JAMESBURG -- The Central Jersey sectional meet started with a tremendous team battle and ended with a head-to-head team showdown combined with the best individual performance of the day.
South Brunswick's Vidhur Polam unleashed the best time on a dominant run through the Thompson Park course.
South Brunswick was one of 12 different teams to come away with individual or team hardware.
South Brunswick, Colts Neck and Highland Park had individual and team winners on the boys sides. Colts Neck also achieved the feat on the girls side.
Group 1 Girls
Clare Erwin came out on top for Delaware Valley in one of the tightest races of the day.
"I knew I wanted to be in first, or at least second, so I really wanted to get out in front," Erwin said. "It feels good. I'm happy."
Delaware Valley, New Providence and Shore each put two runners in the top six and the third competitor on each team finished in seventh, eighth and ninth.
Shore pulled away with its final two placers coming in 11th and 14th among the runners entered into the team competition.
Shore had the smallest margin of victory of three points ahead of New Providence. Delaware Valley took third at 28 points back.
"Last year, we lost to New Providence so our goal was to pick off as many of them as we could. We wanted to keep them in sight and that's what we did. We all ran a really smart race," Shore's Caroline Donohoe said.
- Clare Erwin (Delaware Valley): 19:18.40
- Shore: 39 (3+4+7+11+14): 21:48.26 average
Group 2 Girls
Metuchen and Rumson Fair-Haven split the honors in the day's first race.
Caroline Schleif broke away from the pack in the closing stretch to come away with the individual victory for Metuchen.
"It's amazing. These past couple years I've come here and been pretty close, but I was so excited and happy to have the opportunity to race and win it," Schleif said.
Rumson countered by putting four runners in the top nine, led by second-place finisher Julia Shanes.
"Our coach knew that Metuchen was the one to beat," Shanes said. "We knew that they were really good so we knew we had to kick it at the end and take out the race. We didn't have to do anything special. We just had to win our race."
Rumson beat out Metuchen by putting its top five girls within the top 11.
- Caroline Schleif (Metuchen): 19:47.00
- Rumson Fair-Haven 34 (2+4+8+9+11) 20:40.66 average
Group 3 Girls
Lilly Shapiro blew away the competition in the girls Group 3 race.
The Colts Neck junior beat her closest competition by a minute-and-a-half.
"I knew that I could take it from the gun basically," Shapiro said. "I went out at a good pace and then I wanted to grind away from there. It's harder running out on your own because I'm more of a competitive runner so I run better when there's people around and I'm fighting for a place."
The team race was much more competitive, as Colts Neck edged out Hopewell Valley, 46-55. The Cougars weren't sure of the victory after they had a runner go down on the course.
"Our third-place runner twisted her ankle in the mud so she had to drop out. That was scary and we didn't know if we were going to win or not," Shapiro said. "It's so exciting to win. I think this is the fourth year in a row winning. The team win is the most important part."
Kavita Shah's third-place finish and Presslie Mariner's fourth-place run allowed Colts Neck the cushion it needed to capture the team title.
- Lilly Shapiro (Colts Neck): 18:36.50
- Colts Neck: 46 (1+3+4+7+31) 20:59.00 team average
Group 4 Girls
Caroline Mehlhorn and Julia Scrudato finished 1-2 for Montgomery in the afternoon's final girls race.
Mehlhorn bursted in front of the pack and finished with a 13-second advantage over her teammate, who fended off a late challenge from Hunterdon Central's Laurel Kurtz.
"Last year it was pretty close between me and some of the same people (fighting for first) this year so I remember the last mile I was able to pull away and make the gap bigger. That was my strategy going into today so I could have the last quarter mile to finish my form and make a strong kick," Mehlhorn said.
Charlotte Gilmore's fourth-place finish started a run of three Princeton runners in four positions that helped boost it to the team title.
For Gilmore, the team victory was the culmination of four years of hard work in the Princeton program.
"I'm a senior and this has been our goal since I was a freshman," Gilmore said. "It's incredible. I'm so excited."
- Caroline Mehlhorn (Montgomery): 19:01.50
- Princeton: 49 (4+6+7+10+22) 20:09.74 team average
Group 1 Boys
Highland Park dominated the small-school race by taking the first four positions and the team crown.
Ben Godish led the 1-2-3-4 finish and was followed by Angelo Bottone, Liam Tilton and Jason Lin.
"I think we all stuck to the plan," Godish said. "I knew going into this it was going to be tough to stay focused without someone in front of me. To be honest, it all comes down to what the people lower down are doing. The whole point was to win as a team. In every way, we did it to the best of our abilities. I'm really proud of everyone."
The top four Highland Park runners finished within a minute-and-a-half of each other and the closest competitor to the foursome was 17 seconds off Lin's fourth-place pace.
- Ben Godish (Highland Park): 16:25.30
- Highland Park: 28 (1+2+3+4+18): 17:41.38 average
Group 2 Boys
Voorhees; Jack Tavaglione broke free from the group to win by 27 seconds in the first boys race of the day .
Tavaglione battled through the windy conditions to get as close to his goal of breaking 16 minutes as possible.
"I was trying to do what I usually do and that's take it out hard," Tavaglione said. "If anyone came along with me, I would push until the end with them. If not, then I would just keep pushing myself mentally. I was trying to break 16, but because of the win, I was like 20 seconds off. I'm still happy with the win, but the time was disappointing."
In the team race, Cinnaminson edged out Robbinsville by four points, 103-107. The Pirates' top three runners, Alexander Boyko, Matt McCarron and Tyler Schill finished in eighth, 10th and 12th, respectively.
"Our coach told us this morning it was going to be a close race," Boyko said. "We've been working hard all season. For this coming from a young team, we're all sophomores, we knew it would be close and if we didn't give up, we'd have a chance."
- Jack Tavaglione (Voorhees): 16:24.00
- Cinnaminson 103 (8+10+12+36+37) 17:58.08 average
Group 3 Boys
Matt Bogdan led a dominant race for Colts Neck in which it placed its top five runners in the first nine places.
Bogdan opened up a significant advantage over Allentown's Ayden Estevez to create a winning margin of a half-minute.
"The goal was to run as even as I could and try to go fast," Bogdan said. "I was like 5:03, 5:00 and about 5:05 pace so I'd say I did a pretty good job with that. I think the whole team ran like that as well so it was good to see."
Christian Mariner and Ryan Johnson followed Bogdan as top-five runners from Colts Neck in third and fourth, respectively.
Dylan Perkinson and Joe Allegro sealed the team victory by finished behind one another in eighth and ninth place, respectively.
- Matt Bogdan (Colts Neck): 15:49.00
- Colts Neck: 25 (1+3+4+8+9) 16:54.86 average
Group 4 Boys
South Brunswick's Vidhur Polam saved the most dominant performance of the day until the last race.
Polam cruised through Thompson Park to the fastest time of the day of 15:40.20. He was 16 seconds shy of beating his closest competition by a full minute.
"I felt like I was going to have that big of a margin, but I didn't realize I was going to have it right away," Polum said. "In the first 200 meters I was all by myself so I was kind of starstruck based off that, but I knew I just had to take it and go."
Polam experienced more of a sweat when it came to the team race. The Vikings edged out East Brunswick by five points.
Sahil Sheth took fourth and three other runners finished inside the top 22.
"It feels amazing. We've been training for this since August. With no groups of MOCs, we had sectionals as our goal," Polam said.
- Vidhur Polam (South Brunswick): 15:40.20
- South Brunswick: 57 (1+4+12+18+22)