Perez And Langon Lead Strong NJ Presence At Eastbay National

WATCHT THE RACE LIVE ABOVE! Girls 12:15pm ET, Boys 1pm ET.

Angelina Perez never dreamed when she started running cross-country as sophomore two years ago that she would be one victory away from completing arguably the greatest season in New Jersey history, while Marco Langon has been dreaming of becoming a national champion ever since his freshman year.

The two NJ distance running titans, who have taken different paths on their way to stardom, now find themselves with a shot to pull of a rare state sweep of the most coveted titles in high school cross-country when they toe the line at the 42nd Eastbay National Championships on Saturday at Balboa Park in San Diego. The girls race is at 12:15 p.m (Eastern Time), and the boys race is scheduled for 1 p.m.

NOTE: The meet was called the Kinney National Championships from 1979 through 1992, and the Foot Locker National Championships from 1993 through 2019. The meet wasn't held last year due to the pandemic.

NJ's all-time lists for Balboa Park are listed at the bottom of this preview. 

The Garden State will be well represented in San Diego as senior
Lilly Shapiro of Colts Neckand Shane Brosnan of Union Catholic will also be on the starting line. 

Lakeland's Perez and Bridgewater-Raritan's Langon, who each finished first at the NJ Meet of Champions last month, represent one of the best chances that NJ has ever had at sweeping the titles.

While a NJ sweep is a long shot because of all the loaded talent in the two races, which features 40 runners in each field (10 from the four regions across the country), it can't be ruled out. Perez and Langon certainly have the talent and the drive to pull off the broom job.
You may be wondering just how rare a state sweep is?

In the previous 41 meets, there has only been two state sweeps. In 2005, California pulled it off when Jordan Hasay of Mission College Prep in Arroyo Grande, and A.J. Acosta of El Camino High in Oceanside won the titles. Then in 2015, Virginians Drew Hunter (rande, and A.J. Acosta of El Camino High in Oceanside won the titles. Then in 2015, Virginians Drew Hunter (Loudoun Valley High in Purcellville, Va.) and Weini Kelati (Heritage High in Leesburg, Va.,) captured the championships.

Let's take a look at Perez and Langon's chances of winning.

The undefeated Perez is ranked No. 2 in the nation according to MileSplit. Perez was No. 1 until Natalie Cook of Flower Mound in Texas overtook her after Cook ran 16:04, No. 2 in U.S. high school history, to finish first at the Garmin RunningLane Championships last Saturday in Alabama.

Perez, who set course records this season at Darlington Park (16:44), and Garret Mountain (16:54), and set the Holmdel Park NJ record of 17:07, is seeking to join the legendary Janet Smith of J.P. Stevens as the only NJ girls to win the Eastbay National title. 

Smith captured the championship in 1983 in 16:44, which stood as the course record at Balboa Park for seven years. The 16:44 by Smith and Perez are the two fastest 5K times ever run by a NJ girl.

The 1983 season by Smith, who held the Holmdel Park course record of 17:35 from 1983 until 2010, is considered the best season ever by a NJ girl. But if Perez wins and goes under Smith's 1983 winning time of 16:44, a strong case can be made that Perez's season would be the greatest ever.     

It blows Perez's mind to think that she could be on the verge of winning a national title.

"It's honestly kind of a surreal moment,'' said the University of Florida-bound Perez. "In some aspects, I feel so new to this sport compared to other runners who have been doing this since they were in elementary school. Winning regionals meant so much to me, so the fact that I have a chance of winning a national title is just insane! It would mean the world to me to be able to win and realize how much I've been able to accomplish, and how much I've grown in this sport over the last three years.''

Perez, who played soccer until her sophomore year, said the keys to winning for her are to stick to what has worked all season, and to take advantage of her strength on the hills.

"l'm a true distance runner in the sense that I don't have the strongest kick at the end of my races like a lot of others in this race do,'' said Perez. "So when the time comes that I need to make sure I start distancing myself, that is my plan. I also am going to take full advantage of those hills (there is a very big hill that runners will climb twice). Thankfully, I know the courses I run here (in New Jersey) put me in a really good position compared to others who are used to running on primarily flat courses. At the end of the day though, I just know I need to go out there and focus on running my race. Of course I have times in my head which I want to get to, but I also know that attempting to get a certain time has led me to fall apart during races. I came into this season with a real chip on shoulder, and I made a promise to myself that I wouldn't ever let my nerves get the best of me like they did at the Meet of Champions last spring. So, I'm going to go out there on Saturday, run my race, run smart and give it my all. It's my last high school cross-country race, so I want to make it count!''

In the boys race, the Villanova-bound Langon, who suffered his only loss of the season when he was second to Gavin Sherry of Conrad High in Connecticut at the Northeast Regional at Van Cortlandt Park, is ranked No. 7 nationally.

Langon is aiming to becoming the third boy from NJ to capture the national title. Brendan Heffernan of North Hunterdon captured the crown in 1992, and Edward Cheserek of St. Benedict's Prep won in 2011 and '12.

At the NE Regional, Langon was second to Sherry in 15:09.6, a NJ record at Vanny and tied for No. 3 all-time. The Stanford-bound Sherry won with a course record 15:05.8. Sherry, 14th at the Foot Locker Nationals in 2019 and ranked No. 4 in the country, is the favorite on paper (the top three ranked runners aren't competing).

Langon's confidence hasn't been shaken by the loss to Sherry, and being the underdog and proving people wrong is something he thrives on. So the fact that no one expects him to win has added lots of fuel to Langon's competitive fire. 

"My mindset is the same, I want to win and I'm going to go for it,''  said Langon, who won the NJ Meet of Champions in 15:06 at Holmdel Park, No. 3 all-time in course history. 

