Perez, Langon, Shapiro, Cherokee, Ridge Rule Group Meet

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Angelina Perez dropped a bomb to become the fastest New Jersey girl in course history, the Cherokee girls pulled off a stunning win, Shore Regional scored an emotional victory, and Marco Langon of Bridgewater-Raritan remained undefeated at Saturday's storm-shortened State Group Championships at Holmdel Park.

The meet was halted after nine of the 12 races were completed due to strong storms, the first time ever that a portion of the Group Championship has ever been postponed to another day. The Non-Public A girls, boys Group 2, and the boys Non-Public A races were moved to this Tuesday at Holmdel Park starting at 2 p.m.


This Group Championship meet had it all. There were records, upsets, first-time champs, drama, and some tears.

Let's get this recap rolling with the mind-blowing performance by the indefatigable Perez.


Perez, a senior from Lakeland, has said all season that one of her biggest goals was to break the NJ record at Holmdel Park. She got that in a huge way by dropped a 17:07 to win the Group 2 race, smashing the N.J. record of 17:21 that Notre Dame-bound Charlotte Bednar of Lawrenceville set at the Holmdel Invitational last November. Perez won by a nearly a minute over runner-up Mary Malague of Metuchen, second in 18:06, the second fastest time ever run at Holmdel by a runner from Middlesex County.  

Perez put herself on record pace right away by hammering a 5:42 first mile, and then she crushed the bowl on her way to 5:28 second mile. She finished off her epic run with a 5:57 final 1.1 to take down Bednar's record.     

"Ever since Charlotte ran that 17:21 last year, getting that record is something I've really wanted to do,'' said the University of Florida-bound Perez,  who mentioned that running the course record of 16:54 at Garret Mountain at the NJ, Sec. 1 Championships gave her confidence that she could run close to 17 at Holmdel. "I went out fast (5:42 first mile), and felt good and knew that if if I just kept pushing that pace that I could get the record and maybe even get under 17. I'm really lookin forward to the Meet of Champions next week where I'll go for that sub 17 time, and hopefully get the win. I've always wanted to win a cross-country Meet of Champions title, so winning that would mean the world to me.''

In case you are wondering, the girls overall course record at Holmdel of 16:21 was set by Katelyn Tuohy of North Rockland, N.Y. at the 2018 Shore Coaches Invitational.

Perez said Tuohy's record is probably out of reach, but she'll be looking to get as close to it as possible at the M of C.    


The Cherokee girls came up with their biggest victory ever when the NJ#4 ranked Chiefs took down Ridgewood, the No. 1 team in the state, 81-84, to win the Group 4 title. It's the first state title ever for the Cherokee girls, who became the first South Jersey team to win Group 4 since Shawnee in 2003.     

Cherokee's top five finished 3-10-15-22-31 and averaged 20:01. Ridgewood went 6-9-12-27-30 and also averaged 20:01.

Cherokee's top five were senior Nicole Clifford (third in 19:17), sophomore Olivia Parkinson (12th in 20:17), junior Kelsey Niglio (18th in 20:08), sophomore Kerry O'Day (20:17), and freshman Megan Niglio (37th in 20:41).

The best previous finish at this meet for Cherokee came in 2003 when the Chiefs finished fifth in Group 4 .They went on to place sixth the following week at the Meet of Champions. 

"All the girls were buying into the fact that they could do this,'' said Cherokee coach Mark Jarvis. "No one was expecting us to come in and win today. Sometimes that is a great motivator. I'm sure as the race unfolded, the girls got more focused. I know I was right past the 800, at the bottom of the bowl and then back to the tennis courts. And when I was back up to the tennis courts, I was able to see that our #5 was right with their #5 runner. Nikki told me hearing that made her more determined to finish strong. I think she was in 6th or 7th at the tennis courts, and wound up finishing 3rd. I could certainly talk about everyone's race, but they all knew they just had to keep racing like they have been.

"We didn't go into the race saying if everyone PR's at Holmdel then we have a chance at winning. We just needed to be consistent. Four of our 7 ran their fastest time ever at Holmdel. Nikki bouncing back from a disappointing sectional meet was huge. Our freshman, Megan Niglio, ran 47 seconds faster than she did at Shore Coaches. That was simply amazing. I am so proud of these girls for believing and getting it done. I am so happy for all of them.''


The most heartwarming and emotional victory of the meet came when Shore Regional, led by individual champion Megan Donlevie, won its first Group 1 girls since 2004 and its fifth overall. The team dedicated the race to its head coach, Mel Ullmeyer, who has been away from the team this season due to illness. 

Every member of the Shore team had MMP written on their arms in black marker. It stood for "Make Mel Proud!'

After the race, the Shore Regional team gathered in a circle to celebrate and shed some tears.  

