Middletown South, Lilly Shapiro Lead The Way At Monmouth

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Get three of the top ten teams in the state together in one place, and some determined racing will unfold. The Monmouth County Girls Championships had results that couldn't be any closer, with some unexpected excitement thrown in.

The Girls Large School race saw NJ #8 Middletown South capture the win over NJ #7 Colts Neck, as South's top 5 all finished in the top 11 overall. Leading the way for Coaches Kathleen and Bill Clifton's team was freshman Rosemary Shay, 3rd overall in 19:42. With sisters Lucy and Gwen Afanasewicz (5th and 7th in 19:59 and 20:18), Lexi Dean (9th in 20:20) and Lauren Hutson (11th in 20:43) working together, the Eagles had a 1:01 pack time and a repeat of their win from last year.

LINK: Girls Top 20 State Rankings

Colts Neck was just a few points back in a race where the afternoon sun and temperatures over 70 degrees definitely took a toll. Lilly Shapiro led the way for the Cougars. She had company early in the race, but steadily pulled away for a big victory in 18:21, which would end up being the fastest time of the day. Marlboro's Emma Luo was 2nd in 19:24. Colts Neck also had Olivia Petschauer (6th in 20:11) and Kavita Shah (8th in 20:18) in the top ten overall.

Two hours later, the temperatures had cooled considerably for the Girls Small School race, but a new challenge emerged with dusk approaching: wildlife. NJ #10 Red Bank Catholic knew they'd face a challenge from Rumson-Fair Haven, and were hoping to top the performances in the Large School race. What they didn't expect was a large deer barreling through the middle of the race.

"It was definitely the scariest moment of my life," said RBC senior and 5th runner Kase Torchia. "It was the biggest deer I've ever seen. I definitely had to maneuver out of the way, and it skimmed my jersey."

Rattled but fortunately unscathed, Torchia was able to carry on through the second half of the race.

"I knew I had to keep running for my team so I pushed through," said Torchia, who ended up 16th overall in 21:07. "I've never experienced something like that."

Teammate Cate DeSousa was in front of the deer and everyone else. While the Bucks Mill course is mostly flat and fast, a sneaky hill near the midway point often has an impact on race finishes. DeSousa, a lover of hills, used that section to get a bit of separation on Tilly O'Connor of St. Rose, then extended her edge a bit further in the last mile. DeSousa picked up the win in 18:56, O'Connor was a strong 2nd in 19:06, and RBC junior Kate DeFilippis was 3rd in 19:42.

RBC was able to just edge out Rumson-Fair Haven, 41-42. With Julia Shanes in 4th in 19:54 and their top 5 all within 1:03, unranked R-FH staked their claim as one of the better teams in the state as well.

In the merge of the two races, Middletown South and RBC were deadlocked at 72 points apiece. The sixth runner tiebreaker gave the nod and Monmouth County title to South, as Skylar O'Keefe's 21:16 effort made the difference. R-FH ended up 3rd in the merge with 76 points, followed by Colts Neck in 4th and Trinity Hall in 5th. The top 4 teams all ended the day with a top-5 average time between 20:10 and 20:17.

Splitting the race into two divisions over two days (the Monmouth County Boys Championship is here tomorrow), and prohibiting spectators allowed the race to happen safely. But would the results have been different if all the teams ran at the same time? How much did the temperature difference between the two races impact overall times? And did a high-speed deer have an impact on the final team standings? These are questions with no answers, and could be seen as par for the course in 2020. The best news is that New Jersey cross country championship racing is happening, and Sectionals are just a week away.