Knowing this probably represented the only time this season that most of them would get a crack at racing at Holmdel Park, some of the best teams and runners in the state revved up their engines and threw down red hot performances at the inaugural Colt Invitational on Wednesday.
Despite being forced to keep the fields small because of the COVID-19 safety guidelines, the meet packed a powerful punch, produced a flurry of personal bests, led by the eye-popping victories by Jackson Barna of Ridge and Lilly Shapiro of Colts Neck, and featured huge statement races by NJ No. 1 Christian Brothers Academy, and the NJ No. 2 Haddonfield girls.
In a showdown between the top two teams in the state, CBA dropped a 16:34 average and went 4-6-8-9-12 to defeat NJ#2 Ridge, 35-61, on the legendary 3.1 mile layout, the site of the state championships since 1976. No. 6 Colts Neck was third with 89, No. 8. Haddonfield fourth with 92, No. 12 South Brunswick fifth with 102, and No. 3 St. Peter's Prep was sixth with 120.
CBA, led by senior Chris DeSousa who was fourth in a Holmdel PR of 16:05, received six Holmdel PR's, had a compression of 43 seconds, and put its top five runners in front of Ridge's No. 3 runner to lock up the victory.
Since the NJSIAA eliminated the State Group Championships and the Meet of Champions this season for COVID-19 related reasons, CBA's victory, coupled with its 70-89 win over Ridge at the Cougar Invitational on Oct. 10, most likely secures a final No. 1 ranking in the state for the Colts, barring a monumental upset at the state Non-Public A sectional championships next month.
Haddonfield was just as impressive in the girls race as the Dawgs dropped six Holmdel PR's, averaged a blistering 19:43, and dominated a loaded field in a 30-54 victory over No. 8 Colts Neck. No. 3 Middletown South was third with 58, Rumson fourth with 93, and Trinity Hall fifth with 127.
Haddonfield's average of 19:43 is No. 2 in South Jersey history behind the 19:35 that Haddonfield averaged at the 2013 Meet of Champions when Briana Gess led the charge with a winning time of 17:45, a freshman course record.
Haddonfield's top five all ran Holmdel PR's and went 2-3-4-11-14.
Senior Sarah Naticchia led the title march by running 18:57, No. 7 all-time in school history. Senior Payton Weiner ran 19:08, senior Allison Colflesh 19:34, senior Lindsay Colflesh 20:31, and sophomore Sabrina Miller, running XC for the first time this season, clocked a 20:36.
Haddonfield's performance shows that it could have made a strong run at knocking off No. 1 Ridgewood and defending champion North Hunterdon at the Meet of Champions this season. It's a shame we will never find out.
Individually, juniors Barna and Shapiro used big surges in the final mile to finish first with Holmdel PR's.
In the boys race, Barna used a big push coming out of the bowl and ran a 5:03 seocnd mile to grab a five-meter lead on Vidhur Polam of South Brunswick. Polam stayed on Barna's heels through the back woods before Barna finally shook Polam when he emerged from the woods and onto to the final straightaway. Barna came charging across the line in 15:50.,five seconds faster than his previous Holmdel PR of 15:55 that he ran to place seventh at the Meet of Champions last year.
Polam, 11th at the M of last year ran, 15:58 to place second, a 10 second Holmdel PR. Matt Bogdan of Colts Neck, who defeated Barna by a step at the Couugar Invit. on Oct. 10, was third in 1a Holmdel PR OF 16:03.
On the girls side, Shapiro was with the Haddonfied trio of Naticchia, Weiner and Allison Colflesh as they climbed to the top of the bowl, but then took command coming out of the bowl on her eay to victory in 18:42, a 16 second PR at Holmdel. Shapiro's previous best at Holmdel was 18:58, which she ran to finish ninth at the Meet of Champions last year.
After Shapiro opened about a 10-yard lead with a 6:03 second mile, she hammered her way around the tennis courts and powered through the back woods en route to a very impressive 14-second victory.