A "Perfect Storm" at Van Cortlandt
Everything aligns for assault on the record books
By Walt Murphy,
Walt Murphy's News and Results Service
(Quotes Below From the Newark Star-Ledger: tinyurl.com/y8fg8g)
A “Perfect Storm” hit legendary Van Cortlandt Park on Saturday. A combination of ideal running weather, a course in great shape, and a group of determined runners led to an unprecedented assault on the record books.
Much of the pre-meet talk had centered on the Boys “E” race, the 5th of 7 seeded varsity races, where New Jersey’s Craig Forys(Colts Neck) was scheduled to face New York’s Steve Murdock (Shenendehowa) and California’s Mikel Thomas (Clovis).
The big question was, would Brad Hudson’s 33-year old VCP course record of 12:15.7 for 2-1/2 miles finally fall in that race?
Chaminade’s Ryan McDermott gave a hint of things to come when he won the first varsity race in a quick 12:33.0, with six others breaking 13-minutes.
Forys had already broken two course records this fall, and had every intention of getting a 3rd, but he was trailing Murdock as they entered the VCP “flats”. He finally took the lead with about 200-meters to go and crossed the finish line in an amazing 12:10.7 to smash Hudson’s record by a full 5 seconds. Murdock wasn’t that far behind, also finishing under the old reecord in 12:15.5.
"(Murdock) went by me on the last downhill," said Forys. "My coach (Jim Schlentz) yelled to me that if I win the race I will get the record. I knew I had time, so I relaxed on the final straightaway and was able to get by him with about 200 to go.”
Topping off one of the greatest H.S. x-country races in history, Mikel Thomas was 3rd in 12:21.4 and Colorado’s Adam Lenz(Crested Butte) was 4th in 12:26.2. Never before in the long history of Van Cortlandt had more than two preps broken 12:30 in the same race.
While Forys was accepting congratulations and talking to reporters, Tom Gruenewald (Fayetteville-Manlius,NY) was running away with the “F” race.
Not knowing what Forys had just run, Gruenewald, who had his own dream of breaking Hudson’s record, got some help from coach Bill Aris. "”He yelled to me with 200 meters left that I had to go 12:10 to get the record. I saw the clock and knew I had a chance."
As Gruenwald crossed the line, the digital clock flashed 12:10, but what would be the official time? It was 12:10.6 and the record had fallen again. While Hudson had 23 years to enjoy his role as “king of the hills”, Forys’s tenure lasted less than 15 minutes--but he handled the situation with class. "Oh well," said the 17-year old senior. "At least I had the record for a little while. I'm not disappointed because I did what I wanted to. I can't control what happens in the other races. He ran faster and that's the way it goes."
Murdock’s 12:15.5 helped his Shen teammates win the coveted 5-man average award (12:56.6). Each team member received a watch, as did the winner of each varsity race.
A grand total of 46 runners broke 13-minutes, considered the benchmark performance at “Vanny”. In the previous 33 editions of the Manhattan meet, the most sub-13s in one year had been 21!
The Girls Eastern States Championship was somewhat overshadowed by the exploits of the boys, but the race provided its own share of fast times as well as a surprise team winner.
Saratoga Springs (NY) junior Hannah Davidson, who finished 2nd a year ago, won in 14:14.7 to move to 9th on the All-Time VCP list. Also moving high up on the A-T list were runnerup Ashley Higginson (Colts Neck,NJ), who ran 14:16.0(#10) and 3rd-placer Shelby Greany(Suffern,NY), whose 14:18.0 makes her the 12th fastest performer.
Davidson’s win wasn’t enough to help Saratoga Springs win its 7th straight Easterns title. Competing in what many felt was the strongest field in the 31-year history of the race, Virginia’s Midlothian H.S. emerged as the winner with 148 points, the highest winning total ever. Eleanor Roosevelt(MD) was 2nd(172) and Saratoga was 3rd(190).
There are some who feel that the current “streamlined” version of the Van Cortlandt Park course yields faster times than it did during Hudson’s era. That may be true, but this will still go down as one of the greatest days in the history of high school x-country.
When asked how it felt to lose his long-held record, Brad Hudson said by e-mail, "I was surprised that the record lasted that long, although I had trained so very hard, with 140 mile weeks, when I got it. I am really glad that these guys have broken it. It shows high school running is stronger than it has ever been. And, it shows that the future of U.S. distance running looks brighter everyday! Congratulations to all three guys.” Showing in-state pride, Hudson added, “I only wish that the New Jersey kid held on to the record."
Jersey native Hudson was a junior at North Hunterdon when he set his record, then completed his prep career at South Eugene H.S. in Oregon. Now based in Boulder, Colorado, he coaches, among others, Dathan Ritzenhein. Sarah Schwald, and Ed and Jorge Torres.