When Leon Bunion took over as the Rahway boys cross-country coach in the fall of 2008, he vowed to put his team back on the NJ cross-country map.
He was tired of hearing about how long it had been since the Rahway boys won a major championship, and he wasn't going to stop grinding until he returned the Indians back to their glory days.
A dozen years later, Bunion's dream became a reality as the Rahway boys finally climbed back to the top and ended a long title drought by capturing the Mountain Division title at the Union County Conference Championships on Thursday at Warinanco Park in Elizabeth.
How long was the drought?
It had been 60 years since the Rahway boys last won a major XC championship.
That's right, the last championship the Rahway boys captured in XC came way back in 1960 when the Indians finished first at the first ever Watchung Conference Championships at Warinanco.
"When I first started coaching at Rahway, I made it my mission to put Rahway back on the map,'' said Bunion. "We finally did it. I have always envisioned this day!''
Rahway's huge breakthrough came in stunning fashion as six runners blasted Warinanco Park PR's, including some massive bombs.
Rahway's title march began when senior Michael Laskowski won the race in 17:07 (an eight second course PR), and was completed when No. 5 runner, junior Jordan Williams, crossed 23rd in 19:16 , a six second Warinanco PR) to secure a 41-51 victory over runner-up New Providence.
In between Laskowski and Willliams, sophomore Micah Lawson was third for Rahway in 17:30, a whopping 65 seconds faster than his previous Warinanco best, sophomore Damani Brown was sixth in 17:58, a drop of 42 seconds, and junior Austin Essel placed eighth in 18:03, a Warinanco PR by 27 seconds.
Also for Rahway, who averaged 17:58, junior Thomas Rosky finished 25th in 19:28, an improvement of 54 seconds at Warinanco, and senior Scott Nwosu placed 31st in 20:35.
- The top girls performances of the meet came in the Watchung Division as NJ#7 Westfield, third last year, regained its title, and Summit's Lara Cota continued her breakout junior season by finishing first in a huge Warinanco PR of 18:54, the top time of the day. Cota, who has emerged as one of the state's biggest stars this fall, sliced 50 seconds off her Warinanco PR of 19:44 that she ran to place sixth at the Union County Championships last year.
- Westfield received four PR's, averaged 19:47, and outscored runner-up and No. 18 ranked Union Catholic, 26-63. UC edged No. 17 Summit for second on a sixth-runner tiebreaker. The Blue Devils, led by Duke-bound Katie Hamilton's runner-up finish in 19:03, put its top five in front of UC's No. 1 runner.
- The Summit boys, ranked No. 9 in the state, did something very rare when they overcame at 1-2 finish from No. 11 Union Catholic to capture the boys Watchung Division, 25-34, over runner-up UC. After junior Myles Plummer (16:24) and ,junior Shane Brosnan (16:26) went 1-2 for UC, Summit showcased a remarkable display of pack running as the Hilltoppers poured across the line in places 3-4-5-6-7 to secure the victory. Summit had a 1-5 compression of just 19 seconds and averaged 17:16.
- Dayton rode a 1-2 finish from sophomores Colin Riley (17:49) and Allan Jean-Baptiste (18:23) to repeat as boys Valley Division champions, 25-44 over runner-up Union.
- In the girls Valley Division, Oak Knoll crammed five runners in thje top 11 to outscore defending champion Union, 25-39, and Union freshman Cassidy Kidd crossed the line first in 21:01. Oak Knoll, led by runner-up Elizabeth Athaide (22:12) went 2-3-4-8-11 and averaged 23:15.
- Senior Clare Kelly ran the second fastest time of the day when she won the girls Mountain Division race in 19:01 to spark New Providence to a 27-43 victory over Gov. Livingston. New Providence put six runners ahead of GL's No. 4 runner to lock up the team title.