The massive youth movement which took place yesterday in Morris County caught more than a few observers off guard because of, well, their youth.
But the truth is these young runners have actually been building toward this day.
Villa Walsh junior Sarah Hanifin captured her first county individual championship and the NJ#5 Mendham girls team, with four sophomores and nary a senior in its lineup, seized a second straight trophy at the Morris County Championships at the Greystone course in Morris Plains.
Hanifin upended race favorite and Georgetown commit Julia Trethaway by soaring past the West Morris star with a half-mile to go and won the county title by 21 seconds in 18:00. Hanifin became her school's first county champion in the 47-year history of the girls event by crushing her Greystone PR by 29 seconds.
Hanifin's resume is dotted with major titles. She won the NJISAA Prep B and Non-Public B cross-country titles last fall, the indoor Non-Public B 3,200 meters last winter, and the outdoor Prep B 3,200 and the North A, Non-Public B 1,600 last spring.
But this most recent title, which came by beating Morris County runners from large and small schools, may be her biggest step forward yet.
Hanifin's previous best on the Greystone track was the 18:29.1 which she ran to place second to Union Catholic's Jerika Lufrano at the New Jersey Catholic Track Conference Championships last season.
Mendham had four sophomores lead the parade to a repeat championship, and three of those girls gained valuable experience as members of last year's title-winning team.
Sophomores Madison Orlins (third, 18:54), Megan Smith (fifth, 19:08) and Ava Augustine (seventh, 19:36) and Grace Vives (ninth, 19:43) and junior Ava Curry (10th, 19:45) rounded out Mendham's scoring five.
With a team average of 19:25 -- about 26 seconds faster than last year's team -- and a 1-5 compression of 1:44, Mendham easily dispatched runner-up Villa Walsh 34-90, while West Morris edged Randolph for third place, 114-117.
"We came here wanting to win because we saw the trophy back on the bus and we thought we got to keep it (from last year)," Orlins said. "We knew we had to earn it back, so we had to put on a good show."
Orlins, Augustine, Vives and Curry were members of last year's title-winning Mendham crew, but their experience of running together and challenging each other goes far beyond last season.
"We've all been together since we were really young," Orlins said. "Grace and Ava (Augustine) have been running together since they were five. Me and Megan started running when we were halfway through middle school.
It's always nice to come together as a team. We push each other a lot and it makes the experience a lot better."
It was a tremendous afternoon for the entire Mendham program. The boys varsity also won the championship, as did the girls JV team, while the boys JV placed second.