Roxbury Recap - Special to NJRunnes.com
With a short and flat course, an ideal day to race and a great collection of talent toeing the line, there was no doubt that times would be downright absurd at Saturday’s 17th Roxbury Invitational in Succasunna. It was just a matter of how low they would go? How about sub 14:50 and sub 16:35!
Mendham juniors Justin Naselli (14:47.6) and Mackenzie Barry (16:34.4) took advantage of the elements (about 65 degrees and sunny) and the 2.9-mile layout (two tenths shy of 5-K) as they blitzed the course at Horseshoe Lake Park to sweep the Junior/Senior Division individual titles and earn MVP honors. In the team competition, the Westfield boys, the Group 4 state champs the past three years, made a huge statement by scoring a hat trick when first-year head coach Chris Tafelski’s crew won all three team titles (freshman, sophomore and the combined junior/senior race).
The times by Naselli and Barry were well under the course records, but since the layout was shorter due to reconfiguration this year compared to when the records were set in 2007 (15:19.5 by Doug Smith of Gill St. Bernard’s and 17:47.6 by Lauren Penney of Roxbury), they can’t count as record breaking performance. Meet Director Brendan Donegan said the course will remain the way it was run this year in the future, so Naselli and Barry will obviously be listed as the record holders for the new course.
``I guess it would have been nice to know what my time could have been if the course was 5-K, but I am just happy to get the win,’’ said Naselli. Naselli was in a great duel with Dylan Capwell of Hopatcong (2nd in 14:51.7) over the final half mile. Since Capwell is a 1:53 half miler it was logical to assume he had the advantage. But it was Naselli that had the stronger kick.``I was a little worried about him at the start, but I stayed just behind the leaders the whole way so I’d have something left at the end and I was confident in my kick,’’ said Naselli, 4:57/10:13 for the first 2 miles.
Naselli, the NJAC Large School champ last fall, is pretty motivated this season after missing the entire indoor and outdoor track seasons after undergoing surgery on both shoulders. He first suffered the injury in the summer prior to his sophomore year while long boarding, but reinjured himself just before indoors last winter. ``Missing all that time really motivated me to come back and have a really strong season,’’ said Naselli, who started running again this summer. ``I just hope to keep it going and keep getting better.’’
Barry, the 3,200 winner at the Meet of Champions last June, wasn’t planning to run as fast as she did. ``I really wasn’t supposed to go that fast, but I just started to pick it up in the first mile and kept it going,’’ said Barry, who had splits of 5:28 and 11:10 for the first two miles.
Barry had bigger concerns than her time. ``I was worried about going off course because there were spots were I couldn’t really see the line and I in the last half mile I was panicking because I was so afraid of going the wrong way,’’ she said. ``I was so relieved to finally see the finish line.
Barry has some big goals for this season. ``I want to win Meet of Champs and I really want to make it Foot Locker nationals,’’ she said. ``I have not made it nationals in cross country yet, so I rally hope that the third time is the charm for me and I can make it to San Diego this year.’’
Since many runners didn’t know the course was short before they ran, the looks on several of their faces as they gazed at the clock when they finished was priceless as many runners assumed they had just dropped huge personal records. ``I saw my time and I was like wow,’’ said North Hunterdon’s Eve Glaser-Green, who won the girls sophomore race in 17:07.8. ``I was thinking to myself is this course really 5-K? But my goal was to break 19 and I’m pretty sure my time translates to 18 something, so I’m really happy with what I did.’’
So was Mendham’s Paul Ehmann, who charged out to the lead with a 5:00 first mile and kept hammering en route to winning the boys sophomore race in 15:30.7. ``I didn’t plan to run that fast at the start,’’ said Ehmann. ``I felt it in the last mile, but I was strong enough to keep pushing.’’
As for the freshman division, Mount Olive ruled those races as Bobby Hammond took the boys 2.2-mile title in 12:31.3, and Alexandra Christian claimed the girls title in 13:45.7.
Hammond, a competitive triathlete since he was 10 (can you say Lukas Verzbicas?), went wire-to-wire.
Meanwhile, Christian gave up soccer this year to join her twin sisters, juniors Mariah and Sara, on the trails. Looks like a great decision.
Looking at the team results, the Westfield boys made its presence felt as the Blue Devils, who lost five of its top seven runners to graduation, showed they have the firepower to make a run at a 4-peat. Westfield averaged 15:26.5 in the junior/senior race, 16:39.3 in the sophomore race, and 13:04.4 (2.2 miles) in the freshman race as it captured all three championships.
``It was important for our whole team to have strong races today because
we wanted to show people not to count us out of anything,’’ said junior Matt Luppino, fourth in the junior/senior race in 15:05.7. ``I think we’re setting up pretty good to do what we did last year.’’ Westfield has a new head coach this year for the first time since 1983 as former Blue Devil star Chris Tafelski has taken over for the legendary Jack Martin, who retired after last season. Tafelski ran under Martin on two state Group 4 cross-country teams in the mid 1990’s.
The Mendham boys and girls also showed that they should be serious contenders to win state Group 3 titles this year. The Mendham boys won Group 3 last year, and despite the loss of four of its top seven, have Naselli and Ehmann and some good depth.
The Mendham girls, who won the Junior/Senior Division team title, lacked depth last year behind arguably the state’s best top three. But they seemed to have corrected that this season. Barry, and seniors Abby Seel, who ran the second fastest time of the day behind Barry (16:54.7), and Reagan Kolakowski (fifth in the 17:53.3) are the returning top three. Defne Sement, fifth in the freshman race in 14:23, Kelly McNamara, 29th in the junior/senior race in 19:03.3, and Christine Mountain, ninth in the sophomore race 19:20.1, give Mendham a strong back of the pack that should make it a major player in November.
- Three Mile Run - Mackenzie Barry (Mendham HS) 16:34.32 SB; Eve Glasergreen (North Hunterdon HS) 17:07.78 SB; Abby Seel (Mendham HS) 16:54.67 SB; Carole Harsch (Randolph HS) 17:35.83 SB; Marissa Ruskan (Bridgewater-Raritan HS) 17:20.46 SB; Jacqueline Diaz (Bridgewater-Raritan HS) 18:19.57 SB; Gillian McIlroy (Summit HS) 17:48.82 SB; Reagan Kolakowski (Mendham HS) 17:53.21 SB; Liz Wellman (Randolph HS) 18:05.70 SB; Stephani Bitcon (Wayne Hills HS) 18:07.97 SB; Sarah Decker (Watchung Hills Reg. HS) 18:10.00 SB; Jessica Urban (Kittatinny HS) 18:11.37 SB; Emma Olcott (Summit HS) 18:12.64 SB; Lucy Peschel (Wayne Hills HS) 18:18.66 SB; Cailyn Lavigne (North Hunterdon HS) 18:19.13 SB;