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Liam Murphy of Allentown turned frustration into jubilation with a huge bounce back victory and Christian Brothers Academy added to its rich tradition of excellence and sheer domination with another historic run at Saturday's 48th NJSIAA Meet of Champions at Holmdel Park.
Murphy, fueled by an agonizingly close loss in the Group 3 race last week, used a powerful surge near the tennis courts to get a gap on a very game Kevin Antczak of Mainland, and then the Villanova-bound Murphy, who overcame a slip and fall at the start, let it rip on the downhills in the back woods on his way to victory in 15:23! Antczak, who nearly ran without his race bib on, saw his strategy of holding back last week pay off with a runner-up finish in 15:29.
Unfortunately, the eagerly anticipated rematch between Murphy and Jack Jennings, whose big kick gave him the dramatic comeback win over Murphy in Group 3 in 15:19 (No. 6 in course history) to Murphy's 15:21 (No. 8 in course history), fizzled out. Jennings was sick all week with a raging fever that made it virtually impossible for him to contend with Murphy. Despite his sub-par health, Jennings ran a gusty race to place 14th in 16:12 to help NJ#2 Mendham place second to CBA.
Murphy's 15:23, No. 5 in meet history and the fastest winning time in nine years, puts him alongside some some very fast company as he became just the third runner to ever go under 15:30 twice on the hallowed grounds of Holmdel Park, the M of C course since 1976.
The other two are NJ legends Joe and Jim Rosa from West Windsor-Plainsboro North. Joe went a then course record 14:56 to win the 2009 M of C and ran 15:04 at the 2009 Shore Coaches. Jim ran 15:15 to place second to Joe at the 2009 M of C and ran 15:15 again to win the 2010 M of C title.
CBA, on the 40th anniversary of its first M of C title ever in 1979, was simply too strong for any team to contend with as the NJ#1/US#6 Colts, with its huge pack of XC alums gathered as always to root on their alma mater, rolled to a 62-119 over Mendham.
It's the third straight title for CBA, its ninth in the past 10 years, and it raised its state record to an astounding 24 M of C titles overall. That's one more than the rest of the state combined.
That's right, the Meet of Champions scoreboard now reads - CBA 24, the rest of New Jersey 23!!! That's just mind-boggling!!!
With senior Shaw Powell leading the charge with a third-place finish in a Holmdel PR of 15:41, which moves him into No. 5 all-time in school history at Holmdel, CBA went 1-9-11-20-21 in the team scoring, had a 1-5 split of 54 seconds, and averaged 16:15, the same average as last week when the Colts notched its state record 30th Non-Public A title. The 16:15 is No. 9 in course history.
"The MOC is a difficult race to navigate and run well in,'' said CBA coach Sean McCafferty, in his fourth year at the helm for the Colts. "Our boys did a great job today of staying relaxed and not letting nerves become panic. Shaw ran his best race, our two juniors Santos and DeSousa continued their meteoric rise, sophomore Moran ran a tough first MOC, and Troy fought hard to the line. It was a team effort. CBAs history is tough to ignore, but our boys do a great job of keeping themselves in their own moment. We are blessed to be #24, and are excited take our talents to Bowdoin next week.''
Bowdoin Park in Wappinger's Falls , N.Y., is the site of next Saturday's Nike Northeast Regional where CBA will defend its title and seek a berth in the Nike National Championships for the 10th straight year. The top two teams automatically qualify for Nike Nationals. CBA won the Nike National title in 2011.
The individual race lost lots of its juice when Jennings missed four days of school and training this past week with illness.
But the North Carolina State-bound Antczak proved to be a very strong challenger for Murphy. Antczak, who held back in the final mile last week in Group 3 when he was third in 15:52, cut 23 seconds off that time with his 15:29, No. 2 in South Jersey history at Holmdel and tied for No. 14 in course history. Only Jason DiJoseph of Paul VI (a then course record 15:17 at the Non-Public A meet in 1988) has run faster at Holmdel than Antczak in SJ history.
The race didn't start off the way Murphy and Antczak hoped as both had to overcome an anxious moment.
Murphy and Group 2 champ Austin Gabay of Cinnaminson slipped in the mud when they planted to accelerate when the gun went off. Murphy's hands hit the ground, but he quickly bounced up. Meanwhile, Antczak was on the start line when he realized he didn't have his bib, so he had sprint a few hundred meters to get it and return to the start.
When they got rolling, Murphy and Antczak hit the mile in 5:11 as they fronted a huge pack. Antczak had a step on Murphy when they started to go down the bowl with Cherokee's Ethan Wechsler, Martin Riddell of Haddonfield, and Jennings on their heels.
