| The New Jersey cross-country season got off to a modest start this past weekend with a pair of meets that did provide some insight into what may happen two months hence when the clans gather for the state championships at Holmdel County park.
For those unfamiliar with the New Jersey setup, we have six divisions in the group championships: Groups IV (largest), III, II and I for public schools, plus Parochial A and B. The public schools begin state action Oct. 30 with sectionals meets at four sites around the state. The top five teams in each race, as well as the top 10 individuals advance to the group championships two weeks later at Holmdel County park. On that day, the top three teams in each of the six races and the first 10 individuals qualify automatically, as well as two teams and a number of individuals on a "wild card" basis, decided by the fastest times from all the races combined. The all-group meet is on Nov. 20 this year, a week before the Footlocker trials.
The opening meet of the season was last Friday evening at Freedom Park, Randolph, a rolling 5K course. There were four races each for boys and girls based on the same grouping as in the state meet. Morris Hills, a hot favorite for the Gr. III title this year, ran away with tis race, taking six of the first 10 places, led by Jayson Decker in 16:30. Its top five runners were either junior or sophomores.
The Gr. IV race was an interstate affair. North Rockland (NY), a frequent (and welcome) visitor to New Jersey meets, took the first two places with John Martinez in 16:13 and Carlos Jamieson in 16:15, but had some problems with its 4th and 5th finishers and wound up third behind Bridgewater and Toms River East.
Fastest boy in the meet was Ben Massam of Chatham, a junior, who took the Gr. II event in 16:04, second-fastest time in the three-year history of the course.
The highlight of the girls' action was the return of 2003 Footlocker finalist Jen Clausen of Jackson Twp, who had been sidelined with a knee injury last spring. Jen won the Gr. IV race for the third year in a row and, in the process, broke her own course record, running 18:15 to easily defeat a strong field (four girls under 19:00). But team honors went to Roxbury which had senior Ali Caruana in third place and junior Jenn Ennis in 5th. Second went to versatile Kim Standridge of Randolph, who has a bright fuiture in the steeplechase as she is also a member of the Rams' crack shuttle hurdle team.
Other individual winners included Kathy Henry of Ridge in Gr. III in 19:32 and Aimee Chegwidden of Wallkill Valley in 19:39 in Gr. II.
The next day, at venerable Lincoln Park, Jersey City (sight of cross-country action for almost a century), two of the state's best took individual honors in the single varsity races at the St. Dominic Academy Intvitational. Bryan Scotland of St. Benedict's Prep, innocent victim of much controversy since last fall, won the boys; race by 200 yards in 17:05, while Leah Brogan of Msgr. Donovan took the girls' event from frosh teammate Molly Hempton in 19:50 over the 3.3-mile course.
Scotland, who is not eligible for the state meet as his school is not a member of the state association, will have a big race next Saturday when he goes against Bobby Papazian of Gill-St. Bernard's in the Newark Academy Invitational at that school's campus in Livingston. Last year, both boys ran slightly over 15:00 on the flat 3M course and they could go under that figure this time. Papazian ran 2nd in a major road race last Thursday in 15:20.
Morristown defeated Christian Brothers, 35-59, for boys; team honors, but the Colts withheld their top runners to train for the upcoming trip to the DeLaSalle Invitational in California (They are running this one in lieu of the Great American because they have other business that week: breaking the all-sport national dual competition winning streak; New Jersey's other top teams, Cherokee and Toms River North, will be at Raleigh.)
Msgr. Donovan score an easy team win, taking three of the top four places with two more freshmen in that group. The Griffins' pther veterans were not yet, however, up to their 2003 form and this team figures to be a prime contender for state honors this fall.
Next weekend's full schuedle will open Friday with the largely local Season-Opener meet in Bergen County's Darlington Park, while the Saturday list is dominated by class meets at Warinanco Park, Elizabeth; Roxbury; Cherokee High School (over a 3200M course) and Monmouth Battlefield. Several schools will also travel to Fairmount Park, Philadelphia, for the Briarwood Invitational.