Christian Brothers Academy entered the Non-Public A Group Championship meet in search of its fourth consecutive title and a New Jersey state record 19th overall.
To do so, the Colts would need to outduel another nationally-renowned program in Union Catholic.
Though the Scotch Plains-based Vikings edged out the Colts in January at the state relay championships by a score of 68-64, it was CBA who captured the crown on Wednesday evening at the Bennett Center, upending Union Catholic (89-66).
The battle opened with a large tilt of points swaying in favor of the Vikings as CBA’s Christian Zupko and Ralston Hough found themselves intertwined amongst a trio of Union Catholic competitors in the 400-meter event.
Though the Colts sprinters managed to come away with eight total points in the race, as Zupko as sophomore, clocked in at 51.31 to place third, and Hough, a senior, finished fifth at 52.67, both finished behind Union Catholic competitors as Jordan Jimerson (49.22) and Taylor McLaughlin (49.46) went one-two, while Obafemi Animashaun (51.65) placed fourth clinching 22 points in the effort.
However, that momentous swing would prove to be a mirage, as the Colts decorated-long distance harriers Mike McClemens and Tom Rooney earned 38 total points over three events to help push the tilt in favor of the Lincroft collective.
“Heading into the meet, we scored it up and had us losing,” Rooney said. “So we knew we had to come up big in a few events to change that. During the meet, we gained some points where we thought we wouldn’t, but we also lost some where we were counting on them, so I’d say this win didn’t come tonight, it came over the last few months with the work this team put in.”
CBA took its first lead, a 40-30 advantage, after McClemens and Rooney piggybacked each other across the finish in first and second in the 1600, the latter taking the individual title at 4:14.26, and the former finishing with a 4:15.15, and the Colts’ Mike Cassidy rounded out the scoring runners in sixth at 4:26.89.
McClemens followed up with a victory in the 800-meter race, defeating Red Bank Catholic’s Kyle Bogert (1:57.94) with a time of 1:55.05, and extending the Colts lead to 65-46. CBA’s Chris Piatkowski also clinched two points in the event with a fifth place mark of 1:59.39.
“Speaking from an individual standpoint, I just wanted to make sure that myself or a teammate won every event that I competed in, and we were able to do that,” McClemens said. “From the team’s point of view, leading up to the meet, we were stressing the importance of ever single point. You could be the third seed in the third heat, and that doesn’t matter. You can still go hard and potentially clinch a point. We focused on making the most of every situation.”
Late in the meet, with CBA leading 67-66, Rooney and the Colts’ stable of long distance talent answered the call yet again, as the senior claimed his second championship of the meet with a 3200 time of 9:11.50, before Blaise Ferro followed up in second place (9:12.76), and Fran Bogan (9:24.90) in fourth — a 22-point that put the team title out of reach.
“This truly was a great team victory,” Rooney said. “It’s often said that our distance runners carry this team, but I think the opposite. It’s the team that carries us. The camaraderie, the spirit, and the morale this group exhibits … we feed off that, and it definitely helps us win tight meets like this.”
CBA received pivotal points from Chris Alexander, who placed fourth in the 55-hurdles at 7.93, as well as Chris Jordan (6-02) and Shane McGuinness (5-10), who placed second and sixth in the high-jump, and Mike Cresanti-Daknis (14-00) and Alfred Bradley (13-00), who propelled themselves to second and fourth place heights in the pole vault.
In the girls Non-Public A meet, Red Bank Catholic entered with a chance to win its third Group championship in four years, but only managed 25 points, which was good enough for a fourth place finish.
In that meet St. John Vianney’s Courtney Thompson won the 3200-meter title with a time of 10:52.36, while Monsignor Donovan’s Katie Weeks repeated as the girls shot put champion at a distance of 40-02.25.
In the girls Non-Public B meet, Mater Dei senior Fallon Quigley earned the individual high-jump championship at a height of 5-02.