Joe Barrett and the rest of CBA's powerful pack have said all season that it was just a matter of time before the Colts took down Holmdel Park's hallowed course record.
They weren't blowing smoke as CBA, ranked No. 1 in the state and No. 3 in the nation, backed up their words by rocking the venerable 3.1-mile layout with a performance for the ages on Saturday.
The Colts not only produced a jaw-dropping 15:51.8 course record average, but they pulled off a stunning shutout victory in the Non-Public A race to highlight what will go down as the most electrifying State Group Championship meet ever run as sparks were flying all day under ideal conditions.
With Barrett, a junior, leading the charge by successfully defending his title in 15:21, (No. 10 all-time in Holmdel Park history), CBA broke the course record average of 15:52.2 that was set by CBA at the 2013 Meet of Champions!
Barrett's victory ignited a mind-blowing 1-2-3-4-5 finish for CBA, which outscored Union Catholic, ranked No. 2 in the state and No. 7 in the nation, 15-72. It's the second straight Non-Public A title for CBA and extended its state record to 32 state titles overall.
It's just the second time I can ever remember a perfect score being posted at the Group Championships. The other time was in 1995 when Tom Falvey finished first to fuel CBA to a perfect score.
CBA's 57-point margin of victory was amplified due to the fact that Union Catholic star Jimmy Wischusen felt tightness in his hamstring and was unable to finish (more on that later). But make no mistake about, no one was touching CBA with the way the Colts just hammered this race.
CBA's record-breaking pack consisted of Barrett, senior Jack Falkowski, second in 15:42, senior Conor Clifford, third in 15:57, senior Alex Kemp, fourth in 16:09, and junior Alex Mastroly, fifth in 16:10.
"This isn't really surprising to us,'' said Barrett. "We knew with the talent we had on this team that we were capable of doing this, and I think we can go even faster at the Meet of Champions next week. "This is just the start of things as the races keep getting bigger for us.''
As for the eagerly awaited showdown between Barrett and Wischusen, the two fastest runners in the state at Holmdel Park. That matchup unfortunately fizzled when Wischusen was forced to drop out just past the two-mile mark because of tightness in his hamstring. Wischusen and Barrett were side by the side the whole time, hitting the mile in 5:11 and two miles in 10:06 before Wischusen pulled up. Hopefully it's just a minor setback for Wischusen and he and Barrett will clash again at the Meet of Champions.
While CBA's historic performance grabbed the most attention, there were so many other great highlights on a day that featured 13 boys under 16 minutes, 10 girls under 19 minutes, some dramatic team battles, a pair of team sweeps, and some memorable comeback wins.
Let's take a look at a closer look at some of the most memorable moments of the meet.
BLUE DEVILS LEVEL UP
Ever since narrowly losing to Cherokee in Group 4 last year by just 11 points after a mishap with the results originally had Westfield listed as the winner, the Blue Devils vowed to come back and take care of unfinished business.
Westfield, ranked No. 3 in the state, left no doubt about its supremacy this time as the Blue Devils lit up the course with an eye-popping average of 16:00.9, the fourth fastest ever run at Holmdel as the Union County powerhouse routed a loaded field to win its first title since 2011 and its 16th overall, which is a Group 4 record.
This was a massive run by Westfield, who should vault back into the national rankings after this bomb!!
Avery Keith finished second in a big Holmdel PR of 15:40, which is a Westfield course record, to ignite a 2-10-11-13-18 scoring combination that added up to a 54-104 victory over runner-up and No. 4 ranked Ridgewood. Westfield's 54 points tied the Group 4 record for fewest points score, which was set by Mainland in 2003. As usual, Westfield had a very impressive 1-5 compression of 40 seconds as the Blue Devils put all five of their scorers in front of Ridgewood's No. 2 man. Ridgewood ran a great race, averaging 16:22, but they ran into a buzzsaw.
The Union Catholic girls, No. 1 in the state and No. 6 in the nation, inched a little closer to the Holmdel Park course record when the Vikings averaged a meet record tying 19:04.8 en route to a third straight Non-Public A Championship, 27-69 over No. 5 ranked Pingry. UC's 19:04.8 equals the meet record that Voorhees set in the 2007 Group 3 race, and is tied for No. 4 all-time at Holmdel. The course record is 19:01.0 set by Voorhees at the 2007 Meet of Champions.
Freshman phenom Paige Sheppard fueled a 1-2-4-9-11 scoring combination for UC by winning the race in 18:09. Senior Courtney Kaiser was second in a Holmdel PR of 18:23, sophomore Ella Solorzano placed fourth in 19:14, a huge Holmdel PR, freshman Kayla Devine finished 9th in 19:49, and senior Peyton Hollis finished 11th in 19:56.
Peyton Shute, who attends Woodbury High and runs for the Gateway/Woodbury combined program, became the first runner from Woodbury to win a state XC title in over 80 years when he ran 15:46 to capture the Group 3 title. The last state XC champ from Woodbury was the legendary Browning Ross, who captured the 1942 Public School Championship race in 13:29.5 over the 2.5-mile course a Warinanco Park.
"It's been so many decades since since Woodbury's had a state champ, so I really wanted to bring this title back to my school and make everyone in the school and my town proud,'' said Shute. "After finishing second last year (behind Meet of Champions winner Micah Lawson of Rahway), I really wanted to come back and win this my senior year, so I'm very happy with how the race went. I was a pretty big favorite, and with the Meet of Champions next week and then Foot Locker Regionals the week after, I wasn't really worried about the time today. I just wanted to make sure I got the win and left something in the tank for the next few weeks.''
Shute said he knows he'll have to slice a lot of time off his Holmdel PR of 15:43 to have a shot to win at the Meet of Champions.