"I learned my lesson (at the Northeast Regional) and I know that I can win,'' said Langon. "I believe it, my coach believes it. Nothing is stopping me from winning. I have everything it takes to get it done, and that's what I'm gonna do. I'm excited, I'm happy, and I have good vibes, so that's how I know good things are to come.''

The Harvard-bound Brosnan (fifth at the NE Regional) and the University of North Carolina-bound Shapiro (10th at the NE Regional), are both coming off great races at the RunningLane Championships.

Brosan, ranked 22nd nationally, was 13th in the boys race at RunningLane in 14:26, the fourth fastest 5K time ever run by a NJ runner. Brosnan, who led Union Catholic to a fourth-place finish and a final national ranking of No. 4, is certainly capable of a top 10 finish.

Meanwhile, Shapiro finished 13th at RunningLane in 16:51, the third fastest time ever run by a NJ girl. The only NJ girls to ever run faster than Shapiro are Smith and Perez (16:44 each). Led by Shapiro, Colts Neck finished 24th. Shapiro ran 17:35, tied with Smith for fourth all-time at Holmdel, when she finished second at the M of C. Shapiro has the talent to earn All-American status (top 15).  

Shapiro is the third girl from Colts Neck to run at the Eastbay Nationals, which ties Haddonfield for the second most girls from a NJ school to compete at nationals. North Hunterdon has sent a state record four girls to nationals.

The two other Colts Neck girls who ran at nationals are Briana Jackucewicz, 37th in 2005, and Ashley Higginson, 22nd in 2006. The three girls from Haddonfield are Olympian Erin Donohue, 17th in 1998, Olympian Marielle Hall, 18th in 2009, and Briana Gess,13th in 2013 ad 29th in 2015.

The four girls from North Hunterdon who ran at nationals are Stacy Bilotta, 24th in 1983, Jodie Bilotta, 10th in 1985, 17th in '86, and 22nd in '87, Anne Marie Letko, 19th in 1985 and 18th in '86, and Eve Glasergreen, 37th in 2014.



NOTE: The Kinney/Foot Locker Championships have been held at Balboa Park 34 times, and were held in Orlando, Florida seven times - 1981, '82, '97, '98, '99, '00, '01.

14:52-Edward Cheserek, St. Benedict's Prep, 2011 (1st place)

14:59-Edward Cheserek, St. Benedict's Prep, 2012 (1st place) 
15:09.6-Bob Keino, Ridgewood, 1993 (5th place)
15:10.1-Jason DiJoseph, Paul VI, 1988, (2nd place)
15:12.1-Brad Hudson, North Hunterdon, 1983 (7th place)
15:12.7-Mike Mykytok, Bound Brook, 1988 (3rd place)
15:13.0-Brendan Heffernan, North Hunterdon, 1992 (1st place)
15:15.7-John Coyle, Christian Brothers, 1988 (5th place)
15:16.0-Brandon Jarrett, St. Benedict's Prep, 2007 (6th place)
15:17-Carlos Martins, Newark East Side, 1986 (10th place)
15:18.5-Bill Babcock, North Hunterdon, 1984 (5th place)
15:22.6-Ron Faith, Paul VI, 1985 (22nd)
15:22.8-Kevin Pumphrey, Highland Regional, 1985 (23rd place)
15:24-Craig Forys, Colts Neck, 2006 (2nd place) 
15:25-Kevin Antczak, Mainland, 2019 (8th place) 
15:26-Bob Keino, Ridgewood, 1992 (4th place)
15:29-Jason DiJoseph, Paul VI, 1986 (18th place)
15:29-John Coyle, CBA, 1987 (15th place)
15:29-Jack Jennings, Mendham, 2019 (9th place)
15:30-Jack Stanley, Mendham, 2018 (7th place)

NOTE: Brad Hudson, who moved from New Jersey (North Hunterdon High) to Oregon after his junior year (school year of 1983-84), ran 15:11 to place third in 1984.


16:44-Janet Smith, J.P. Stevens, 1983 (1st place)
17:19-Christi Constantin, Kittatinny, 1988 (3rd place)
17:26-Jodie Bilotta, North Hunterdon, 1985 (10th place)
17:35-Christi Constantin, Kittatinny, 1987 (5th place)
17:35-Megan Venables, Highland Regional, 2010 (5th place)
17:37-Chelsea Ley, Kingsway, 2009 (7th place  
17:41-Danielle Tauro, Southern 2006 (6th place)
17:44-Katy Trotter, Red Bank 2002 (2nd place)
17:49-Chelsea Ley, Kingsway, 2008 (8th place)
17:51-Briana Gess, Haddonfield, 2013 (13th place)
17:56-Alyssa Aldridge, Mainland, 2016 (13th place)
17:58-Missy Duchini, Wayne Valley, 1983 (12th place)
18:01-Lindsay Van Alstine, Hawthorne Christian, 2001 (27th place)
18:02-Anne Marie Letko, North Hunterdon, 1985 (19th place)
18:04-Chelsea Ley, Kingsway, 2007 (18th place)
18:05-Autumn Fogg, Hunterdon Central, 1995 (12th place)
18:07-Jodie Bilotta, North Hunterdon, 1986 (17th place)
18:08-Anne Marie Letko, North Hunterdon, 1986 (18th place) 
18:08-Monal Chokshi, Bridgewater West, 1992 (10th place)  

NOTE: In 1979, the first year the meet was held, Ann Gladue of now defunct Bayley-Ellard, finished third in 17:51. But that race and was run a different course at Balboa Park. The current course at Balboa Park has been used since 1983.