Seth Clevenger had a lot of different emotions racing through his mind as he hammered down the final straightway on his way to the biggest victory of his life at Tuesday's State Group 2 Championships at Holmdel Park.
He was thinking about how much he's persevered both physically and mentally during his grueling and amazing comeback after missing the entire XC and indoor seasons last year after undergoing hip surgery. And he had the runners on last year's Haddonfield's squad on his mind since they missed the opportunity to run at the State Championships last fall because Covid cancelled the meet.
Clevenger, a senior, let his feelings spill out after he crossed the line first in a Holmdel Park PR of 15:51 to ignite a sensational showing for Haddonfield, the No. 4 team in the state, as the Dawgs captured a fourth straight title and 19th overall, the third most in state history. Only Christian Brothers Academy (30), and Bernards (23) have won more.
This meet was originally scheduled for last Saturday, but was postponed due to severe storms.
Clevenger, who finally broke away from Voorhees senior Jack Tavaglione (second in 16:04) near the tennis courts, is the eighth boy from Haddonfield to win a State Group XC title, and the first since Ben Potts captured the Group 2 championship in 2010.
Clevenger, who hit the first mile in 5:16 and two miles in 10:29, said he spent a lot of time wondering about his running future after the hip surgery, which sidelined him for 16 months.
"There were some dark nights and some doubts,'' said Clevenger. "But I just never gave up and kept working hard, and my family got me through those tough times. And I also didn't want to let down my team. I wanted to be back out there running with them and help my team win another state title. Winning this state championship means so much to me personally, but it means even more to me our team won. So many seniors missed the chance to run this race last year, so we wanted to win this for them ''
Haddonfield, which averaged a swift 16:28, won the title by outscoring runner-up Cinnaminson, 33-88. Cinnaminson, a team comprised of six juniors and a sophomore, averaged 17:10 and secured a berth in the Meet of Champions for the first time since 2008.
Haddonfield received several strong performances from its pack.
The five scorers for the Dawgs were Clevenger, junior George Andrus, third in 16:11, senior Tobias Janssen, fifth in 16:24, junior Robert DiMedio, 12th in 16:50, and junior Donald Jellig, 16th in 17:07.
Haddonfield placed third in the overall team merge (all groups combined) with 169.5 points. No. 1 ranked Union Catholic was first in the merge (102) and No. 2 Christian Brothers Academy was second (138.5).
Clevenger knows he and his teammates will be underdogs at the Meet of Champions this Saturday at Holmdel Park, but he said not to count out the Dawgs.
"We'll be running to win,'' said Clevenger. "If we all show up and run our best, I think we have a shot to win.''
Does Clevenger have a time goal in mind for the M of C?
"I'm not worried about my time,'' said Clevenger. "I just want to run as fast as I can to help my team as much as possible.''