Cole Wassell added to his family's great distance running legacy with one of the best performances in course history to spark the Highland boys to the team title, and the Kingsway girls, Ocean City boys, and Mainland girls scored huge wins at the South Jersey Open on Saturday at DREAM PARK in Logan Township.
Wassell, a senior, became the first boy from Highland to win at the SJ Open since his dad, Jay, captured the title for Highland in 1994.
Wassell's winning time of 15:55 in the morning POD race moved him all the way up to No. 5 all-time in the history of the course, which has been used since 2018. Wassell had to run fast to once again hold off junior Dennis Fortuna of Triton, who was second in 16:00.
It's the second straight week that Wassell and Fortuna hooked up in a dandy. Last Saturday, Wassell ran a a course 16:22 to win the Camden County Championship at Timber Creek Park, eight seconds ahead of Fortuna.
Led by Wassell, Highland put together the most impressive team performance of the day as the Tartans went 1-8-10-18-25 and averaged 17:20 on the way to defeating Clearview, 62-77. It's the first SJ Open championships for Highland in nine years..
Highland also came out on top in the team merge, 98-111 over Ocean City, the afternoon POD team champion.
The Highland boys received strong races from its whole pack. Sophomore Gavin Gallo was eighth in 17:21, sophomore Cole Knoedler was 10th in 17:27, sophomore Anthony Imperatore was 18th in 17:51, and another sophomore, Jake Smith, placed 25th in 18:16. Wassell was the only senior in Highland's top seven.
Interesting to note that Schalick junior Scott Hubbard, who won the Salem County title on Friday, came back a day later to finish ninth in 17:24. Pretty impressive double for Hubbard!
In the morning POD girls race, Mainland repeated as champion by cramming four runners in the top 12 to edge Clearview, 57-62.
Highland dominated the front of this race as junior Princess Ngowa ran 19:47 and sophomore Grace Wassell, Cole's sister, went 19:54 for a 1-2 finish.
Mainland, with just two seniors in its top seven, went 3-7-9-10-28. The Mustangs were led by freshman Claudia Booth, third in 20:04.
The top team performance on the day in the girls competition was turned in by Kingsway, ranked No. 6 in the state.
Junior Allison Helkowski finished first in 20:08 to lead a strong surge by the Dragons, who packed their five scoring runners in the top eight and averaged 20:49.
Kingsway went 1-3-5-7-8 to runaway with the team title with just 24 points, and the Dragons also emerged on top in the merge scoring, 60-100.5 over Mainland.
In addition to Helkowski, Kingsway sophomore Aubrey Pierontoni was third in 20:38 in 20: 38, sophomore Nicole Lipieta took fifth in 20:49, senior Sydney Watts was seventh (21:12), and junior Allison MacFarland placed eighth in 21:20.
The boys afternoon POD race came right down to the fifth runner.
Kingsway was leading Ocean City, 26-27, after each team had four runners across the line. But Ocean City sophomore Nick Scarangelli came up with a clutch 14th place finish in 18:21, six places ahead of Kingsway's No. 5 runner to give Ocean City a dramatic 41-46 victory over Kingsway.
Ocean City went 3-5-7-12-14 and averaged 17:37. Junior Owen Ritti (third in 16:57), seniors Tyler Green (fifth in 17:13), and senior Brendan Schlatter (seventh in 17:24) led the charge for the Red Raiders.
Kingsway, led by junior Kyle Rakitis, who won the race in 16:33, countered with a 1-6-8-11-20 and averaged 17:38.