Picture of Tim Mooney with his 2017 Group 4 Championship team, second from right.
Ridge head girls cross-country and track coach Tim Mooney, who's been at his post for more than two decades, is one of those coaches who is jovial on and off the field of battle, and he loves to talk about his sport, with student-athletes, fellow coaches, writers, anyone who will listen.
So when I reached out to Tim to help me kick-start a new feature on NJ MileSplit, he never wavered.
We're asking coaches to provide the three most memorable moments -- team or individual -- on the trails or track while they've been a coach. The only rule is that a coach cannot name an achievement -- whether it be a title won, a record broken, etc. -- by one of his or her own student-athletes.
With that said, Mooney wasted no time in rattling off three amazing accomplishments he's seen during his tenure at Ridge. He wanted to name a half dozen more, but then I would never get done writing. Perhaps Tim and I can collaborate on a book. But that's for another day.
In chronological order, here are Mooney's top three...
No. 1 -- Joe Rosa wins the 2009 cross-country Meet of Champions in a meet record 14:56
Twins Joe and Jim Rosa dominated the headlines while they ran for West Windsor-Plainsboro North. And they almost always ran together. They were that talented, and either one of them would have been any other team's No. 1 runner.
Breaking 15 minutes at Holmdel Park seemed unthinkable until Joe did it. Before Joe's 15:04 at Shore Coaches, the two who came closest were Craig Forys of Colts Neck, who ran 15:16 in 2006 and Jason DiJoseph of Paul VI who ran 15:17 in 1988.
In the fall of 2009 when the twins were juniors, Joe won the 2009 MOCs in a course record 14:56 and Jim placed second in 15:15. Joe had broken his own course record of 15:04 set nearly two months earlier at the Shore Coaches Invitational. And Jim's time made him the No. 2 runner in course history.
"I remember watching that kid run that day. Incredible," Mooney said. "That kid really impressed me. I remember seeing him at the two-mile mark and thinking, Wow.
"The other thing that struck me was after the meet. Our team was one of the last teams to leave Holmdel that day, and those boys were carrying the team tents. It said a lot to me about the type of people you're working with.
That was pretty damn impressive."
No. 2 -- Christian Brothers Academy wins the 2012 cross-country MOCs without its five best runners
Superstorm Sandy played havoc on everyone's lives in the fall of 2012, and in New Jersey, it obviously caused a headache for the NJSIAA, which needed to do a major reshuffling of the high school sports schedule.
The schedule was reset with the Non-Public A meet, the MOCs and the Nike Northeast Regionals all slated within eight days of each other. Christian Brothers Academy entered the season as the defending Nike Cross Nationals winner, so the Colts weren't going to jeopardize their chances at the regional meet.
And once CBA ran a course average 16:03.2 at the Non-Public A meet, legendary coach Tom Heath made up his mind. Rest all of his top guys.
The JV team would mix with the varsity's No. 6 and 7 runners, and Heath's plan worked. CBA averaged 16:30.8 and defeated runner-up Holmdel 110-133.
Senior Aaron Liberatore led CBA in 25th place in 16:17. He was followed by sophomore Josh Kruppa (29th, 16:22), junior Andrew Reda (41st, 16:32), freshman Blaise Ferro (47th, 16:37) and sophomore Greg Paugh (57th, 16:46).
"The fact that CBA sat five guys and won the freaking thing, that's ridiculous," Mooney said.
"It's just extremely impressive, there's no other way to say it. With any other program you might feel like you have some depth. I've had good boys teams where I never ran the same seven the whole season. But this is a whole other level. And to do it in that year (with Superstorm Sandy). It interrupted our training and it showed at sectional and groups. They found a way to run at the level they were capable of running. Just remarkable."
No. 3 -- Union Catholic's Sydney McLaughlin indoor MOCs 400 AND and the New Balance Outdoor Nationals 400 hurdles
Sydney McLaughlin, for anyone fortunate enough to have seen her compete for Union Catholic (2014-17), was a phenomenon in spikes. Her races were "can't miss" track. She broke the state indoor 600 meter record as a freshman, and her career exploded from there.
Here's an example: At the national junior championships following her freshman season, McLaughlin broke the state 400 hurdles record with a national high school record 55.63.
Another example: In the 32 years of the outdoor MOCs 400 hurdles before 2014 (McLaughlin's freshman year), only nine girls ran sub-60s. McLaughlin is the only NJ girl to win four outdoor MOCs 400 hurdles titles -- and all four wins were sub-60.
At the 2016 outdoor MOCs at Central Regional High in Bayville, McLaughlin won her third straight 400 hurdles title in 56.23, the fastest ever on NJ soil. That summer McLaughlin qualified and competed for the U.S. Olympic team in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
As a senior she broke her own indoor state 400 record with a 53.17 at the MOCs and then rebroke it with a 51.61 at the New Balance Indoor Nationals. Outdoors, she rebroke her own 400 state record with a 51.87 at the MOCs.
Weeks later at the New Balance Outdoor Nationals, McLaughlin won her fourth straight 400 hurdles title in 54.22. She would lower her state record a week later to 53.82 at the USATF Outdoor Track & Field Championships.
"She ran so many incredible races, just pick one. I can't," Mooney said. "I do remember being really impressed with her (51.87 400 meters) at the indoor Meet of Champions. Running on an indoor flat track (at the Bennett Center in Toms River) without spikes? I would bow to anyone who can give a better example, but that was impressive.
"At the nationals I think she ran a 53 or something insane (53.82 to be precise). I just think how excited we are to get girls under 60. And to watch this girl do that at her age? Incredible."