MOCs Rewind: CBA Pulled Off Stunning Victory 10 Years Ago

CBA after winning the 2012 NJSIAA Meet of Champions.

Many of the most memorable moments in NJ cross-country history have taken place at the Meet of Champions, which will turn 50 years old when the meet is held this Saturday at historic Holmdel Park, NJ's XC Cathedral!

There's the epic run by Joe Rosa of West Windsor-Plainsboro North at the 2009 Meet of Champions when Rosa, a junior at the time (he missed his senior XC season with a foot injury) became the first to ever crash through the once unimaginable sub 15-minute barrier at Holmdel when he dropped a 14:56 to win that race!

2022 Meet of Champions Coverage Hub

And there's the 17:09 meet record by Angelina Perez of Lakeland last year (a week after her NJ Holmdel CR 17:07). You also have the boys CR average of 15:52 that Christian Brothers Academy burned at the 2013 MOCs, and the 19:01.0 girls CR average that Voorhees ran at the 2007 MOCs. 

How about the first boys race ever in 1972 when Harry Kronick of Franklin won by one-tenth of a second over Greg Miller of Northern Highlands. What about the heart-pounding instant classics produced at the MOCs in 1981 and 2018. In 1981, Jim Smith of Haddonfield and Kevin Lundy of Long Branch each ran 16:09.5. Smith was declared the winner by a whisker. And in 2018, the same thing happened when Devin Hart of Point Pleasant Boro edged Jack Stanley of Mendham by the slimmest of margins after both stopped the clock at 15:36!!

While all those performances are strong contenders to be called the most memorable ever at the MOCs, there is another race that just hits different and doesn't get the attention it deserves, and it might just be the most memorable race of all-time at the MOCs!! And it has nothing to do with records or times or dramatic finishes.

Story Behind CBA's 2012 Meet of Champions Victory

Aaron Liberatore started CBA's scoring running 25th, class of 2012.

It happened 10 years ago (Nov. 21, 2012 to be exact) when CBA pulled off the most improbable Meet of Champions team victory in the history of the meet. CBA somehow, someway beat all of the top teams in the state without using their five best runners!!! 

Yes, you read that right. CBA held out its top five guys at the biggest meet in the state and still won!!!

Imagine a basketball team benching its top five players and still being the best team in the state!!! That's what CBA did!!!

I know many of you coaches were there and remember this well, but I'm willing to bet that most of you are hearing about this for the first time right now.

There is a quite a backstory to how this all went down.

We all remember how Superstorm Sandy paralyzed New Jersey back in the fall of 2012. The storm wreaked havoc on the entire state, and it forced the NJSIAA to do some major reshuffling with the XC schedule.

The State Group Championships were pushed back to Nov. 17 (the original date for the MOCs), and the Meet of Champions was moved to Wednesday, Nov. 21. With the Team Northeast Regional Championships scheduled for Nov. 24, there was no way legendary CBA coach Tom Heath, who retired from coaching in 2015, was going to have his top guns crank out three hard races in eight days. Especially considering that CBA had a legitimate shot to win its second straight national title that year.

So after CBA ran a then course record average 16:03.2 at the Non-Public A meet, Heath had his top five, junior Mike McClemens, senior Billy Bragg,  junior Tom Rooney, junior Fran Bogan, and senior Jack Boyle, sit out the MOCs to keep them fresh for the regional race.

Much to the shock and dismay of nearly everyone who was at Holmdel that day (except Heath), the combination of CBA's No. 6 and No. 7 runners and five JV guys had a 1-5 spread of 29 seconds and averaged 16:30 as CBA won the MOCs title, 110-133 over runner-up Holmdel HS. That was CBA's third straight title on the way to a meet-record tying six in a row.

Senior Aaron Liberatore, CBA's usual No. 6 man, led the charge for the Colts by placing 25th in 16:17. Heath knew that in order for his team to have any chance to win, he needed the experienced and consistent Liberatore in the lineup.

Liberatore was followed by sophomore Josh Kruppa (29th in 16:22), junior Andrew Reda (41st in 16:32), freshman Blaise Ferro (47th in 16:37) and sophomore Greg Paugh (57th in 16:46). Ferro (pictured below) would go on to score for CBA at the 2013, 2014, and 2015 to as he became the first and only runner in state history to score for four MOCs winning teams. He went on to have an All-American career at Northern Arizona. 

