It was a historic day, a surprising day and a day of firsts for the Morris County teams and participants at the NJSIAA state sectional cross country championship meets Saturday at Garret Mountain in Woodland Park (North 1) and Warinanco Park in Elizabeth (North 2).
One thing is for sure: When the smoke cleared Saturday, Morris County was certainly well represented in terms of championship teams and individuals. Five different teams — three girls teams, two boys squads — took home state sectional hardware. Four individual runners from the county grabbed state sectional gold.
At Warinanco Park, Mackenzie Barry of Mendham achieved something that only 12 other athletes in the history of New Jersey cross country and two others in the North 2 sectional ever accomplished. Barry won her fourth straight North 2, Group III sectional title.
Barry, who won the Morris County championship almost two weeks ago, blistered the field in 18:23.46, setting a personal best time at Warinanco Park in the process.
“It’s pretty amazing to be in the same class with the other great runners in New Jersey,” Barry said. “I had no idea about that (the distinction). I don’t pay attention to all the hype. So when I finished and someone told me, it was a nice surprise.”
It almost didn’t happen. Midway through the race, Barry almost got lost on the course. Even though she had run Warinanco so many times in the past, Barry still managed to forget where she was going.
“The official wasn’t standing there, so I almost kept going straight,” Barry said. “I did a little stutter step and managed to find the right way. I didn’t know where I was going.”
Barry said that she was pleased with the way she ran.
“I got a PR today so I was pretty happy with that,” Barry said. “I’m really excited about what the future has to hold. I just keep getting better and better.”
In that race, West Morris won the team title for the first time since 1992. Brennan Sharkey was second behind Barry in 18:37.94, with surprising sophomore Sierra Castaneda third and teammate Kylene Cochrane eighth.
The performance of the Wolfpack’s top three runners enabled West Morris to sneak by runner-up Voorhees by eight points, 59-67. Mendham was third and Morristown fourth.
There were solid performances locally throughout the North 2, Group III girls race, as Olivia Viparina of Roxbury finished sixth and Christine O’Kane of Morristown was seventh.
Also at Warninaco, the biggest surprise of the day — and for that matter, the entire cross country season — took place, when the Chatham boys team somehow managed to upset state-ranked Morristown for top honors in North 2, Group III.
Led by the performances of junior Will Mitchell, who finished third overall, and senior Dominic Vernazza, who was ninth, the Cougars snuck past the underperforming Colonials by a single point, 65-66.
After the race was completed, Chatham head coach Pat Barry was unsure of the team standings.
“I knew that we had done well, but I really didn’t know where we stood,” Barry said. “But when they announced that Morristown was second, you couldn’t hear a thing, because our kids were screaming so loud. The noise was incredible. I never heard them call our name.”
Barry said that the race was won by his third, fourth and fifth runners, namely Andrew Vena (15th overall), Liam Hynes (18th) and Grant Hauck (20th).
“We never said that we didn’t have a chance, but we lost to them (Morristown) by 28 points in both the (Northwest Jersey Athletic Conference) and the county. We kept getting better, but so did they. Our kids just raced hard and held on to win. We knew we would be competitive, but that improvement is incredible.”
It was the first state sectional title for Chatham since 2008 and the school’s first in Group III. The last win was as a Group II participant.
Sean Lyons of Morristown earned the individual gold medal in Group III, crossing the line in 16.17.75.
Zachary Matthiesen of Roxbury was fourth and teammate Michael Koch was fifth. Paul Ehmann of Mendham was 10th.
In the North 1 sectionals at Garret Mountain in Woodland Park, the Randolph and Mount Olive girls each won a sectional title, as did Mountain Lakes among the boys.
Randolph entered the meet as the No. 2-ranked team in the state, thanks to the Rams’ impressive wins at both the NJAC and the Morris County championships.
So it wasn’t a big surprise that the Rams rolled past Ridgewood in North 1, Group IV by 18 points to capture the 11th state sectional title in the school’s history and the first since 2011.
“They all did a great job,” veteran Randolph head coach Len Pietrewicz said. “They all went out and got away from everyone else pretty quick.”
Junior Liz Lansing, competing in her first year of cross country after foregoing soccer this season, won the overall title in Group IV, crossing the finish line in 18:52.46.
“I didn’t believe something like this could happen,” Lansing said. “I couldn’t even imagine it. I knew I did well when I ran cross country in grammar school, but this is amazing.”
Teammate Liz Wellman was second behind Lansing in 19:07, followed by Margaret Thomson, who was fifth overall. Carole Harsch turned on her ankle during the race, but still managed to gut it out to finish eighth and sophomore Nora May McSorley was 12th overall.
“It means everything to us,” Lansing said. “We have outstanding team chemistry and we all care about each other so much. This has a different feeling to anything else, because we’re all into it so much. It’s good to have so much support.”
Mount Olive’s girls team captured its second straight North 1, Group III crown, defeating Wayne Hills, 55-65.
Head coach Mike Behre said that his team follows a special ritual before running at Garret Mountain, a strategic game plan devised by his son, Christopher, a former Mount Olive runner.
“Every time we get here, it’s something we read,” Behre said. “Christopher was never able to win anything here, but he was able to write this thing and we either read it on the bus or when we get here. They’re able to keep the strategy in their heads and it works.”
Junior Sarah Masukiewicz paved the way for the Marauders, finishing fifth overall in 19:19. Sophomore Alexandra Christian was sixth in 19:21, followed by Mariah Christian (11th), Sara Christian (15th) and Erin Schafer (18th).
“We placed five in the top 20,” Behre said. “It was a good day. I’m very proud of them because they had been battling injuries here and there all year. Lindsay Schafer (31st overall) had just come back from an injury and Micaela Poggi (28th overall) fell at the first hill, but managed to get up and finish the race. There was a lot of pressure to repeat, but the girls came through.”
Senior Sara Christian, one of three Christian sisters on the team, mentioned how great it was to bring back another state sectional crown.
“We were a little nervous at first, but we were motivated to repeat,” said Sara Christian, the twin sister of Mariah. “We all worked so hard over the summer. It’s nice to be able to share this with my sisters, people who I am very close to.”
The Mountain Lakes boys team captured top honors in North 1, Group II. It was the fourth overall state sectional for the Lakers, but their first in Group II.
Chris Luciano of Mountain Lakes took home top honors in that sectional, crossing the line in 16:02, with teammate and close friend Ben DeVenezia finishing third in 16:30.
There was a time when Luciano was content with just running close to DeVenezia, but over the last few weeks, Luciano has soared past his buddy.
“Chris has just run very confidently lately,” said Mountain Lakes head coach Sue Bessin. “He has belief in his ability to push the pace. I think some of what Chris is experiencing right now is maturity. Chris and Ben practice together to do well. We’re very proud of the team effort.”
Mountain Lakes outran Ramsey by 11 points to grab the sectional crown.
In North 1, Group II girls, Mountain Lakes freshman Kyla Velock finished second in 20:04 to Connie Myers of Westwood. The Lakers finished second as a team. Jasmine Amro (9th) and Nicole Christensen (10th) helped Jefferson to finish third in the section.
Whippany Park’s girls were second in North 2, Group I at Warinanco, losing by a single point to Secaucus. Freshman Chiara Mennone was fourth and Joannie Schulman sixth for the Wildcats.
Patrick Hanley of Madison was fourth in the North 2, Group II at Warinanco, while Parsippany senior Jen Mlynar was fifth in the North 2, Group II girls.