by Ed Grant
the dean of New Jersey track writers
Six New Jersey runners go into this Saturday’s Northeast Regional Footlocker trials at Van Cortlandt Park with high hopes of qualifying for the National finals in San Diego on Dec. 10.
Heading the state’s entries in the boys’ race will be the 1-2-3 finishers in last Saturday’s all-group championships at Holmdel County Park: Craig Forys of Colts Neck, Ben Massam of Chatham and Jeff Perrella of Westfield. It will be the same in the girls’ event with Danielle Tauro of Southern Ocean, Amanda Marino of Jackson and freshman Briana Jackucewicz of Colts Neck.
Missing from the race will be the leaders of the all-group team champions, Christian Brothers and Roxbury, who are expected to return to Portland for the Nike Team Nationals on Dec. 3. Chris Horel of CBA had flirted with the idea of trying the double, but that has pretty much been put aside as the Colts are zeroing in on a bid for the National crown after setting a course record at Holmdel with a 16:15 average.
CBA won the all-group race from Morris Hills, 48-100, but it could have been a lot closer, had not the Knights gotten a double-hit as its usual No. 2 runner, Jayson Deckjer, threw a show early in the race and was 15 seconds off his time a week earlier in the Gr. III race. while No. 3 Brandon Rodkewitz suffered from heart palpitations almost from the start and gamely finished at the tail end of the field. Jared Labar picked up for Decker as he finished 15th in 16:14, 25 seconds faster than his group time, but there was no one to fill in for Rodkewitz.
Both team winners saw their top runners in different order than usual. Horel finished behind Kevin Rogers, who just loves the hilly Holmdel layout, the two placing 5-6, both under 16:00. Kris Stevens was 5th for Roxbury in 18:25 with usual leader Jenn Ennis 8th in 18:36 as the Gaels also broke the team course record with a 19:09 average.
Forys, who missed last year’s Footlocker race with a stress fracture, outkicked Massam to win the boys; race by 60 yards in 15:34, a time that would surely qualifying him on Saturday on a course which rates perhaps 10 seconds faster than Holmdel. It was the first defeat in nine races this season for Massam, who may well be the pacesetter this weekend. Perrella finished 3rd in 15:50, just ahead of Footlocker dark horse Owen Boyle of Manasquan.
Tauro led the girls’ race from the start as she defeated Marino for the fourth time in five weeks in 18:03, also a likely qualifying time on Saturday. The girls’ race, of course, figures to be tougher than the boys with 2004 regional winner Nicole Blood of Saratoga and national champ Aislinn Ryan of Warwick Valley heading an awesome field.
The Eastern championship race on Oct. 8 may have given a preview of what to expect. Blood was absent that day since she has chosen to go solo this year along with another 2004 qualifier, Caitlin Lane, so Ryan won handily in the rain in 14:04, followed by Hannah Davidson and Lindsey Ferguson of Saratoga, Amanda Griggs of Hilton (NY) and Ashley Higginson and Jackucewicz of Colts Neck.
Since then, Jackucewicz has taken over as Colts Neck leader and ran freshman records of 18:21 and 18:20 at Holmdel the past two weeks. Filling out a strong New Jersey team entry will be Vanessa Wright of Haddonfield and Lara Heigis of Pope John, who ran 4-6 last weekend, both under 18:30.
The big question mark is the status of two-time Footlocker qualifier Brittany Sedberry of Ocean City who missed the state meet after a flu bout. She hopes to run Saturday, but her lack of recent training will take its toll---she had run only a handful of races this fall.