The Monmouth County Championships offered two vastly different story lines on Thursday at Holmdel Park.
On the boys side, a reigning state champ led his powerhouse program to yet another team title to feed a winning streak which has reached nearly two decades.
On the girls side, however, there was zero familiarity with the champions. A former soccer player introduced herself to the county as its new individual medalist, and a program which endured a drought as old as this year's senior class finally broke through for a first-place trophy.
Christian Brothers Academy senior Shaw Powell, the reigning NJSIAA Non-Public A champion, won his first county title and led the Colts, the top-ranked team in New Jersey, to their 18th straight team crown, while Colts Neck sophomore Lilly Shapiro raised more than a few eyebrows when she snagged the girls crown, and the underclassman-powered Middletown South squad seized its first county title since 2002.
Middletown South, No. 5 ranked in New Jersey despite just one senior in its top five, pushed five runners into the top 17 and averaged 19:48.9 to beat runner-up and No. 9 Colts Neck 50-75. Red Bank Catholic was third with 98 and No. 3 Holmdel was fourth with 139.
"I'm really happy with my team. We all worked through this together," said freshman Reese Fahys, who led Middletown South by placing fourth overall in 19:12. "We didn't have winning in mind. We just wanted to see how we did with our first race at Holmdel and progress from there. Definitely surprised ourselves today."
Middletown South sophomore Lucy Afanasewicz, sixth in 19:20, had a different outlook.
"We had nothing to lose today," Afanasewicz said. "I wasn't expecting to win, but I'm not surprised we did so well. We all have a good relationship and we work well together."
The other newcomer to the winner's circle was Shapiro, who last fall and spring played developmental soccer. She did have a productive indoor track season last winter, with a 2:16.44 personal best in the 800 meters to place fifth at the Meet of Champions.
Shapiro appears to have slipped into her cross-country spikes with no problem. Her debut meet was the Battle at Ocean County Park, where she won the sophomore race in 18:03. She placed second at the Six Flags Wild Safari Invitational and second at the Shore Conference B North Divisional race.
"I ran indoor track in the winter and I loved the team aspect and I knew it was time to switch over to running," Shapiro said. "I didn't know what to expect this season with training but I had my sister (Natalie, a senior) showing me how to do everything. She's been a really big help. Without her I probably wouldn't have been able to do it."
The Christian Brothers boys team conducted business as usual. Despite the Colts' No. 3 man, sophomore Jack Moran, taking a spill and crossing seventh for his team and 31st overall, CBA still captured four of the top five slots to average 16:27 and scored 22 points to breeze past runner-up Manalapan (100).
The leader of the Colts' top-heavy pack was Powell, who picked up his first county title and his second win of the season with a 15:53, his first sub-16 effort at Holmdel. His previous Holmdel best was 16:14 from when he won the Non-Public A title last fall.
Powell's first win this season came at the Bowdoin Classic, three weeks ago at Bowdoin Park (home of the Nike Northeast Regional) in Wappingers Falls, N.Y.
"I knew I had the fitness but it's good to get the confidence booster," Powell said. "It's good to know I have a faster Holmdel Park time in my back pocket. I'm all about the win, so to have the fast time is great but it's not imperative to me to have a crazy fast time going into championship season.
"I don't know if there was any one key (to breaking 16 minutes). I raced the way I usually race in any cross-country setting, which is running harder where I can, but where it's not hard on the body."