This is a look at the Top 20 Returners based on last year's 5k times. The rankings one through twenty are not an opinion just a statistical placement. However noting if their name is in this article you should be looking for them at meets this season. (If the list text is too small you can click it to view the original size file.)
Tom O'Neill, Sr, of Middletown North has to be a favorite going into the season; he may not have had the dominant outdoor campaign he showed last fall and indoor, but his outdoor running was still fantastic. Get this young man on hills and dirt and he'll light up the rankings. His top returning time of 15:03 came from the fast Ocean County Park course, but he also boasted a 15:36 and 15:31 at Groups and MOCs while running the legendary Holmdel course. He finished off outdoor track with a relevant 5k at Nationals finishing 11th with a time of 14:51. You can watch O'Neill's leading 2012 time of 15:03 here, a broadcast video I posted for Shore Conference Champs on my old site before coming to MileSplit last winter; I plan to do more of these videos this season for Cross Country on NJRunners.
This year we have a top notch graduating class who have been growing and racing together for four years come this fall. Dylan Tarpey is one of those leading the class; he has been proving his talents throughout his career qualifying for his 7th Meet of Champs this past spring track. The Freehold Twp standout always brings a tough race for the other leaders, one example being his 2012 XC Monmouth County win, out-kicking Tom O'Neill and Rob Napolitano, and this will be a huge year for him. Tarpey has been in close races with a certain CBA athlete for years now, Mike McClemens, who is just part of a really good Big 3 / entire CBA team. Both have gone back and forth their entire careers (as seen here) and this season is going to be a great watch as both compete for that top spot.
While on the topic of CBA, who will have the spotlight come the team preview articles, Fran Bogan, Sr, McClemens, Sr, Tom Rooney, Sr, and Josh Kruppa, Jr, represent the Christian Brothers in the Top 20 Returners. However, there are great CBA runners not even on this list that will be a huge factor this year, such as Blaise Ferro, a sophomore who sits second for returning Brothers 3200m runners. CBA has been nationally ranked #1 countless times already this offseason and it is not just because they are "CBA;" each of these individual athletes put major work in during the off-season and season for this recognition. They'll be on the hunt as a team to keep that National focus going this year, and that is a challenge for everyone else in the state to go after and run with them.
Another top runner who will have the full spotlight this year is Kyle Kroon (Pronounced KRONE!). Kroon exploded last XC season and never looked back through indoor track and so on. This guy has had the work ethic, coaching, and teammates to be great and this is the season he can show his hard work off. In 2012 he finished his great cross campaign off with a second place finish at MOCs (15:47) and a 28th place run at Foot Locker Nationals (15:56).
I'm only going to go a little further into the top returners as you can gather the top dogs from the list and stats below but another athlete to look out for will be Kyle Levermore, who leads the impressive top NJ squad of Don Bosco Prep. Levermore won the Outdoor MOC 3200m in a fantastic race against the now-graduated Jack Boyle of CBA, hitting a state leading time of 8:55.41. He was 7th at last year's XC MOC and will be a solid challenger for the individual title this year. With a quality team around him to run along with early in races, he's lined up for great things individually and on a team scale.
Steve Maine of Highland Regional certainly made a case for himself looking at his last three seasons, as well as Josiah Hanko of Trinity Christian School. There are just so many fantastic runners, especially in the 2014 class, that this XC season is going to be a battle and for everyone watching races and tracking stats it is looking to be a great year once again. Cross Country is such a unpredictable thing that these rankings could probably be horribly off and most likely will be. So if you weren't mentioned here, train like crazy and make sure you are next year! There will be a girls' article released in the next few days and then onto team rankings. Keep checking back for those.