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MEET OF CHAMPIONS
The hunt for November gold could be one of the most thrilling battles in years, as three New Jersey teams hit the trails ranked among the top 15 in the nation.
Leading the way is 2007 champion Don Bosco Prep of Ramsey, ranked No. 7 nationally. Morris Hills of Rockaway is No. 11 and West Windsor-Plainsboro North is No. 15, while Haddonfield has six of its top seven back from a team that was third at the Meet of Champions.
The team to beat should be Morris Hills, which has its top six intact from a team that under-achieved at the M of C and placed 12th.
CONTENDERS: Morris Hills, Don Bosco Prep, West Windsor North, Haddonfield.
West Windsor South has five of its top seven back from the team that finished fourth in Group 4 and seventh at the Meet of Champions, but it lost Brian Leung, the M of C winner who also captured the 3,200 in indoor track season.
CONTENDERS: Cherokee (Marlton), West Windsor South, Old Bridge, Mainland (Linwood), Colts Neck, Toms River North, Ridgewood, Hunterdon Central (Flemington).
This has all the makings of a classic with defending champion West Windsor North, No. 15 in the nation, expected to battle for the top spot with Morris Hills, No. 11 nationally.
West Windsor North retains four of its top five runners from a team that was fifth at the Meet of Champions. Leading the charge for coach Brian Gould are dynamic sophomore twins Joe and Jim Rosa.
Morris Hills, behind seniors Sean Pohorence and Liam Tansey, should be competing with a bit of an edge after it took third in Group 3 and 12th at the M of C last year, results much lower than it had expected. With six of its top seven back, coach Sean Robinson's team has the firepower to make a run at No. 1.
CONTENDERS: West Windsor North, Millburn, Mendham, Holmdel, Moorestown, Kingsway (Woolwich), Morristown, Old Tappan, Phillipsburg.
Haddonfield, third at the Meet of Champions last year, has the guns to make a run at the final No. 1 ranking in The Star-Ledger Top 20. Coach Nick Baker brings back six of his top seven, with juniors Jon Vitez (the 2007 Group 2 winner), Ray Schlitt, Colin Baker and David Twitchell and sophomores Matt Nussbaum and Ethan Quanci. It seems a lock to win its third straight in Group 2.
CONTENDERS: Summit, Bernards, Matawan, Red Bank, Cinnaminson, Indian Hills (Oakland), Point Pleasant Boro.
Haddon Heights is favored to repeat even though it lost Mickey Borsellino, the individual champion. Coach Matt Martin has seven of his top 10 back, led by senior Josh Black, the South Jersey, Group 1 winner. He is expected to be joined up front by junior Teague Brody-Carney, the Camden County freshman champion in 2006 who missed last season with an injury.
CONTENDERS: Verona, Metuchen, Shore Regional (West Long Branch), Haddon Township, Leonia, Bogota.
Don Bosco Prep loses two key runners among its scorers from last year, but the returning 1-2 punch of Rob Molke and Leighton Spencer and a deep supporting cast should keep this powerhouse on top.
CONTENDERS: Christian Brothers (Lincroft), Red Bank Catholic, Delbarton (Morris Township), Pope John (Sparta), Union Catholic (Scotch Plains), Msgr. Donovan (Toms River).
Pingry of Martinsville, third last year, returns three of its top four finishers from the state meet in seniors Dan Schuchinsky, Matt LaForgia and Chris Pike. It will likely find itself in a battle for the top spot with Roselle Catholic, which dropped down from Non-Public A.
CONTENDERS: Moorestown Friends, Mater Dei (New Monmouth), Newark Academy (Livingston), St. Rose (Belmar), Roselle Catholic, Eastern Christian (North Haledon), Oratory (Summit), Wildwood Catholic.
Runners to watch
Robby Andrews, Manalapan, senior The fourth-place finisher at the M of C in 16:04 had track times last spring of 1:54 for 800 and 4:11.32 for 1,600, suggesting he is capable of going faster.
Colin Baker, Haddonfield, junior Put up a 16:35 at Holmdel to place 35th at the M of C and has track times of 1:57.05 in the 800 and 4:21.91 in the 1,600.
Josh Black, Haddon Heights, senior South Jersey, Group 2 winner has a personal best of 16:21 at Holmdel and will try to lead his team to its second straight state Group 1 title.
Michael Bowden, Northern Burlington, senior Ran 16:19 at Holmdel to place seventh in Group 3 and went on to place 30th at the M of C.
