Running sub 15 at Holmdel Park was something that was simply unimaginable and considered impossible since forever!
After two of the greatest runners in state history, Jason DiJoseph of Paul VI (15:17 at Holmdel in 1988) and Craig Forys of Colts Neck (15:16 at Holmdel in 2006), couldn't get near it, the mere thought of someone ever going under 15 at Holmdel Park seemed just plain absurd.
You couldn't find anyone who really believed it would one day happen.
But then along came Joe Rosa, who 10 years ago today (Nov. 21, 2009) did the once unthinkable and inconceivable when the 16 year-old junior at West Windsor-Plainsboro North broke down one of the biggest barriers in NJ high school sports history with a breathtaking and electrifying victory in 14:56 at the Meet of Champions at Holmdel Park!
Holmdel Park has been hallowed ground in NJ XC since it was first used for the Meet of Champions in 1976. The course was different its first three years before being changed to its current layout in 1979.
Rosa's 14:56 is one of the most significant moments in N.J. distance running history. It's cross country's equivalent to Marty Liquori's sub-four minute mile (3:59.8) that he ran for Essex Catholic in 1967.
It's that big!!!
There are a few things that only the real hard core XC fans will remember about Rosa and his magical 2009 season.
For example, Rosa, who ran 15:38 as a sophomore in 2008 at Holmdel, came within just a few ticks of going under 15 at Holmdel earlier that season. At the Shore Coaches meet six weeks prior, Rosa ran 15:04 to break the course record of 15:16 that Forys ran in 2006.
Many people also forget that Jim Rosa, Joe's twin, was second at the Meet of Champions that year in 15:15, No. 2 in course history at the time.
And one of the biggest questions that unfortunately could never be answered and will always be discussed is how fast Joe Rosa could have run at Holmdel in 2010 if he didn't miss his senior XC season after undergoing bone fusion surgery to correct a birth defect. Jim went on to win the 2010 M of C title in 15:15
It's fair to say that with his drive and talent that Rosa, who along with Jim went on to become multiple All-Americans at Stanford, probably would have broken 14:56 if he was healthy his senior year, and made his record tougher for even the great Edward Cheserek of St. Benedict's Prep to break. Cheserek ran 14:53 at the 2011 Shore Coaches meet to break Rosa's Holmdel record.
Brian Gould, the head coach at West Windsor-Plainbsoro North, has vivid memories of Rosa's quest for sub 15.
COULD IT BE DONE?
"I knew he wanted that record and we talked goals all the time,'' said Gould. "He first told me he wanted to break 15:00 before Shore Coaches,'' said Gould. "I believe I actually laughed and said something along the lines of 'come on be serious.' He explained that if he shot for sub 15 and missed he would still get the record. We talked through it more and it was clear that wasn't the end of it. He really believed he could do it. This inconceivable accomplishment that no other person in their right mind would ever put on him, had clearly been on his mind for some time. So he runs Shore and runs 15:04 in rainy lousy conditions.''
"Fast forward to groups and he cruises through in whatever he and Jim ran, 15:30s probably (15:37 each to be exact). Now the hype starts to build. Can he break 15? Meanwhile we are trying to repeat as team champions. And that's all we talk about at practice. Sub 15, in my recollection, is never talked about.''
"I see them (Joe and Jim) on the way out and they are on the gas from the start,'' said Gould. "I think Morgan Pearson (Delbarton) was with them and that's it. I run down to the bowl and see them there and wait for the rest of the team to come through. I now have to run back up the the tennis courts before they run nearly another mile, shouldn't be too hard.''
Gould said he will always remember this next part the most-
"Remember that Jim had not beaten Joe in XC ever at this point,'' said Gould. "So I get to the tennis courts and Jim is already coming around the back of the courts. He's FLYING and Joe is nowhere to be seen. I think 'wow, Jim dropped Joe! He's gonna win!' At that moment I look up and Joe is in a FULL SPRINT finish in the tennis courts and turning towards the back hills. Like it literally looked like he was running the 100m dash. I had never seen anything like it before and never have since. It wS the most aggressive move I've ever seen. My guys go by, it's clear we aren't going to win, so I'm bummed.
"I run down to the finish and people are going berserk. The buzz was electric. I believe Chris Bennett (CBA assistant coach at the time) was the one who first told me. He's saying how amazed he is and I ask did he break 15? He says 14:56. My first thought was - that's impossible!''
HOW ROSA'S 14:56 SHOULD BE REMEMBERED
"It's the most incredible thing I've ever seen,'' said Gould. "I thought it was impossible, but for Joe there was never a doubt. He conquered that course like nobody ever had. I still get chills thinking about it. It's the greatest race ever run in NJ XC. He doesn't have the record anymore, but he dreamed the impossible dream and ran the impossible race. He did it. He broke the barrier. Nobody can ever take that away from him. Jim ran #2 All-Time that day and nobody noticed!''
Here's what I wrote after Rosa's Holmdel gem in 2009-
ROSA GOES SUB 15 AT HOLMDEL!!!!
Jaws were dropping and eyes were popping as the huge throng of fans that were jammed along the final straightway swung their heads from side-to-side as they watched Joe Rosa hammering and the clock ticking.
They all came to witness history, and when Rosa, the indefatigable junior at West Windsor-Plainsboro North, came storming across the finish line, the crowd exploded in total euphoria as a deafening roar could be heard clear across Holmdel Park.