Blaise Ferro, CBA class of 2016

CBA went on to win the Team Northeast Regional three days later, and finished the 2012 season by placing fourth at the Team National Championships.

Heath felt all along that he still had a chance to win the MOCs title, but knew it wouldn't be easy.

"The JV knew for three and half weeks that they were running the MOCs,'' said Heath, who retired after the 2015 XC season with a state record 21 MOCs titles. "We figured as long as they didn't panic, we could win.''

Sean McCafferty, who eventually took over for Heath as the head coach at CBA, was the head coach for the runner-up Holmdel squad in 2012. He ran into Heath before the race that day, and they had a funny exchange.

"I walked me team over from Holmdel that day,'' said McCafferty. "We walked by the CBA team getting off the bus with Heath. I saw Sandy (Aaron Liberatore with the crew and I said, "Heath, you running Sandy?" Heath's replied, "yup, I can do math too."

McCafferty, who felt he had a shot to pick off CBA, is still in awe of how Heath's backup guys were able to step up and deliver a victory.

"When I coached at Holmdel, I used CBA to help our program improve,'' said McCafferty. "Step 1 was make to CBA work for their local wins and I believe we did that. We looked to their success and talked about beating them. In 2012, we were very good, and I thought we could beat them if they held out their first 5. It was amazing seeing their next group step into roles to win that meet. It was remarkable.''

2012 Meet of Champions Boys Podium Teams 

1Christian Brothers Academy11013+15+22+27+33 (52+56)0:29 1-5 Split | 16:30 Avg
2Holmdel HS1335+17+24+42+45 (67+108)0:56 1-5 Split | 16:31 Avg
3WWPSouth HS1494+11+19+34+81 (85+94)1:26 1-5 Split | 16:34 Avg
4Wallkill Valley HS1637+20+26+37+73 (93+129)1:12 1-5 Split | 16:38 Avg
5Don Bosco Prep1753+9+25+48+90 (105)1:35 1-5 Split | 16:38 Avg
6North Hunterdon HS18412+21+32+55+64 (89+98)0:51 1-5 Split | 16:44 Avg

Haddonfield coach Nick Baker, one of the greatest coaches in state history, still marvels at what CBA did.

"What CBA's cross country team did in 2012 by winning the MOC while resting their top five runners was incredible,'' said Baker.  "I remember being so impressed that they would risk losing a certain MOCs title because it was the right thing to do for their ultimate goal of trying to win a National Championship. That day was very cool and underscored why CBA is the standard bearer for all New Jersey cross-country teams."

Andrew Reda ran to 41st during MOCs 2012, CBA class of 2013.

Current North Hunterdon girls coach Tim Mooney, who won two MOCs girls titles at Ridge and is among the best coaches in the state, still shakes his head over what CBA did 10 years ago. 

"The fact that CBA sat five guys and won the freaking thing, that's ridiculous," Mooney said. "It's just extremely impressive, there's no other way to say it. With any other program you might feel like you have some depth. I've had good boys teams where I never ran the same seven the whole season. But this is a whole other level. And to do it in that year (with Superstorm Sandy). It interrupted our training and it showed at sectional and groups. They found a way to run at the level they were capable of running is just remarkable."

So as we celebrate the half century anniversary of the Meet of Champions, the crown jewel of XC in NJ, where do you thiink CBA's 2012 MOCs victory stands as far as the most memorable moments in the 50 year history of the meet?

While the court of public opinion will certainly debate its place in history, there's no question that what the 2012 CBA squad did will live forever in NJ XC lore as one of the most unforgettable moments of all-time!

CBA's 2012 Meet of Champions Team Roster

M 5000m25Aaron Liberatore1216:17.0013
M 5000m29Josh Kruppa1016:22.0015
M 5000m41Drew Reda1116:32.0022
M 5000m47Blaise Ferro916:37.0027
M 5000m57Greg Paugh1016:46.0033
M 5000m84Thomas Dengler1017:03.0052
M 5000m89Nick Trigani917:04.0056

2012 Meet of Champions Winners

Boys Individual

Tom O'Neill of Middletown North, 15:31.

Boys Team

CBA, 110 pts.

Girls Individual

Sarah Disanza of High Point, 17:47.

Girls Team

Voorhees, 74 pts.