Are your ready for what could be the greatest NJSIAA XC Meet of Champions ever?!!
That's right, Saturday's 51st NJSIAA M of C at Holmdel Park has all the makings of an all-time classic.
The girls race is scheduled for 11 a.m. and the boys at 12 p.m.
With one the deepest talent pools the state has ever seen and ideal conditions in the forecast, it would be shocking if their weren't several blazing times and historic team performances produced when the state's best toe the line in pursuit of NJ's ultimate distance running prize. Who will level up and become Legends of the Fall?
There is a good chance that both course record averages could fall, the individual showdowns have the potential to be epic, and a record number of runners could go well under 16 minutes in the boys race!
But before we get into all that, there is a big question mark hanging over the boys race. Will Jimmy Wischusen of Union Catholic run? Wischusen dropped out of the Non-Public A race last week just after the 2-mile mark with a cramp in his hamstring. UC coach Mike McCabe called Wischusen's status a race time decision. Stay tuned?
Let's break down the two races.
Will CBA top what they did that week??? Can anyone derail the CBA express, which has blitzed every team and every course it has run on this season. How low will the top guys go? Will Wischusen run? Those are the biggest questions in this race.
CBA, which has won a state record 25 titles (one more than the rest of the state combined-there was no scoring in the first meet), comes into this race ranked No. 1 in the state and No. 3 in the country. After taking down the CR at Holmdel last week with its 15:51.8 average in the Non-Public A race, they are the obvious favorite to repeat as champs.
CBA's pack said after their record run last week that they felt they are capable of running even faster? And with the amount of firepower the Colts have, would a sub 15:50 average really surprise anyone? It shouldn't. This team so strong and deep that anything is possible.
The Meet of Champs race is always faster than any of the Group races because of all the talent up front pushing the pace, and this won't be any different.
There is still obviously a lot of work to do at the Northeast Regional and at the National Championships, but a CBA victory on Saturday would put the Colts a step closer to be being called NJ's greatest pack ever. Time will tell.
While CBA is clearly the top team on paper, this isn't a slam dunk for the Colts.
CBA knows it has to be bring its A game to defeat a stacked group of teams looking to spring the upset, most notably Westfield, which finished just 20 points behind CBA on the Group Championship merge.
In their only meeting this season, CBA edged Westfield, 33-41, at the Shore Coaches Invitational when CBA averaged 15:59 and Westfield averaged 16:09. It could be that close again!
Also look out for Non-Public A runner-up Union Catholic, Group 4 runner-up Ridgewood, Cherokee, Group 2 champ Haddonfield, Manalapan, and Group 3 winner Mendham, who should all battle for one of the top spots.
Westfield, ranked No. 2 in the state, dropped a 16:00.9 average last week, No. 4 in Holmdel Park history, when the Blue Devils won the Group 4 title. Can Westfield, which won its only M of C title in 1976, or anyone else pull off the upset?
Westfield has a shot, but will need some big PR's to knock off mighty CBA. Anything can happen in this sport. Any given Saturday!!
Remember what happened back in 1996? Westfield was on its way to winning the M of C title when one of its runners went down right before he came out of the woods and was passed by several runners. The Blue Devils lost to CBA, 66-67.
If CBA is on and runs the way it's capable of, the Colts could produce another historic masterpiece! They could even put their top 5 all under 16!!!! Their 5th guy went 16:10 last week!!
Individually, there will be plenty of fireworks up front in this one, especially if the University of Virginia-bound Wischusen is good to go.
Last week, junior Joe Barrett led the charge for CBA by winning the Non-Public A race in 15:21, No. 10 all-time in course history. Wischusen was right with Barrett at 2-miles when the two studs were on pace to run 15:10!!!!
Barrett, and Wischusen, the latter owns a Holmdel PR of 15:22 from his sophomore year, Group 4 champ Stephen Kyvelos of Manalapan (15:39), Avery Keith of Westfield (15:40), Jack Falkowski of CBA (15:41) and Group 3 champ Peyton Shute of Gateway/Woodbury (15:43) are among the 14 runners in this race who have run under 16 at Holmdel.