Murphy took the lead by a couple meters on Antczak coming out of the bowl as they built a 10-meter lead on Wechsler and Riddell with Jennings five meters back in fifth.
Murphy made a push coming out of the bowl, but couldn't shake Antczak, who was still in his shadow when they hit two miles in 10:14. Then Murphy went for the kill as he neared the tennis courts and simply put the hammer down and opened a 20-meter gap in the back woods.
"I heard that Jack wasn't feeling well, but I wasn't going to change my race plan,'' said Murphy, the first M of C winner from Allentown. "I knew I had to still run my race and that Kevin was going to run much harder than last week and be tough to beat.''
Murphy said the loss last week, his only setback of the season, was on his mind all week and it popped in his head near the end of Saturday's race
"There were a lot of nerves this week and lot of thinking about what I can do differently than I did last week, whether to lead or sit,'' said Murphy, who won the M of C 3,200 last winter. "I hate to lose and that really motivated me to come out and win this week. When I came out of the woods, I was thinking about last week and didn't want the same thing to happen and get caught, so I took a little peek to see where he was and he wasn't as close as I thought. But I still closed it out as hard as I could.''
Murphy, who gave up soccer to run XC last year, said this victory was the biggest moment of his career and that winning Meet of Champions in XC was his biggest goal all season.
"I had no idea when I started running cross-country last year that this could happen, but ever since I was third last year here it's been my biggest goal.''
Antczak, who ran a great race, said the start of the race was nerve-wracking when he realized he didn't have his bib.
"I heard the kid next me at the start say that he forgot his bib, so I looked down to check mine and I didn't have it either,'' said Antczak, 8th at the M of C last year. "If I didn't hear him say that I would have never looked and probably would have run without it. So I told the official I had to get it and I ran down that asphalt path to get my bib (probably close to about 200 meters each way). I got back on the line with my bib as fast I could and a couple seconds later the gun went off. I guess maybe it had an affect on me, but Murphy ran a great race and was tough for anyone to beat today.''
Murphy, fourth at the Foot Locker Northeast Regional last year and 33rd at FL Nationals, Antczak and Jennings will be New Jersey's top contenders at the Foot Locker Northeast Regional at Van Cortlandt Park next Saturday. The top 10 finishers will advance to the FL Nationals in San Diego on Dec. 14.
- Senior Martin Riddell became the sixth runner in Haddonfield history to crack 16 at Holmdel with his eighth place finish in 15:58 as he led the Dawgs to a third-place finish. Haddonfield has now reached the podium and medaled (top six finish) six straight years and 13 times overall. Haddonfield has now appeared in the M of C a remarkable 34 times, all since 1978!
- Senior Ethan Wechsler, second in Group 4 last week, dropped a Holmdel PR of 15:41, No. 2 in Cherokee history, to place fourth for the 2nd straight year and lead Group 4 champion Cherokee to a fourth-place finish and a school record average of 16:30. Only Shawn Wilson (15:40 when won the Group 4 title in 2012) has run faster at Holmdel than Wechsler in Cherokee's great history.
- Senior Oliver Adler of dropped 10 seconds off his Holmdel PR with his very strong 5th place finish in 15:48 to lead Cherry Hill East to an 8th place finish. The 15:48 was nearly a minute faster than Adler's PR at Holmdel last year of 16:47. What a season for Adler!!!
- NJ#6 Ridge continued its greatest season in school history by returning to the podium for the first time since 2010 by placing sixth. Ridge was also sixth in 2010 and fourth in 2004. But this year's team, which won the Somerset County and NJ Sec. 2 titles, broke every course record average in school history. Jackson Barna, the top sophomore in the race (seventh in 15:55) moved into No. 2 in Ridge history at Holmdel behind the 15:44 run by Nike National finalist Tyler Gibbons in 2011.
- NJ#10 Old Bridge produced a meet best 1-5 compression of 43 seconds on the way to a seventh place finish, one point behind NJ#6 Ridge as the Knights beat NJ#7 St. Peter's Prep, NJ#8 North Hunterdon and NJ#9 Cherry Hill East.
- Group 4 champ Jackson Braddock of Southern was the top underclassmen finisher as the junior placed sixth in 15:50.
- Colts Neck, the 7th of the 8 wild card teams, ran a great race to get 10th. Junior Matt Bogdan led the Cougars pack by placing ninth in 16:06, a Holmdel PR by 12 seconds. Bogdan's PR at Holmdel last year was 17:38-what a drop!!!
- Junior Vidhur Polam of South Brunswick, running his first XC season, moved into a tie for No. 2 in South Brunswick history with his time of 16:08 that placed him 11th.