"This one is for Coach Mel,'' said a choked up Donlevie. "He has meant so much to our team and has done so much for the program at Shore Regional, so we all wanted to do win this for him. We knew this would mean a lot to him.'' 

Donlevie, a junior, is the first girls state champ for Shore since Julie Ullmeyer, Mel's daughter, finished first in 2002.

"I was just doing what I could do to help the team win,'' said Donlevie, who ran a Homdel PR of 19:30. "I'm happy with the way I raced and I hope to run ever faster next week.''

Shore's top five were Donlevie, senior Caroline Donohoe (14th in 21:22), sophomore Jacqueline Gifford (16th in 21:29), freshman Lillian Flor (19th in 21:50) and freshman Shannon Loehr (43rd in, 23:09).

SUB 18

Lilly Shapiro wanted to simulate how fast the Meet of Champions race will go out next week, so she hammered the first two miles to give her legs a taste of how it feels before she backed off the gas.

As a result, the senior at Colts Neck dropped a big Holmdel PR by winning the Group 3 title in 17:59, tied for No. 21 in course history, to lead the Cougars to its state title and overall. Colts Neck, the No. 2 ranked team in the state, defeated runner-up and No. 6 ranked North Hunterdon, 79-109, and ran a meet best average of 19:41.  

It's the fourth title in five years for Colts Neck, and its seventh overall. 

The University of North Carolina-bound Shapiro had a huge smile on her face after the race.

"It feels really good to get under 18, but more importantly it's just great to help my team win the state title,'' said Shapiro. 

Shapiro, who finished 45 seconds ahead of Liliah Gordon of Northern Burlington (the fastest freshman of the meet with a school course record 18:44) , said she's looking forward to the Meet of Champions next week.

"I'm excited about racing Angelina (Perez), she's such a great runner and I know it will be a very fast and tough race ,'' said Shapiro, who is just nine seconds off the school record at Holmdel of 17:50 set by the great Ashley Higginson in 2006. "And I feel like our team has a great chance to win.'' 

The top five for Colts Neck were senior Presslie Mariner (ninth in 19:17), sophomore Ashley Pavlovsky (22 in 20:18), junior Olivia Petschauer (23rd in 20:23) and freshman Elizabeth Scarpa (28th in 20:32).


It was another big day for the Skyland Conference as the North Hunterdon and Ridge boys each captured titles. 

In Group 3, No. 6 ranked North Hunterdon defeated No. 20 Summit, 82-112, to win the Group 3 title, its first state championship since 1995 and its ninth  title overall. North Hunterdon flexed its superior pack running by putting five runners in the top 25 with a compression of just 21 seconds, and the Lions averaged 17:09.

The top five for North Hunterdon were junior Asa Adelman (13th in 17:00), junior Jeremy Bavaro (17th in a Holmdel PR of 17:07), senior Carter Beswick (18th in 17:08), senior Aaron Wysocki (20th 17:12), and junior David McKinnon (30th in 17:21)

"The boys and I are incredibly about this win,'' said North Hunterdon coach Higgins. "The Groups are always unnerving to begin with, and after the race went out slow, I was ecstatic at 2.5 when I saw how they kept their heads together, packed up, and made it work.''

In Group 4, Ridge, ranked No. 3 in the state, won its first boys state title ever when the Red Devils averaged a meet best 16:41 and edged No. 5 Westfield,  91-99, in a great Group 4 duel. Ridge also finished on top of the overall meet team merge, 139.5-145.5 over Westfield.  

Ridge's top five of Barna (15:50), senior James Kisker (16:37), senior Andrew McCabe (16:44), junior Patrick Doran (16:59), and sophomore Matthew Fukushima (17:14) went 2-14-15-23-37.Ridge was able to get its fourth runner in ahead of Westfield's No. 3 to help secure the win. Westfield, running its best race of the season, countered by going 5-9-24-28-33 and averaging 16:46.    

"I am very proud of them ,and I think these two weeks (sectionals and groups) is what makes cross-country special because it really takes a team effort to win titles,'' said Ridge coach Nicole Gilhuley. "We didn't have perfect races, but when one started falling back, a different one stepped up. As one of my captains James Kisker pointed out, these group of seniors have won county, sectionals, even events at the MOCs before, but they have never come together as a team on a Group level to win. So it was very meaningful and special for them to accomplish this together. They are a great group of boys and like I said I'm just so proud of them.''


Villanova-bound Marco Langon once again showed his ability to adapt when the Bridgewater-Raritan senior pulled away from Jackson Barna of Ridge over the final 1,200 meters to win the boys Group 4 race in 15:3, the top time of the day. Barna was second in 15:50, and Jacob Heredia of Clifton was third in 15:56.