Rosa had done the once unthinkable and unimaginable, stopping the clock at the mind-quivering, knee-buckling numbers of 14:56!!!!
That's right 14:56 at Holmdel as Rosa captured the first Meet of Champions title of his career by 19 seconds over his twin brother Jim, whose time of 15:15 puts him at No. 2 all-time at Holmdel.
Rosa is the first runner to ever break the 15 minute barrier at Holmdel!
`When I came out of the woods, I could hear the crowd kind of going crazy, and I just kept pushing it in the whole way,'' said Rosa. ``When I got close to the finish, I saw 14:50 on the clock and knew I was going to get under. It feels pretty incredible to do something that that hasn't been done before.''
As Rosa crossed the line, he clenched both fists and a big grin flashed across his face.
"It was a pretty incredible feeling,'' said Rosa. "It was a huge goal of mine and felt amazing to actually do it.''
Most people walked around shaking their heads in amazement, muttering to themselves, and others just laughed at the ridiculousness of Rosa's run.
It was indeed a performance for the ages. The greatest run by a N.J. runner anytime, anywhere.
There's really no debating that as the 5-11, 16-year-old Rosa smashed his own course record of 15:04 that he ran at the Shore Coaches Invitational on Oct. 3.
Prior to this season, no one had even sniffed 15 minutes at Holmdel since the current layout was first used in 1979. Some of the state's all-time greats have taken their best shots at Holmdel and none of them came anywhere near that magical barrier.
From 1988 until 2006, the 15:16.2 run by Kinney (now Foot Locker) runner-up Jason DiJoseph of Paul VI at the Parochial A race stood as the course record.
That finally went down when another Foot Locker national runner-up, Craig Forys of Colts Neck, pounded Holmdel to the tune of 15:15.2 at the 2006 Meet of Champions.
In fact, before this season only three runners had ever dipped under 15:30 at Holmdel, and that doesn't include legendary Brendan Heffernan of North Hunterdon, who ran a Holmdel best of 15:31 in 1991 and became NJ's only Foot Locker National Champion in '92.
Since so many icons of the sport had not even come close to 15 at Holmdel, combined with the fact that Holmdel's one of the most grueling courses in the U.S., you would have been laughed at before this season for just mentioning that a sub 15 was even possible. It just seemed so far-fetched.
What Joe Rosa did is one of the most significant moments in N.J. distance running history. I consider it cross country's equivalent to Marty Liquori's sub four minute mile when the Essex Catholic star ran 3:59.8 in 1967.
It's that momentous.
Marty Liquori of Essex Catholic is a NJ legend. Rosa's run gives him legendary status, plain and simple.
"My goal since I was a freshman was to break the course record by my senior year,'' said Rosa.
But Rosa had a sense that it may happen earlier than he anticipated after a training session at Holmdel in late September.
"We came here to do a 5xmile workout (it began at the start and up the hill, and then they crossed the street by the tennis courts and ran to the finish),'' said Rosa. ``I did them all 10 seconds faster than I did last year. After that, I began thinking about trying to get as close to 15 as I could at Shore Coaches.''
After just coming only five seconds away from sub 15 at the Shore Coaches meet, Rosa had a sense that he could break the magical barrier this season.
"I knew that I if I kicked it in faster, I could have gotten it (at the Shore Coaches meet),' said Rosa. ``I felt I had more left in me after that race. I went out there today trying to run as fast as I could, and I got what I was hoping for.''
Rosa said before the race that the key for him to break 15 was to slice a few seconds off his Shore Coaches splits in a couple different spots.
And that's what he did.
After Joe and Jim went by the first mile in 5:07, the same time they ran at the Shore Coaches meet, Joe cranked out a 4:48 second mile to put him at 9:55 (four seconds ahead of his Shore Coaches pace) as he began to separate from Jim, who went by two miles in 9:59.
With his first M of C title pretty much sewn up after two miles, Rosa began racing the clock, and he got plenty of help from the raucous herd of spectators racing all over the course to scream out encouragement and follow his every move.
"I pretty much always knew what my time was because random people just kept yelling it out to me as I was running,'' said Rosa. People kept yelling sub 15 and stuff like that. It made me push that much harder. There were even people from other teams cheering. It was pretty crazy.''
Rosa finished off his historic run with a sizzling 5:01 final 1.1, four seconds faster than how he closed at Shore Coaches.
"I knew that whole last mile that I was on pace to do it, so I just let it all go on those downhills,'' said Rosa, who will defend his Nike Northeast Regional this Saturday at Bowdoin Park in N.Y. "I got into a good rhythm right away and I just felt comfortable out there the whole way.''
Rosa's fellow competitors couldn't help but be in awe of what Rosa accomplished, almost giggling as they searched for words to describe his performance.
"He's inhuman. An absolute running machine,'' said fifth-place finisher Jon Vitez, a senior at Haddonfield, who ran 15:42.
"I'm shocked,'' said CBA junior and fourth-place Mike Mazzaccaro, who ran 15:41. "He's broken down time barriers and raised the bar so high for everyone else in New Jersey.''
"Sub 15 is just ridiculous,'' said third-place finisher Dave Oster of Verona, whose 15:30 time is No. 6 all-time at Holmdel and would have won 28 of the 31 M of C races contested on the current course. "It's just phenomenal.''
"He's taken distance running to a level never seen before,'' said sixth-place finisher Pat Schellberg of Delbarton. "It's just amazing.''
Yes, it was amazing!
It's something no one will ever forget!