There was an instant classic, a course record, a repeat champion, and a historic victory at Thursday's Skyland Conference Championships, which took place in blustery conditions at the Phillipsburg Athletic Complex.
Let's start out with the classic, which came in the boys team race as No. 9 ranked North Hunterdon and defending champion and No. 5 Ridge hooked up in a thriller that came down to the No. 5 runner with North Hunterdon winning the dramatic duel, 62-63.
North Hunterdon, which averaged 17:03 and had a remarkable compression of just 38 seconds between 1-5, trailed Ridge, 41-43, after each team had four runners across. But Adam Mugavero of North Hunterdon edged the No. 5 man for Ridge by three places and five seconds to secure the heart-pounding victory for the Lions.
North Hunterdon, with Gavin Richards leading the way (fifth in 16:41), went 5-11-12-15-19. Ridge, which averaged 17:01, went 2-9-14-16-22.
Harkins, who has made huge drops on every course he's run on this season, stopped the clock at 16:18, an astounding 1:09 faster than he ran at this meet a year ago when he finished 21st. Sophomore Jackson Barna of Ridge, another runner who has sliced lots of time off his PR's from a year ago, was second in 16:32, 35 seconds faster than he ran last year.
The girls race featured showdowns between two of the states best teams and runners.
Individually, Chloe Gonzalez of North Hunterdon and defending champion and course record holder Nicole Vanasse of Pingry, who have each won NJSIAA Meet of Champions titles on the track, squared off for the first time this season.
The Georgetown-bound Gonzalez, the 1,600 M of C winner last spring, who was second to Vanasse at this meet last year, reversed that outcome by blasting an 18:08 to finish first, break Vanasse's course mark of 18:33, and lead No. 2 ranked North Hunterdon to its fifth straight team title. This is just the second year that the current 5K layout has been used at P-Burg.
Vanasse, a two-time state XC champ who won the 3,200 at the 2018 indoor M of C, was second in 18:33, the same time she ran to win last year. Vanasse, a senior, has made a great comeback this year after missing most of the outdoor track and field season with a stress fracture.
The triumph by Gonzalez, coupled with the 17:45 she ran to win her race at the Shore Coaches Invit. earlier this month at Holmdel Park, makes her the favorite to win the M of C title next month.
With Gonzalez leading the charge, North Hunterdon put together a very impressive march to the championship as the Lions outscored No. 3 Ridge, 38-76. North Hunterdon packed four runners in the top seven, each ahead of Ridge's No. 1 runner, and averaged 19:28. Ridge, running without No. 1 runner Manon Stephen, averaged 20:31 and had a 1-5 split of 55 seconds.