After a slower than expected first mile (5:29), Langon and Barna finally started separate from a big pack when they came out of the bowl. After they hit two miles in around 10:46, Langon made a push right before he went around the tennis courts to create some space and then hammered his way through the woods on his way to a 12 second victory to remain undefeated and solidify his status as the favorite to win the Meet of Champions title.

"My coach yelled for me to own the (blanking) woods, so that's what I did,'' said Langon, the first boy from Bridgewater-Raritan to win a state XC title. "This one really means a lot because of all the people who have doubted me,'' said Langon, who ran 15:30 at the Shore Coaches Invitational last month. "There is still work to be done at the Meet of Champions, but being the State Group 4 champ feels real good.''    


Remy Dubac of Clifton, Dennis Fortuna of Triton, the Audubon boys, and the Wilberforce girls all made history by becoming the first state champs from their schools.

oDubac, a junior, broke 19 for the first time at Holmdel and ran a school course record 18:45 to become Clifton's first champion by winning Group 4.

The UPenn-bound Fortuna also became the first champ from his school when he blasted away from the field with a 5:07 first mile on the way to a Holmdel PR and school course record 15:54 to win the boys Group 3 title.

On the team side, Audubon won its first state title ever by defeating Kinnelon, 76-110, to capture the boys Group 1 championship. Audubon put three runners ahead of Kinnelon's No. 2 man and averaged 17:57. 

Audubon's best previous finish at the Group Championship was a runner-up finish behind powerhouse Bernards in 1978.mdel.

Senior Scott Hubbard led the charge for the Green Wave by placing second in 17:09. The other scorers for Audubon were seniors Tyler Wells (10th in 17:40, junior Joe Gaspari, 14th in 17:53, sophomore Aiden Williams was 29th in 18:33, and senior Clifford Gilmore was 30th in 18:33.


The girls Non-Public B race featured an upset special as Wilberforce knocked off two-time defending champion Villa Walsh, 45-51, to capture its first state title ever.

Wilberforce took scoring places 4-5-8-11-17 and Villa Walsh countered by going 6-7-9-14-15.

The top five for Wilberforce were freshman Gwen Mersereau, 4th in 21:09, freshman Adeline Edwards, 5th in 21:11, junior Sophia Park, eight in 21:35, senior Annie Whitman, 11th in 22:33, and senior Laura Prothero, 18th in 23:10.


The No. 3 ranked Haddonfield girls rolled its ninth state title and first since 2016 by jamming six runners in the top 13 and averaging 19:52 en route  to a 44-94 victory over No. 15 Metuchen. Haddonfield's nine titles are the fifth most in state history behind Red Bank Catholic (20), Bernards (12), Voorhees (11) and North Hunterdon (10).

Haddonfield's top five, which had a spread of 31 seconds, were sophomore Anne Earp (sixth in 19:46), junior Sabrina Miller (seventh in 19:46), senior Jess Goode (eighth in 19:51), sophomore Audrey Naticchia (11th in 20:00), and junior Helene Usher (12th in 20:09). Sophomore Riley Slootsky was Haddonfield's No. 6 runner, placing 13th in 20:17.


St. Rose juniors Tilly O'Connor and Brian Theobald each came up with the biggest victories of their careers by sweeping the Non-Public B individual titles.

O'Connor, third as a freshman in 2019, crossed the line first in 19:14. Theobald, who battled through a cold all week, gutted out a victory in the boys race in 17:10.      

O'Connor is the first girl from St. Rose to win a state XC title since Melissa Capone in 1998, and is the third girl in school history to capture the crown.  Theobald is also the third boy from St. Rose to win an XC state title, and he's the first since Colin Richmond captured his second straight championship in 2010.  


In the boys Non-Public B race, Newark Academy won its third straight title with a 65-78 victory over Bishop Eustace.

Newark Academy went 8-9-11-12-25 and Bishop Eustace went 6-7-10-27-28.

The top five for Newark Academy were junior Andy Nagpal, eighth in 17:49,  junior Matthew Malloy, ninth in 17:56,  sophomore Luka Opacic ,11th in 18:12, senior Maximilian Gorbaty, 12th in 18:13, and senior Max Falkin, 25th in 18:59.


Junior Colin Riley has been dreaming about becoming a state champ since his freshman year at Dayton. On Saturday, he finally had that opportunity and he didn't let the chance slip away.

Riley pounded out a quick first mile and just poured it on the entire way, stopping the clock at 16:08, a huge Holmdel PR , to become the first state champ from his school in 51 years. Norm Reinhardt is the last winner from Dayton, capturing the Group 2 race in 1970.

Riley was so pumped up while he was running that he flexed to the crowd as he came out of the woods and did it again when he crossed the line.