HOLMDEL – Two seniors from the Christian Brothers Academy boys cross country team have an opportunity to do something that hasn’t been done since Jeff Hoffman in 1999. Blaise Ferro and Nick Trigani can staple their name into the proud program’s record books by claiming their fourth straight Meet of Champions team title on Saturday at Holmdel Park.
It’s the biggest story of the season that nobody is talking about.
Ferro and Trigani like it that way. The two runners enjoy the team aspect of the fall cross country season. They entered the varsity scene as two unknown freshmen, but when all was said and done, Ferro and Trigiani were officially in the spotlight.
Ferro and Trigani almost didn’t receive an opportunity at going for the quartet. In 2012, CBA, a program known for its countless accolades and records, had its “A” group finish the group meets placed 2-6 during the previous weekend. That team was made up of Mike McClemens, Billy Bragg, Thomas Rooney, Francis Bogan and Jack Boyle.
It took a destructive storm for the boys to make their way into the starting lineup. On Halloween week in 2012, Hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey with force, leaving some towns destroyed and many residents homeless. If there was one small positive that could be taken out of the storm that severely damaged the lives of many throughout the state, it was that two celebrated high school careers were forming before the public’s eyes.
Coach Tom Heath gave his “B” squad a chance because of the hectic week. The Meet of Champions was moved to a Wednesday, and because the regional meet was scheduled for that Saturday, the freshman boys were called upon to make their mark in front of a large audience.
Only one minor problem: Both Ferro and Trigani had never run in a varsity race before. In fact, Ferro was unfamiliar with the Meet of Champs event in general.
“I didn’t even have a grasp of what varsity was,” Ferro said. Going into MoC, I didn’t even know what MoC was. I never wore a pair of spikes before that. We have a big bin in the track house, it has maybe 80 pairs of old ones, so my coach pulled out a pair and gave them to me. He told me ‘you have to wear these on Saturday; you have to come up big.’
“We both ran very well the next week, I think we had big goals going into it. Whether or not we knew what MoC was, we wanted to win it because we are on CBA’s team.”
What happened that Wednesday is as close to a mythical occurrence as one can get in sports. Ferro completed the contest in 47th place (16:37), while Trigani followed behind him with a 17:03. Combined with a few other individual performances, that was enough to narrowly edge Holmdel High School.
“I remember going to watch the race when I was in middle school at Cedar Drive,” Trigani said. “I remember how nerve-racking it was just watching it. I didn’t know in a few years I would be running it as a freshman. It was weird; I think I was more nervous watching it than I was running it. Freshman year, it was so overwhelming, I was just happy to be there. When we ended up winning, there was no better feeling. It was the cherry on the top of a good freshman year.”
The experience helped to develop confidence heading into their sophomore campaign. Ferro finished in eight place (15:45) that year, and Trigani made a jump to 38th place (16:21). The Colts had groundbreaking numbers in 2013. CBA finished with an average time of 15:52 as a team.
In 2014, the pairing continued the trend by putting together strong enough results to help CBA capture another MoC title.
The two seniors have generated Division I interest, but their path to stardom certainly didn’t come easily. Trigani has dealt with a stress fracture and a broken foot, while Ferro has been sidelined for a majority of his final campaign with injured shins. The pressure of wearing the navy blue and white is present at every race as well.
“There’s definitely pressure,” Trigani said. “I think in every race, there are always at least five people saying ‘That’s CBA.’ It’s always motivating for us. We kind of have a chip on our shoulder, and we know that everyone in the state is gunning for us. I think it’s what makes us better, kind of more focused.”
This past weekend, rival Don Bosco was able to grab the group title by a small margin over the Colts. Although it didn’t receive the team results it was looking for, CBA still showed some promising factors. Ferro was able to win his first race back by running at 15:49, and Trigani came in 13th overall (16:53).
“Going into it, there was a lot of doubt and underconfidence,” Ferro said. “The last time I did a workout was maybe a month and a half ago. I haven’t been doing too much running at all, which is a real bummer, especially since it’s senior year and I’m not getting to spend as much time with the team.
“Going into it, that was kind of the mentality, but about a mile in I was feeling pretty good. I figured I would just sit on any move David Rosas made. At the end I knew I was going to make a move up the hill because I could just tell by the way he was running that he wouldn’t be able to handle a hill at that point. So I figured I would just push it.”
Freshman year coach Heath told the boys about what Hoffman did in 1999 and that they had an opportunity to earn the same glory he once had. Since then, the thought of a four-peat has rarely traveled through the minds of Ferro and Trigani. They have been focused on the task at hand and never got caught up in the relentless stress that surrounds such a monumental accomplishment.
With Saturday quickly approaching, the runners are certainly beginning to have the thought of another MoC title arise. Coach Heath told the boys their freshman year to leave the program better than they entered it. If the Colts can hold off Don Bosco and some of the other peaking schools, Ferro and Trigani will forever be known as the two athletes who captured four straight championships together. That is quite the achievement.
“It’s such a good program. You see our jerseys; we have been wearing the same jerseys ever since the ’70s. Our goal is to leave CBA in better shape than we entered it.
Any way we can put something in stone, or do something that goes down in the books, it’s every guy’s goal when they run here — to do something they talk about years after we are gone. It’s something to be proud about, makes me feel like I did something worth it.”
Steven Macri: email@example.com