"It's going to be a fast one with so many great guys in that race next week,'' said Shute, 11th at the Meet of Champions last year. "But I'll be ready and I feel I can run much faster than I did today. I'll give it all I have and see what happens.''
Senior Emma Zawatski and Liliah Gordon came into their races as big favorites to repeat, and both came through with their best races ever a Holmdel.
Zawatski, the defending Meet of Champions winner, poured it on over the final to stop the clock at 17:59.55 (chip timing) to win her second straight Group 4 title. Zawatski's time was the fastest of the day and a Holmdel PR by 20 seconds.
Sparked by Zawatski and several gutsy performances, No. 3 Freehold Township won to its second straight title, 111-122 over No. 6 Ridgewood. It's the fifth year in a row that Ridgewood has finished second, the longest such streak by a girls team in meet history in a all the groups combined.
Gordon, a junior at Northern Burlington, dropped an 18:14 to win her second straight Group 3 title. Gordon, Zawatski, and Non-Public A Champion Paige Sheppard (18:09) should create lots of fireworks in the lead pack at the Meet of Champions.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
Junior Jordan Hadfield of Schalick, who gave soccer to run XC for the first time this year, continued her remarkable rookie season by making a big push over the final 1,200 meters to secure the Group 1 title in 19:20 to become the first XC state champ ever from Schalick. Hadfield finished 14 seconds ahead of runner-up Delana Einreinhofer of Wallkill Valley.
At the Shore Coaches Invitational at Holmdel in September, Hadfield ran 20:18, 13 seconds behind Einreinhofer.
"I have raced her (Einreinhofer) so many times, especially on the track, and I never beat her before, so I knew this was going to be a very tough race,'' said Hadfield. "I wasn't sure if I can win or not because there were times when I could barely feel my legs. I knew she was coming hard at the end f the race, so I just kept pushing with everything that I had.
Hadfield said her times on the track last spring convinced her to run cross-country.
"I was an okay soccer player, but after I really surprised myself with a 5:14 in the 1,600 last spring, I knew that my future was as a distance runner,'' said Hadfield. "I had no idea what cross-country was even all about, so to become a state champ is something I never even thought about before the season started. It's hard to believe.
A few months ago, Ivy Slavinski noticed that the State Group Championships were being held on a very important day in her life-her birthday.
"As soon as I saw it was on the same day as my birthday, I started thinking about how awesome it would be to win my a state title on my birthday,'' said Slavinski.
Slavinski, a sophomore at Point Pleasant Boro, made that dream become a reality by giving herself one of the best Sweet 16th birthday gifts ever-the Group 2 title in 19:08. Slavinski finished seven seconds ahead of Christina Allen of River Dell.
Slavinski has had a big breakout sophomore season, which includes a victory at the Central Jersey Championships last week, and third-place finish at the Shore Conference Championships in 17:56.
What's the difference between last year and this year?
"I gave up swimming and really focused more on my running,'' said Slavinski. "And that's really helped me run faster and have
DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH
Elijah Whitaker only started running cross-country as a sophomore two years ago to stay in shape for baseball. Now he's a state champion.
Whitaker, a senior, ran 16:07 to win the Group 1 race and became the first runner from Glassboro to win a state XC title since Tom Horne captured the Group 1 championship in 1993.
BACK ON TOP
Mendham, ranked No. 7, received Holmdel PR's from its entire scoring five to return to the winners circle by winning the boys Group 3 championship, 75-82 over No. 19 Colts Neck. It's Mendham's first title since winning a fourth straight in 2020.
ADVICE FROM A CHAMP
When a Meet of Champions winner gives you some advice on how to race at Holmdel Park, you listen.
That's exactly what senior Caleb Brox of Wilberforce did when Eamon Blanchard, who won the 1994 Meet of Champions title as a senior at Lacey in 1994, talked to him about the best way to attack the trails at Holmdel.
"Mr. Blanchard's daughter is on the our girls team, and he told me the best way to run here as far as how to run the hills and when to surge,'' said Brox, who placed second in the Non-Public B race last year. "So I ran it the way he said to.''
Following Blanchard's race plan worked to perfection for Brox, who won his first state title by running a Holmdel PR of 16:56 after placing second last year.
BULLDOG BROOM JOBS
Big shout outs go to Haddonfield and Metuchen for sweeping team titles.
If you didn't feel good for Haddonfield after the Dawgs swept the Group 2 titles, then you need to do some soul searching.
Running with heavy hearts ever since their beloved and legendary coach Nick Baker passed away last month, the No. 6 ranked Haddonfield boys won one more for title in Baker's honor with a 39-68 victory over a very strong Bernards team, ranked No. 16 in the state. It's the sixth straight title for Haddonfield and its 21st overall, which is the third most in state history.
The Haddonfield girls kept its streak alive as well with a 40-84 victory over runner-up Sterling. It's the third straight title and 12th overall for Haddonfield.
And what a day for Metuchen.
The most exciting team finishes of the day came in the girls Non-Public B, girls Group 3 and boys Non-Public B races.
In the girls Non-Public B race, No. 19 ranked Wilberforce was seeking a third-straight title and came out ahead on the virtual scoring by one point, but Villa Walsh flipped the script and edged Wilberforce, 38-39. Sophomore Blythe Dudley won the race in 19:24 for Villa Walsh, who won for the first time since 2019.
Villa Walsh went 1-4-9-10-14 and Wilberforce countered with a 3-5-8-11-12
In the Group 3 girls race, No. 4 Middletown South scored a 99-104-105 victory over runner-up and No. 7 North Hunterdon and third-place and No. 9 Summit.
On the boys side, Bishop Eustace emerged with a 77-80 victory over defending champion St. Rose in the Non-Public B race.