Kevin Byrne, Red Bank Catholic, soph. Was brought along slowly as a freshman, but, after a 1:56.03 800 and 4:21.62 1,600 last spring, could be building toward a breakthrough this season.
David Forward, Shawnee, junior A 16:15 at Holmdel to place fifth in Group 3, followed in the spring by a 4:18.46 1,600 and 9:10.28 3,200, puts him on the fast track toward a huge season.
Michael Franklin, Mendham, senior He has personal bests of 16:23 at Holmdel and 9:18.02 for 3,200 and 4:24.74 for 1,600.
George Galasso, Holmdel, senior Finished 35th in 16:36 at the M of C but has more talent (9:20.63 in the 3,200 as a sophomore) than that result indicates and is good bet to bring his times way down.
Brett Johnson, Ocean City, senior Has the tools to contend for the M of C title after winning the 1,600 last spring. Last fall, he won Group 3 in 16:07 and was fifth at the M of C in 16:03. On the track, he has times of 1:53.49 in the 800, 4:08.51 in the mile and 9:22.98 in the 3,200.
Mark Leininger, Colts Neck, senior Placed 20th at the M of C in 16:22 last fall, then hit 9:24.58 in the 3,200 and 4:24.73 in the 1,600 last spring. After a big summer of training, he appears poised for a top 10 finish at the M of C.
Jordan Magath, Hillsborough, senior Last fell, he ran 16:27 to finish in 23rd place at the M of C.
Rob Molke, Don Bosco Prep, senior Rock steady frontrunner on the team that finished No. 1 in the state ran 16:08 to finish eighth at the M of C and hit 9:10.41 for 3,200 on the track.
Dave Oster, Verona, junior Preseason favorite to win the state Group 1 title ran 16:18 to place second a year ago and was 19th at the M of C. After injuries plagued him indoors and early in the spring, Oster still managed a 9:29.94 3,200.
Sean Pohorence, Morris Hills, senior Morris County champion placed 11th at the M of C in 16:11 and last spring ran 9:31.78 in the 3,200.
Jim Rosa, West Windsor North, soph. Did not have the sudden impact his twin brother, Joe, had as a freshman last spring, but the spring saw Rosa drop a state freshman record 9:11.56 in the 3,200 at the M of C to place sixth. He also ran 4:21.81 for 1,600.
Joe Rosa, West Windsor North, soph. Flirted with Holmdel's freshman record, with a best of 16:16 (one second off the record), and wound up 16th at the M of C in 16:18. After a 9:15.38 3,200 at the M of C in June, Rosa and his twin, Jim, are after Holmdel's sophomore mark of 15:47.
Pat Schellberg, Delbarton, junior Unhappy with how his sophomore season ended, Schellberg responded in the spring with monster times of 4:17.66 for 1,600 and 9:28.81 for 3,200.
Doug Smith, Gill St. Bernard's, senior State's most talented runner has yet to win an M of C title, having finished second in the 3,200 at the M of C last winter and spring. He has personal bests of 9:01.86 for 3,200, 4:14.23 for 1,600 and 14:35.32 for 5,000 on the track. Illness forced him to drop out of the M of C last fall near the midway point.
Leighton Spencer, Don Bosco Prep, senior Finished 27th at the M of C in 16:27 and last spring ran 4:22.18 for 1,600 and 9:23.71 in the 3,200.
Liam Tansey, Morris Hills, senior Ran 16:30 at Holmdel and then had a breakout spring with personal bests of 4:15.74 in the 1,600 (fifth at the M of C) and 1:54.71 in the 800.
D.J. Thornton, Union Catholic, junior Clocked a 16:57 at Holmdel but is projected to make a big drop after cracking 4:20 as a sophomore last spring in the 1,600 (4:19.49).
Tyler Udland, Millburn, junior After a strong 16:29 to take 26th at the M of C, he shocked Doug Smith of Gill St. Bernard's last June when he came from way back to win the M of C 3,200 in 9:04.80. He is one of the favorites to win the M of C.
Jon Vitez, Haddonfield, junior Finished 12th at the M of C in 16:12 to lead the Camden County team to a third-place finish.
Phil Wood, Pennington, senior Ran 15:28.99 to take second at the Mercer County Championships and 16:22 at Holmdel to win his race at the Shore Coaches meet and has personal bests of 4:15.9 for 1,600 and 9:18.76 for 3,200.
Phil Wood, Lacey, junior Ran a 16:41 to finish 37th at the NJSIAA Meet of Champions last year.