Kevin Antczak of Mainland, who came from way back, and Jack Jennings of Mendham finished up their remarkable seasons with All-American finishes to lead the way for New Jersey at Saturday's Foot Locker Cross-Country National Championships at Balboa Park in San Diego, Calif.
The NC State-bound Antczak, dead last in 40th place after the first half mile and 35th at the mile mark, surged over the final two miles to finish eighth in 15:25, and the Villanova-bound Jennings came charging across the line in ninth place in 15:29.4 as the NJ duo helped lead the Northeast Region to the boys team title.
The top 15 finishers earn All-American status.
Liam Murphy of Allentown, the NJ XC Meet of Champions winner, was bidding for the tough All-American double after placing eighth in 15:12 to earn All-American at NXN Nationals in Portland last week, but the Villanova-bound star couldn't quite accomplish that as he placed 25th in 15:53.6.
Nicole Vanasse of Pingry, NJ's only girl to qualify, ran a strong race to place 27th in 18:20.5. That's a huge improvement for the Columbia-bound Vanasse, who sliced 34 seconds off her time from last year when she placed 32nd in 18:54.5.
It was a great way for Vanasse, who missed most of the outdoor track season with an injury, to cap off a sensational comeback season and complete her great high school XC career, which saw her win three straight State Non-Public A Championships.
Antczak's race was simply amazing.
Antczak, the runner-up to Murphy at the Meet of Champions and fourth at the FL NE Regional in 15:24.0 (No. 7 all-time in NJ history at Van Cortlandt), purposely ran cautiously in the beginning before making up 27 places on the field over the final two miles after a 4:51.5 first mile left in 35th place. By two miles, he was up to 14th place (9:54.3), at 2.5 he was 11th (12:27.8) and at three miles Antczak moved into eighth.
The time of 15:25.0 by Antczak placed him No. 14 all-time for a NJ runner at Balboa Park and it's the fastest time by a NJ runner on the course since the legendary Edward Cheserek of St. Benedict's Prep won his second straight title in 2011in 14:52.
Antczak's eighth-place finish also marks the best finish for a SJ runner since the great Jason DiJoseph of Paul VI was second in 1988 in 15:10.
Jennings, who ran 15:19 (No.6 in Holmdel Park history) when he won the State Group 3 title last month in an epic clash with Murphy, was in the chase pack the whole race on his way to moving into No. 15 on NJ's All-Time list at Balboa!
Jennings, 10th at both the mile (4:49.0) and two mile (9:51.5) before moving into ninth at three miles (14:58.6), is the second runner from Mendham to earn All-American at FL as he joined former teammate Jack Stanley, who was seventh last year in 15:30.1.
The All-American finish by Jennings completed a stunning season. Not only did he run 15:19 at Holmdel and win the state Group 3 title, he also ran the two fastest times ever at Greystone (15:07.5 and 15:07.6), won the state sectional and Morris County titles, and placed fifth at the FL NE Regional after running sick at the Meet of Champions the week before.
Murphy, who improved significantly from last year when he was 33rd at FL Nationals in 16:20.3, was with his Jennings, his future college teammate, for most the race. He was eighth at the mile in 4:48.9, and 12th at two miles (9:52.4) before falling back to 23rd at three miles (15:16.).
Murphy's second straight berth in the FL Nationals finished off a memorable campaign for him.
Murphy, in addition to winning the Meet of Champs title and becoming an All-American when he was 8th last week at NXN where he finished ahead of Antczak and Jennings, won the 2.5-mile Eastern States race at Van Cortlandt Park in 12:15.2, No. 11 in course history and No. 5 all-time by a NJ runner, ran 15:21 at Holmdel Park, No. 8 in course history, was third at the FL NE Regional at Van Cortlandt in 15:23.6 (No. 6 all-time by a NJ runner), broke the course record at Thompson Park (15:18), and ran 14:52 at Ocean County Park, No. 5 in course history.