesterday.”
Piro’s squad, which included Michael Marano (7th – 16:32.32), Michael Sudyka (11th – 16:43.48), and Matthew Todaro (18th -17:17.60), looked upon their coach as he recounted a tale of yesteryear, about waking on a morning similar to this with a victorious electricity flowing through his frame … and how a familiar sensation had returned, vibrating through his bones, on this day.
“You’re a part of history now,” Piro continued, a surge of pride choking him up. “But the most important thing is that you look around and remember who you shared this with, remember who was by your side, so you’ll have this moment for the rest of your lives.”
In the Group II boys race, Holmdel earned its third consecutive Group II title as the Hornets saw their top two runners, Daniel and Aaron Barlev, place first and third overall with times of 16:13.50 and 16:26.59, respectively.
“It’s been a great transition for us,” said Horents coach Sean McCafferty of his program’s leadership over the past three seasons. “Our captains are starting to teach the younger guys a lot of great things before moving on. It started with Travis Fodor in 2011, he left it to Jack Baisley last year, and now your seeing it again in Dan in Aaron Barlev.”
“That type of leadership is really starting to perpetuate and create a really great atmosphere for our guys to succeed in. And that’s really all you need in distance running. Talent is part of the equation, but team success has more to do with how hard you’re wiling to work and how positive you are about it.”
Holmdel’s Victor Desario placed sixth with a time of 16:43.32, while Nicholas DeMaio crossed the line in eighth at 16:48.39, and Tomas Gonzalez rounded out the Hornets’ top five in 25th at 17:19.37 en route to team total of 43 points.
The Rumson-Fair Haven girls also clinched a third consecutive team title, and their fourth of the sort in the last five years, placing their top five finishers within first 11 spots on the way to a 29-point output.
“I’m so grateful that we’ve been able to build such a good program hear at Rumson,” said Jaqueline Gottuso, who placed second overall with a time of 18:58.15. “It’s very motivating to have such a talented group of people to run with every day. We’re never alone out on the course. There’s no big gaps between us. We’re all so close. I think that’s how a cross country team should be, and I’m so happy to be part of this one.”
Gottuso was trailed close by teammates Megan Hellman in third (18:59.99), Hannah Anderson in fifth (19:30.57), Rachel Lehnert in eighth (19:46.39), and Morgan Steinhacker in 11th (20:06.85), however, it was Holmdel’s Marin Warner who claimed the individual crown at a mark of 18:36.92, leading the Hornets to a second place showing with 72 points.
A battle between cross-town rivals ensued in the Group III girls race as Middletown North and South dueled to the finish with the Eagles edging out the Lions 56 to 63, earning their third-consecutive team championship.
Though North’s Alexandra Juzwiak (18:44.77) and Madelyn Marrone (19:06.54) finished atop the Middletown field in third and fifth place, respectively, the depth of South proved to be too much as the Eagles’ Cassidy Weimer (19:26.05) and Christine Rutkowski (19:41.60) finished seventh and eighth, followed by Christina Caccamo (20:04.24) and Brianna Haspel (20:05.31) in 12th and 13th, and MaryKate Himmelberg (20:13.67) in 16th.
In the Group IV boys race Freehold Township’s Dylan Tarpey ran to his third-consecutive individual crown, as the Columbia University-bound senior posted an impressive mark of 15:30.33, and helping to lift the Patriots to a fifth place finish overall.
Led by Sarah George’s third place finish at 20:07.80, Shore’s girls program earned a Group I team title with a total of 47 points, as Casey Birdshall placed eighth (21:11.58), Francesca Lonigro 10th (21:18.09), Sarah Lang 12th (21:27.58), and Victoria Cantelmo 14th (21:37.07).
The Group Championship Meet is scheduled to take place next Saturday at Holmdel Park.