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Voorhees makes in two in a row in a Holmdel instant classic

Wins title by one point over Ridge with Hillsborough third to cap a 1-2-3 Skyland Conference sweep

Saturday, November 22, 2008 - Holmdel Park, Holmdel NJ

Rich Bevensee

The screams told the story.

As soon as the results were printed, coach Justina Cassvell ran toward her team with the news and the Voorhees (team photo below by John Nepolitan)camp erupted in pandemonium. And in that wave of emotion which swept over the Glen Gardner team, there were more expressions of shock than of celebration.

 In one of the most stunning and thrilling finishes in state cross-country history, Voorhees, ranked No. 4 in The Star-Ledger Top 20 but not considered a strong contender because of the spacing of its pack this season, outlasted a pair of Skyland Conference rivals to secure its second straight state championship.

 Voorhees, led by Lanie Thompson’s second straight individual title in 17:47, outscored top-ranked Ridge of Basking Ridge, 138-139, and retained the team honors at the 37th NJSIAA/Star-Ledger Meet of Champions yesterday at Holmdel Park.

 It was only the third time in meet history that the team title was decided by a single point. In 1987, Kearny slipped past North Hunterdon, 73-74, and in 1991, Shawnee edged Toms River North, 99-100.

 ``We knew we had a chance coming in, so all we needed to do was believe in ourselves,’’ Voorhees junior Katie Petruzzellis said. ``We knew there was a lot of people who doubted what we could do. I think we got the confidence we needed at sectionals and groups. That’s when we started to really believe in ourselves.’’

 Cassavell said it first dawned on her that her team could possibly repeat when Voorhees won the Hunterdon-Warren title Oct. 24 with a five-runner average of 19:01 on Delaware Valley’s course in Alexandria. Cassavell estimated, correctly it turned out, that the Del Val course was roughly 30 seconds faster than Holmdel.

 Voorhees averaged 19:33.9 in winning it second straight title and third overall; Voorhees won its first M of C trophy in 1990.

 Thompson was followed by junior Colette Whitney (12th, 19:01), Petruzzellis (37th, 19:39), senior Kari Shoolbraid (84th, 20:30) and sophomore Kathryn Hahn (104th, 20:55).

 ``I said in October that I thought we were good enough to win. We may not have showed it than, but I knew we had more in us,’’ Thompson said. ``When people doubt us, that’s when we rise to the challenge. I think this title is even more special than last year because of how competitive it was.’’

 With NJ#9 Hillsborough’s third-place finish (158 points), the Skyland Conference earned a 1-2-3 finish at the M of C for the first time in the conference’s 19-year history. It is only the fourth time in M of C history that a conference has swept the top three places. The Shore Conference accomplished the feat in 1976, ’77 and ’78.

 The M of C finish differed starkly from the Skyland Conference Championships Oct. 30, when defending champion Voorhees finished third behind Ridge and Hillsborough.

 ``To have three teams from the same conference fight it out for No. 1, that’s outrageous,’’ Randolph senior Molly Higgins. Randolph won the team title in the rugged Iron Hills Conference and entered the meet ranked No. 5, but finished eighth overall.

 ``We always think that the Iron Hills Conference is one of the strongest in the state, but today they showed that their conference is really, really strong,’’ Higgins said.

 The Ridge girls believed that winning the state Group 4 title last week would have gotten them over the hump and serve as a springboard to the M of C title. In the four years prior to last week’s triumph, Ridge placed second in Group 3.

 Senior Dana Guglielmo led the Ridge girls with her 35th-place finish in 19:38, a time with which she was deeply disappointed. Her Holmdel career best is 19:12.

 ``Well, we have a lot of great teams in the Skyland Conference, but we were hoping to be the best one today,’’ Guglielmo said. ``Losing by a point is really tough. I didn’t have a great day so I feel responsible.’’

 NJ#8 Pope John of Sparta enjoyed the second-best performance in the program’s history by placing fourth overall behind the Skyland Conference trio of teams. Senior Sarah Cariati led Pope John, which placed third in 2005, by finishing 28th in 19:21.

 Also, Pope John’s 165 points were only 27 points off the pace set by the team champions, Voorhees, making it the closest race between first and fourth place in meet history. The next closest race between first and fourth occurred in 1991 when Shawnee captured the title with 30 points and Red Bank Catholic finished fourth with 129 points.

 In fact, the 2008 race featured the closest race in meet history all the way down to ninth place. Only 44 points separated team champion Voorhees and ninth-place and NJ#11 South Brunswick.

 Voorhees, Ridge, Hillsborough and Pope John were followed by NJ#2 Immaculate Heart of Washington Township (165), NJ#7 Toms River North (169), NJ#3 Red Bank Catholic (176), NJ#5 Randolph (179) and South Brunswick (182).