Jennings Wins, Sparks Mendham to Three-Peat in Morris County

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When a cross-country team loses the best distance runner in school history from a team that won a state championship, it can be very difficult to fill that void and still be among the state's best packs. 

Not for Mendham!

Despite the graduation of All-American and Foot Locker NE Regional champ Jack Stanley (now at Princeton University), Mendham has managed to become an even stronger squad this season, according to Mendham coach Roy Hamblen.

With senior Jack Jennings leading the charge with a runaway victory, Mendham gave everyone another reminder of just how much firepower it has when the NJ#4 ranked squad blitzed the field to win its third straight title at the 66th Morris County Championships on Wednesday on the Greystone course at Central Park in Morris Plains.     

Jennings, who set the Greystone course record last week with a 15:07.5 at the NJAC Championships, rolled to his first county XC title in 15:18, 40 seconds ahead of runner-up Luke Lusskin of West MorrisJennings, a 2-time county champ on the track, was third the past two years.

Could Jennings go under 15 at Greystone at the North Jersey, Sec. 2 meet next month? You bet he can! Check out his interview above.   

On its march to the fourth county title in school history, Mendham packed its scoring five in the top 22, and averaged 16:13.7 on the way to a 56-88 victory over Chatham, which opened plenty of eyes with its stunning second-place finish!

After Jennings, Mendham's scorers were senior Ryan Kear, fourth in 16:03, junior Zach Hodges, 12th in 16:27, senior Josh Chen, 17th in a PR of 16:37, and sophomore Thomas Gangemi, 22nd in a personal best 16:42. 

Check out what Mendham has done over the last eight days.

At the NJAC Championships on Oct. 15 at Greystone, all seven of Mendham's runners went under 17:00 when the team averaged 16:08. On Wednesday, the top five ran under 17:00, and another runner, senior Reece Zosche, won the JV race in 16:58.  

Every runner in Mendham's pack has dropped their times significantly since last year, and all have continued to slice several seconds off their PR's all season as the team continues its quest for a third straight state Group 3 title next month at Holmdel Park.   

"We've had some great teams over the years, but this is the best team we've ever had,'' said Hamblen, who took over the program in 2005. "Losing Jack was obviously a big hole to fill, but these guys have worked so hard since last year to make sure the team didn't drop off at all. The difference is that this is the strongest we've ever been from No. 4 through No. 7. We never had two races in a season where we had everyone who scored go under 17 minutes like we did in these last two races, which were just a week apart. And we ran our school record average for Holmdel already this season (16:34 at Shore Coaches).

Hamblen said because his team was the overwhelming favorite and its primary focus is on running its best when it collides with NJ#2 West Windsor-Plainsboro North at the State Group 3 championships, his team ran without the pressure of having to run their fastest.  

"We had that luxury today of not having to try to go out and all run PR's to win,'' said Hamblen. "We know how tough that Group 3 race is going to be, so we are trying to stay healthy and sharp for that. We ran  strong enough race to win today, and that's all we were concerned with.'' 

While Mendham once again proved its county supremacy, let's not forget about what Chatham did.

Who saw this coming from the coach Pat Barry's Cougars?

Chatham, just fifth in the Large School NJAC meet against the many of the same teams, had every runner in its lineup slash huge seconds off their times from last week to pull off the improbable runner-up finish.

With senior Alec Gironda at the front of its pack (seventh in 16:07), Chatham averaged 16:37, 22 seconds faster than its NJAC average, and had a 50 second 1-5 compression, 11 seconds faster than last week.