There was a lot of buzz around Holmdel Park about how fast Chloe Gonzalez would run when the North Hunterdon distance running star made her eagerly anticipated season debut at Saturday's Shore Coaches Invitational.
Gonzalez, the top returning runner in the state, answered that in electrifying fashion with one of the greatest performances in course history as she captured a thrilling showdown vs. Camryn Wennersten of Ridgewood in the red hot A Division race.
Running in ideal conditions and with Wennersten right on her shoulder just about every step over the final mile, Gonzalez burned up the 3.1-mile state championship layout, stopping the clock at 17:45 as she won the epic duel by 10 meters. Wennersten, who gave Gonzalez all she could handle, finished second in 17:47 as both runners raced into the Top 8 on the Holmdel Park all-time list.
Gonzalez's 17:45 ties her for No. 6 in course history, and Wennersten moved into a tie for No. 8 all-time as she broke the North Jersey record and sophomore course record. Wennersten broke the sophomore record of 18:01 run by former course record holder Janet Smith of J.P. Stevens in 1981.
"I really had no idea I was going to run anywhere close to that fast,'' said Gonzalez, a senior who chopped 24 seconds off her previous Holmdel PR. "This was my rust buster. I was just kind of hoping to get close to 18. But to go 17:45 really surprised me. To know that I am the sixth fastest ever on the course is incredible.''
Gonzalez, who was second at the Meet of Champions last fall, second at the Nike NE Regional, and first in the 1,600 at the M of C last spring, said winning an XC M of C has been one of her biggest goals for a couple years. And after the way she ran, the N.J. record at Holmdel (17:28 by Megan Venables of Highland Regional in 2010) could be within her reach. The overall course record of 16:21 set by Katelyn Tuohy of North Rockland, NY at the Shore Coaches met last year is not within anyone's reach.
"I really want to win the Meet of Champs this season and I'm ready to work as hard as I have to make that happen,'' said Gonzalez, who led North Hunterdon to its second straight M of C title last November. "And with so much time left in the season and since I've only just started doing workouts, I think I can run faster by the end of the season. We'll have to see how close I can get to that time (17:28).''
Although Wennersten's couldn't catch Gonzalez, her record breaking performance did lead No. 1 ranked Ridgewood to victory over No. 3 North Hunterdon, 49-84. Ridgewood averaged a meet best 19:14 and put four runners ahead of North Hunterdon's No. 3 runner.
The Maroons, who returns five of its seven runners from last year's runner-up M of C squad, also finished first in the team merge, 102.5 to 176.5 over North Hunterdon to solidify their status as the favorite to win the M of C title. Ridge was third in the merge with 262, Haddonfield fourth with 289.5, and Mendham fifth with 292.
Sophomore Charlotte Bednar of Lawrenceville, who was 12th at the Nike XC Nationals last year when she ran for Hun, made her Holmdel debut a memorable one by winning the F race in 18:00, also under Smith's former sophomore record. Bednar won by 40 seconds over two-time Non-Public A state XC champion Nicole Vanasse of Pingry.
Corinne Barney led a 1-2-3 finish for No. 4 Indian Hills by winning the C race in 19:04 to spark her team to a convincing 30-64 victory over Allentown. Indian Hills averaged 20:05.
Junior Emma McGill of Voorhees won the D race in 18:52 and No. 5 Haddonfield ran away with D team title by averaging 20:06 on the way to a 38-88 triumph over No. 10 Voorhees.
Manon Stephen ran a Holmdel PR of 18:50 to lead No. 7 Ridge to a 55-62 victory over MNo. 9 Mendham in the B race. Ridge picked up 10 points on Mendham at the No. 5 spot to secure the title. Stephen now owns 4 of the 5 fastest times ever run at Holmdel in Ridge history.
In the E Division, Union Catholic averaged 20:47 and outscored Robbinsville, 37-103, and sophomore Hayley Amisano of Mater Dei dropped a big Holmdel PR of 18:58 to finish first.
Kent Place pushed four runners across the line ahead of Villa Walsh's No. 3 on the way to a 77-98 victory over Villa Walsh in the F Division race.