Jackson Braddock's time trial from June where he ran an 8:58.3 time trial.
Ever since Jackson Braddock and Caroline Mehlhorn started pounding out their summer mileage, a full tank of motivation has fueled their training, which was geared toward making a run at capturing the state's greatest distance running prize this fall.
Braddock and Mehlhorn, the top returning finishers from the XC Meet of Champions last year, have shared a common goal of winning their first MOC titles this upcoming XC season, something that's driven them more and more with every step they've taken on their runs.
So when the announcement came on Friday that the NJSIAA eliminated the State XC Group Championships and Meet of Champions as part of its "Model 1 - Delayed Fall Season" plan caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, it was crushing news for Braddock and Mehlhorn and the rest of the runners in the state. The NJ XC season will now conclude after the State Sectional championships.
This will be the first year since 1918 that the Boys State Group Championships won't be held, the first year since 1975 that the Girls State Group Championships won't be held, and the first year since 1971 that the Meet of Champions won't be contested.
Like most of the NJ XC Community, Braddock and Mehlhorn are thankful that there's at least some hope for a partial XC season. But both are understandably disappointed and frustrated that their quest for November glory and the chance to score the biggest victories of their careers have been derailed.
Braddock, a rising senior at Southern Regional. is coming off a huge breakout junior year, and would have entered the season as the favorite to win the boys MOC title.
He won the State Group 4 title in a Holmdel PR of 15:49, placed sixth at the Meet of Champions in 15:50, earned a spot at nationals by placing fifth at the NE Regional in 15:57, and he was 29th at the Team Nationals meet as an individual in 15:37.
Then this past winter, Braddock finished fourth in the 3200m at the indoor Meet of Champions this past March in 9:06.8
Braddock recently showed how fit he is when he blasted an 8:58.3 3,200 in a time trial on June 13 at Old Bridge.
Knowing he will never get another chance to win an XC MOCs title hit Braddock hard.
"It was definitely disappointing to officially see MOCs removed from this year's XC calendar,'' said Braddock. "Outside of NXN, which seems destined to get cancelled as well, MOC is about as competitive as it gets. Everybody is ready to get after it, and there are always some fireworks each year. '
Braddock said he has been driven to win an XC MOCs title after seeing past champions win the prestigious championship.
"Watching Liam Murphy (2019 MOCs XC champ), and Devin Hart (2017 and '18 MOCs XC winner) win in previous years, I was inspired by their efforts to go for the win this year, and drop a quick time along the way. The atmosphere at Holmdel Park (site of the State Groups and Meet of Champions) last year was electric, and I couldn't wait to get back on the starting line. As much as I enjoy training, I also love racing. At MOC there's a lot on the line, which makes it one of my favorite races.''
Braddock said he's hopeful there will still be a season, and if there is he'll be ready to make the most of it.
"While I'm still hoping that we can have some type of season this fall, it will be challenging to fill the void of Groups and MOC,'' said Braddock. "I'm not sure when I'll get to line up at Holmdel Park, or anywhere else for that matter, but I'll be ready and cannot wait to compete again!''
Mehlhorn (right) battling with another top returner, Camryn Wennersten of Ridgewood (left), last fall at Holmdel.
Mehlhorn, a rising junior at Montgomery, has been one of the state's top XC runners since her freshman year. She would have been one of the favorites to capture the girls MOC title along with several other great returners, including Ridgewood star Camryn Wennersten.
Mehlhorn's sophomore year was sensational.
She placed second to Chloe Gonzalez of North Hunterdon at both the state Group 4 meet and the Meet of Champions. Mehlhorn, who was fifth at the XC MOCs as a freshman in 2018, dropped a Holmdel PR of 18:19 when she was the runner-up last year.
Mehlhorn also ran 18:22 to finish 14th at the Foot Locker NE Regional for the second straight year, and this past March she ran a personal best 10:57.91 to finish sixth in the 3200m at the MOCs.
Melhlhorn was stunned when she heard the news about the cancellation of the State Groups and MOCs.
"When I heard the news that MOC and Groups were cancelled I was honestly shocked.,'' said Mehlhorn. "Those last two meets at Holmdel are always the highlight of my entire year, and every time I compete there I learn to love the sport even more.''
Mehlhorn said there is nothing that can compare to the atmosphere and electricity of racing at Holmdel Park in November, and she felt she had a great shot at winning the MOCs title this year.
"I am going to miss the rush of the start, the crazy spectators, and the accomplishment of crossing the finish line after giving it my all,'' said Mehlhorn. "Obviously, I am really upset and discouraged. Last year, I got a personal record at MOC, which I consider to have been my best race ever. I was runner-up last year to Chloe Gonzalez who is now going to be at college (Georgetown), which opened up a spot for me to potentially claim that state champion title.''
Mehlhorn admitted that it's going to be difficult to stay motivated without the State Group Championships and MOCs races to target.
"When people ask me my goals for the fall as far as running, the biggest one that always came to my mind was winning Groups and MOC,'' said Mehlhorn said. "Now that those goals are gone, and I'm not going to lie, it's going to be really hard to stay motivated and determined, since my entire season revolves around those races.''
Mehlhorn is thankful that she still has her senior year to pursue her goal of winning an XC MOCs title, and she feels especially bad for all the seniors in the state.
"At the end of the day, I know all of the NJ runners are going to be upset about this so I know I'm not alone,'' said Mehlhorn. "I personally love this sport so much that I am willing to put in 100% during these training months, even though I won't be able to perform at the state level this fall. Although I do see this as a let down, my determination for next year, along with the track season, will only strengthen. My heart goes out to the seniors who won't be able to experience this one last time.''