With multiple powerhouse squads hitting the courses this year it's been a season long search for our number one team in the state, the Meet of Champions hopes to help with that puzzle.
Last weekend on a chilly windy Saturday in Holmdel, NJ the North Hunterdon girls put together a defining number one team performance during Group Championships and they hope to carry that momentum.
The two-time defending team champions at the NJSIAA Meet of Champions won a third straight Group 4 title with an impressive 19:07 average. The team performance was kicked off by a merge leading 18:01 registered to none other than seasoned veteran Chloe Gonzalez. The Lions were ranked second in the state behind Group 4 rivals Ridgewood heading into Groups and came out of it a unanimous NJ#1 in the rankings poll.
Watch Every Group Championship Race
North Hunterdon enters Saturday's Meet of Champions looking to make it three straight wins. Not only that but another championship would make it nine overall, tying the state record nine titles won by Red Bank Catholic since the meet started back in 1972. Another RBC connection, if North Hunterdon does win this would be the first three-peat since RBC finished three straight in 1996.
If that wasn't exciting enough for this program, on the individual front their leading runner Chloe Gonzalez, a senior bound for Georgetown University, could end up the first North Hunterdon individual to win the girls title since Jodie Bilotta won three straight from 1985 through 1987. Gonzalez ran a 17:45 earlier this season to move up to sixth all-time at Holmdel Park.
Now that we've covered the favorites heading in let's take a look at some of the other contenders.
On the team side NJ#2 ranked Ridgewood will look to bounce back from their second place Group 4 performance. Their squad averaged 19:36 in the Group Championship, when accounting their season bests at Holmdel the team is capable of a 19:11.
Though she had an off race at Groups Ridgewood's star sophomore Camryn Wennersten, their usual front runner, has a course PR of 17:47 which is eighth all-time at Holmdel Park. Wennersten is the only girl other than Gonzalez to dip under the 18 minute mark at Holmdel in 2019 and has been considered Gonzalez's main competition for the individual title all season long.
Historically the Ridgewood girls own two team and individual Meet of Champions titles, the team wins came back in 1999 and 1992. Their individual winners include Kelly Behan, 1997, and Jenna Rogers, 1993.
Hayley Amisano of Mater Dei Prep had a fantastic Group Championships running an 18:34 to win Non-Public B, the second fastest time of the day. If she pulls off the upset she would be just the second ever NPB winner, Lindsay Van Alstine of Hawthorne Christian did so in 2001 running 18:43.
Group 2 Champion Emma McGill of Voorhees has been running strong all season long, she hit a course PR of 18:41 battling Lakeland Regional sophomore Angelina Perez to the line. Perez, in her first cross country season was clocked at 18:46. Both are strong runners you wouldn't want to deal with over the final kick.
Nicole Vanasse of Pingry cruised to a third straight Non-Public A victory running 18:57, she holds a course PR of 18:23 which earned her third at the 2017 Meet of Champions and has to be excited to be back after missing MOCs due to sickness last year.
Caroline Mehlhorn, who was fifth at last year's MOCs with a course PR of 18:25, ran second in the Group 4 to Gonzalez. She should be up with the leaders once again in 2019.
Group 3 Champion Reese Fahys leads a strong NJ#3 Middletown South squad who surged ahead mid-season as team contenders. Middletown South last won in 1998, that year also included the only individual champ for their school, Cate Guiney.
Also battling for the top six team podium positions are Ridge, Kingsway, Holmdel, Colts Neck, Mendham, Haddonfield, and Red Bank Catholic.
Some other individuals not mentioned you should keep an eye out for in the top ten include Manon Stephen of Ridge, Olivia Shafer of Egg Harbor Twp, Shannon Clancy of Bergen County Tech, Magdalyn Hoffman of North Hunterdon, Kate Rathman of Cherokee, Lilly Shapiro of Colts Neck, Kate Ruona, Lily Willias, Maddy Kopec, Laurel Kurtz, Sarah Naticchia, Emily Levonas, and plenty of other strong athletes who could keep this article going longer than it should.
Best of luck to all of New Jersey's greatest.
Groups Meet Coverage
More Meet of Champions preview content to come including predictions for the top ten individuals and podium teams!