Every fall brings new faces to the cross country scene. At the Cape Atlantic League (CAL) Championships, though, it was the veteran faces - and teams - making the case that they are back and perhaps even better than they were last year.
Antczak made it clear from the downhill start at the Millville Motorsports Park that he was the strongest runner in the field, separating himself right away. Midway through the race, Antczak had a gap of 20 seconds. Even with an easy jaunt into the finish, that gap only widened late in the race, as his winning time of 15:54.5 put him 47 seconds clear of second place. Antczak was 8th at the Meet of Champions last fall. With a dramatic win in 15:32 at the Shore Coaches Invitational and an easy 15:34 to win the Atlantic County Championships last week, Antczak knows he can be right near the front of every upcoming championship race.
The Ocean City boys put on their own display of strength. Senior Luke Kramer ran 16:41.8 to take 2nd overall, with four of his teammates finishing in the top eight overall behind him. The only others to finish before Ocean City's top five were Oakcrest senior Mike Liberty (3rd in 16:50.8) and Mainland sophomore Linden Wineland (5th in 16:56.9). The Red Raiders had a 27-second gap from 1-5 and a winning score of 27 points to defeat Mainland (2nd with 85) and 14 other teams. Last year, Ocean City had pulled off a 41-42 victory over Mainland here.
It was not just a repeat but a three-peat for the Ocean City girls. Junior Alexa Palmieri (2nd in 19:34.5) and senior Casey McLees (3rd in 19:53.4) led the way, with 5 in the top 9 and 7 in the top 17 overall wearing Ocean City red. Mainland was 2nd again this year with 62 points. Egg Harbor Township took 3rd with 104.
Olivia Shafer won by five seconds last year, and the first mile of the girls race suggested this one may be close as well. But just before midway, coming up the third long incline, Shafer moved decisively away and continued to attack in the narrow back woods of the course. Her winning time of 18:57.4 gave her a second decisive victory in a week, as she had won the Atlantic County Championships by nearly 30 seconds last Thursday.
The course itself was a story of its own. Designed by Raffael Craig and his fellow coaches at Millville last year and modified slightly this year, it is considered by many to be the most challenging layout in South Jersey. The first half of the race is either a steady decline or a long incline through open farm fields. The second half of the race winds down and then back up through narrow openings of pine trees and brush, with plenty of uneven and sloped footing creating an extra challenge. The final 300 meters downhill is a nice gift to a course that rewards climbing ability and toughness. Over 200 varsity athletes and 200 junior varsity athletes had a good test of their strength and fitness with Sectionals and States coming up quickly on the calendar.
The Ocean City boys know they have plenty of depth for this year and beyond. In the junior varsity race, they put the first 14 finishers across the line, led by seniors Mike Farley (17:24.2) and Erik Sacramento (17:40.0) Their times would have put them both in the top twenty in the varsity race. Freshman Ashley Banner led the way for the junior varsity girls, running 21:49.7 to lead Ocean City with eight of the top ten finishers.