Liam Murphy had heard all about how fast the course was at Ocean County Park in Lakewood. He knew how many guys had cracked 15 minutes on it, and how countless other runners had dropped huge personal bests there.
So of course the All-Stater at Allentown wanted to take a shot at it, so he begged his coach, Rick Smith, to enter the meet so he could see just how low he could go on the pancake flat layout.
Murphy got his wish when he ran in the Senior Division race at Friday's Battle at Ocean County Park, and he took full advantage of the opportunity as he opened his season in sizzling fashion by throwing down one of the greatest performances in course history.
Murphy, a Foot Locker National XC finalist last year and the NJ Meet of Champions winner in the 3,200 last indoors, was racing the clock from the moment the gun went off, blasting out to a huge lead after a blistering 4:30 first mile. He kept pouring it on over the next two miles before stopping the clock at 14:52, a meet record and No. 5 all-time in course history! Murphy led Allentown to the Senior Division team title.
"I was really excited when I found out we'd be running here,'' said Murphy, who will take his first official college visit to Villanova this weekend. "The plan was just to run as fast as I could and see what I could do. I felt great and I couldn't be happier than to open my season by going under 15.''
Murphy, the favorite to win the Meet of Champions title this season, is now one of eight runners to crack 15 at OCP, but the other seven all did it in late October. The course record of 14:43 was set by Mike McClemens of Christian Brothers Academy in the epic 2013 Shore Conference Championships that saw four runners go under 14:55!!!
Four of the seven runners who've gone sub 15 at OCP won XC titles at the Meet of Champions and went under 15:30 at Holmdel Park, the state championship course. Murphy said that running under 15:30 and winning the M of C XC crown are two of his biggest big goals this season. Both are well within his range.
What's next for Murphy?
How about an attempt at the course record at Thompson Park in Jamesburg next Saturday! The record is 15:22 by Rey Rivera of Old Bridge at the 2016 Central Jersey Championships, and Murphy said he will be chasing it.
While Murphy was clearly the biggest star of the meet, there were several other eye-popping performances.
Lilly Shapiro of Colts Neck made a sensational debut by winning the girls sophomore race in 18:02, the top time of the day. Shapiro, who gave up soccer to run XC this season, ran like a seasoned veteran by executing a very smart tactical race. Shapiro, who ran 5:09 in the 4xmile and 2:16 for 800 on the track, didn't get caught up in the fast early pace by Lucy Afanasewicz of Middletown South. Instead, she stayed within striking distance and made a big move late to seize control of the race on her way to a three second victory over runner-up Hayley Amisano of Mater Dei (18:06).
Shapiro's presence could help make Colts Neck the favorite to repeat as state Group 3 champs.
The best race of the day was in the boys Junior Division when Jackson Braddock of Southern out-dueled Matt Bogdan of Colts Neck in a thriller as both runners crossed in 15:22. Braddock won the Junior Division race at the Cherokee Challenge last week. Vidhur Polam of South Brunswick, who gave up soccer to run this season after going 9:30 for 3,200 last spring, opened lots of eyes by placing third in 15:31.
In the girls Junior Division, Emma McGill of Voorhees went slightly off course, but that didn't prevent her from continuing her hot start to the season by running away with the race in 18:46
McGill, who ran a PR of 18:13 to win the Junior race at the Roxbury Invite last week, laughed about her little adventure during her first race at OCP.
"At the end of the first loop I just lost track of where I was and kind of started walking around for a few seconds, wondering which I should go."There was a lady there and yelled out for someone to help me, and then everyone started yelling for me to go the other way. It was kind of funny. I lost some time, but I was just using this race as a workout, so I was worried about about how fast I ran.''
OTHER TOP HIGHLIGHTS
- Corina Vidal of Henry Hudson, the 2018 State Group 1 champion, captured the Senior Division race in 18:21. Vidal said she wanted to run faster than she did last year at this meet, and she did so by 29 seconds.
- Reese Fahys of Middletown South, an age group star in middle school, made a huge move in the final 400 meters in her high school debut to pull away for the win in the girls freshman 2-mile race in 12:02. Led by Fahys, Middletown South rolled to the team title with 13 points and a 12:39 avg. Fahys, who has the makings of a big star and is very motivated to achieve some big goals, has been running since she was eight years old when her mother, a very good distance runner, inspired her to run.
- A huge star graduated from Point Pleasant Boro last spring in National 2-Mile Indoor Champion and multiple Meet of Champions winner Devin Hart. Now a new rising star has emerged at Point Boro. Look out for Blaik Slavinski, who won the boys freshman race in 10:58 over the 2-mile course! Just like the freshman girls winner (Reese Fahys), Slavinski has running in his blood. Both his parents have been avid and successful runners for several years. Slavinski said he's chasing Hart's freshman school records!!
- Connor Kinch of Middletown North wins the boys soph. race in about 16:16, 45 seconds faster than his previous PR at OCP. Kinsch said he's biggest goal in his high school career is to break the school records held by Tom O'Neill, a 2014 graduate who won Meet of Champions on the track and in XC. O'Neill, who went on to star at Providence, ran 15:26 at Holmdel Park and 14:54 at OCP.
- In the boys team merge scoring, Cherry Hill East came out on top in the boys competition, 99.5-136.5 over Freehold Township. CHE, with Oliver Adler leading the charge (fourth in the Senior Division in 15:41) averaged 16:20.
- In the girls team merge scoring, NJ #2 Holmdel outscored Colts Neck, 78.5 to 99. Holmdel, which averaged 19:20 and won the Senior Division title. Holmdel was led by seniors Emily Levonas (18:42) and Claudia Zhang (18:44).