Can Kyvleos and Shute drop 20 plus seconds off their Holmdel PR's? That's what they will almost certainly have to do to win. It's certainly possible. Shute said he ran very relaxed when he won the Group 3 race in 15:46, and made sure to leave some crumbs for this race. I'd be shocked if Shute wasn't a major factor in this race. If Kyvelos, who came from way back to win last week, can stay connected with the leaders through 2-miles, he could be very dangerous with his closing speed.
There is virtually no way that the winning time won't be sub 15:20. In fact, with this much talent in the race, it could take 15:10 or possibly even faster to get the win. I told you, this race could be one of the greatest and fastest ever!
Keep in mind that only eight runners have ever run under 15:20 on Holmdel's current course, which has been used since 1978. That number is going to up!!!
In case you are wondering, the course record at Holmdel is 14:53, set at the 2011 Shore Coaches Invitational by the legendary Edward Cheserek of St. Benedict's Prep. You never know??
Something else to keep track of. The record for the most runners going sub 16 in one race at Holmdel is 18, which happened at the 2013 Meet of Champions. There will be 14 sub 16 runners in the race on Saturday, and another six guys ran between 16:00 and 16:10 last week!! So there's a good chance that record will be toast!
This race is all about defending champion Union Catholic's pursuit of history and whether defending champion Emma Zawatski of Freehold Township can hold off the strong challenges from a loaded field that features freshman phenom Paige Sheppard, and junior Liliah Gordon.
Let's start with the team race.
The Union Catholic girls are one the biggest favorites in meet history. They are No. 1 in the state and No. 6 in the nation and have smashed three course records this season.
The Vikings are trending toward being called the greatest team in NJ history when this season ends, but to do so UC obviously must take care of business and win its second straight title. And one of the best ways to strengthen its case as NJ's best ever is to take down the Holmdel Park course record of 19:01.0 set by Voorhees at the 2007 Meet of Champions.
UC, with arguably the greatest freshmen class ever assembled, has been very close to the record. The Vikings averaged 19:06.4 at Shore Coaches and a meet record 19:04.8, tied for No. 4 in course history, when it won the Non-Public A Championship last week at Holmdel.
If UC's pack runs near their Holmdel PR's, they could drop an absolute bomb and average well under 19!
Looking for a team that could make a run at UC?
No. 2 ranked Freehold Township, which won its second straight Group 4 title last week, is the best of the rest. Also keep an eye on Pingry, Ridgewood, Westfield, Cherokee, Group 2 champ Haddonfield, Group 3 winner Middletown South, and North Hunterdon, who should also slug it out for a top three finish.
Make no mistake about it, UC should runaway with the title.
The individual showdown is a whole different story.
This should could be an absolute thriller!!!
The University of Colorado-bound Zawatski owns the fastest time in the state at Holmdel with the 18:00 (17:59.59 chip time) she ran to win her second straight Group 4 title.
But right behind her is Union Catholic's Sheppard, who ran 18:09 to win the Non-Public A title, and Northern Burlington's Gordon, who repeated as Group 3 champion in 18:14.
Zawatski, Sheppard, and Gordon all won very comfortably last week, and all said they had more in the tank!!!
So just low will they go?
Will it take a sub 17:50 to win?? I think so!
Will Zawatski, who has the experience in her favor and runs with so much heart, make it two in a row.
Will Sheppard, who owns a big closing kick, become just the fourth freshman to ever win?
Will Gordon drop a massive Holmdel PR and win her first M of C title?
Will someone else run the race of their life and score a monumental upset?
All those answers will all come on Saturday, which promises to be one of the best XC days in state history!!!
Good luck to everyone!!
Time to level up!!!
Get ur PR's on!!
Get ur NJ XC on!!!