Will the Jack Jennings vs. Liam Murphy sequel be as electrifying as Part 1? Can anyone stop NJ #1/US#6 Christian Brothers Academy from winning a third straight title and increasing its state record total to a mind-blowing 24 titles?
Those questions and more will be answered when the state's best clash in what has the makings of an instant classic at the 48th annual NJSIAA Cross-Country Meet of Champions on Saturday at Holmdel Park.
There has never quite been a showdown or rematch more eagerly anticipated as Jennings vs. Murphy, who waged an epic battle in the State Group 3 race last week when the two stars threw down two of the fastest times in Holmdel Park history.
Jennings, a senior at Mendham, used a powerful kick to pass the previously undefeated Murphy of Allentown with about 100 yards to go before stopping the clock at 15:19, No. 6 all-time in Holmdel Park history. Murphy, third at the Meet of Champions last year, crossed second in 15:21, No. 8 all-time in course history! Those were the No. 2 and No. 3 fastest times ever run at the State Group Championships.
Jennings, who dropped his Holmdel PR by an astonishing 31 seconds, is just the sixth runner to ever break 15:20 at Holmdel. He joined legendary runners Edward Cheserek of St. Benedict's Prep (14:53 in 2011), Joe Rosa of West Windsor-Plainsboro North (14:56 in 2009), Jim Rosa of West Windsor-Plainsboro North (15:15 in 2010), Forys (15:16 in 2006), and Jason DiJoseph of Paul VI (15:17 in 1988).
Can Jennings duplicate or even top his performance from last week and win the first Meet of Champions of his career? Will the Villanova-bound Murphy, a Foot Locker finalist last year and the indoor M of C 3,200 winner last winter, avenge his defeat. Or will a darkhorse emerge and pull off the upset? While Jennings and Murphy are the obvious favorites on paper, they should have plenty of fast company as eight other runners will toe the line with personal best times at Holmdel, and several others who are knocking on the door.
They are Kevin Antczak of Mainland, eighth at the M of C last year, and Luke Johnson of West Windsor-Plainsboro North, who both ran 15:32 at the Shore Coaches Invitational last month when they finished ahead of Jennings, Group 2 champion Austin Gabay of Cinnaminson (15:48), Group 4 winner Jackson Braddock of Southern (15:49), Non-Public A winner Shaw Powell of CBA (15:53 at Monmouth County), Group 4 runner-up and 2018 fourth-place M of C finisher Ethan Wechsler of Cherokee (15:51), and Oliver Adler of Cherry Hill East (15:58 at Shore Coaches).
There has never been a race on the current Holmdel Park 3.1-mile layout, which has been used for the Meet of Champions since 1978, where three runners have broken 15:20. But that could change with all the talent in this race.
In the team competition, CBA, which has captured eight of the last nine titles, is favored to increase its state record to 24 championships, which would be one more than the total number of titles the entire rest of the state has won combined (23). Note-there was no team scoring at the first M of C in 1972. CBA has won 19 more M of C titles than any other program. The team with the second most titles is Paul VI with four.
It's going to be tough for any team to prevent Coach Sean McCafferty's Colts from staying on top. CBA came out on top in the meet merge at the Group Championships, 83-186 ½ over Mendham, and has the firepower to throw down an epic performance.
CBA, which rolled to the state Non-Public A last week to raise its state record to 30 state titles, averaged 16:15 last week, which is No. 9 all-time in Holmdel Park history, and packed its scoring five in the top nine with a compression of just 32 seconds. Shaw Powell led the charge for the Colts by winning his second straight title in 16:00.
There is a very strong field that will attempt to dethrone CBA and score the upset, led by NJ#2 Mendham, NJ#3 Haddonfield, NJ#4 Cherokee, and NJ#5 West Windsor-Plainsboro North, NJ#6 Ridge, NJ#7 St. Peter's Prep, NJ#8 North Hunterdon, NJ#9 Cherry Hill East, and NJ#10 Old Bridge.
Mendham, coming off a third straight Group 3 title where they averaged 16:21, is seeking to become the first boys champ from Morris County since Morris Catholic won its second straight in 1975. Group 2 champion Haddonfield, which averaged a Group 2 record 16:33 last week, is aiming for its second title ever (it captured the championship in 2001).
Cherokee, which averaged a school course record 16:33 won it won its first Group 4 title since 2007, is chasing its first M of C title ever. West Windsor-Plainsboro North, which averaged 16:43 when it finished as the runner-up in Group 3, averaged 16:23 at the Shore Coaches Invit. West Windsor North won its only M of C XC C title in 2008 when it was led by all-time great Rosa twins, Jim and Joe.
Groups Meet Coverage
More Meet of Champions preview content to come including predictions for the top ten individuals and podium teams!