WAPPINGERS FALLS, NY - New Jersey once again flexed its distance dominance at Saturday's 16th Nike Northeast Regional Championships at Bowdoin Park when the Garden State ruled the day by grabbing half the automatic qualifying spots into the National Championships.
There were 14 automatic qualifying berths at stake (4 teams/10 individuals), and when the dust settled NJ had secured seven of those qualifiers, three teams and four individuals, and captured three of the four titles!!
That's quite a haul, especially when when you consider that meet consisted of the best teams from seven states, N.J., Pa., Conn., Mass., Maine, Vermont, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire.
Leading the surge for NJ were the CBA and the Union Catholic girls, who swept the team titles, freshman phenom Paige Sheppard of Union Catholic, who won the girls race in dramatic and sizzling fashion, the Westfield boys and Jimmy Wischusen of Union Catholic, who each placed second in the boys race.
They will be joined at the National Championships this Saturday at the Glendoveer Golf Course in Portland, Oregon by Luke Pash of Ridgewood, Brenden McMahon of Ridge, and Rosemary Shay of Middletown South.
Christian Brothers Academy, ranked No. 1 in NJ and No. 2 in the U.S. and NJ No. 2 and US No. 11 Westfield, came in as the clear favorites and they did exactly what was expected.
In the closest showdown of the trilogy this season between the Jersey juggernauts, undefeated CBA defeated Westfield, 59-69, to repeat as champions and extend its remarkable streak to 12 straight berths in the National Championships. The Colts, who have qualified for the national championship race 13 times, have now won 8 Nike NE titles ( 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2016, 2018, 2022, 2023).
CBA will be seeking its second national title and will attempt to secure their place in NJ history as perhaps the greatest boys team in state history next week. The Colts won their lone national championship in 2011, which is the same year that Westfield qualified for its first appearance at the National Championships.
It looked like CBA was on its way to a comfortable victory when the Colts surged out to a 41-76 at the halfway mark (2.5k), but Westfield closed fast and made things interesting by picking up 25 places on CBA.
Coach Sean McCafferty's CBA crew went 6-7-8-16-22 in the team scoring and averaged 16:17.4. Westfield countered with a scoring combination of 4-13-14-17-21 and an average of 16:24.4.
The top five for CBA were Conor Clifford, sixth in 15:58.9, Joe Barrett, 7th in 16:06.5, Jack Falkowski, 9th in 16:14.2, Alex Mastroly, 22nd in 16: 31.5, and Wyatt Falkowski, 29th in 16:35.6.
Westfield's top five were Avery Keith, fourth in a school course record 15:54.7, Tage Mehta, 19th in 16:29.9, Jimmy Gildea, 20th in 16:30.1, Ryan Daly, 23rd in 16:31.9, and Alex Valencia, 28th 16:35.0.
When Westfield qualified for the National Championships in 2011, it did so as a wild card under legendary coach Jack Martin, who retired after that season. Chris Tafelski, who ran for Martin, took over as head coach at his alma mater in 2012. Congrats to Tafelski on his first trip to nationals as head coach and to the Blue Devils for leveling up and continuing their magical season.
THE COMEBACK KID STRIKES AGAIN
Individually, the University of Virginia-bound Wischusen added to his remarkable list of great comebacks by placing second in a 15:49.9, the fastest time ever by a Union County runner in course history and the 7th fastest time by a NJ runner all-time on the rugged 3.1-mile layout. The race was won by Stanford-bound Byron Grevious of Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire in 15:32.8, No. 7 all-time in course history! Grevious, second last year, finished 12th at Nike Nationals last year.
Wischusen, who has shown so much heart, guts and resiliency during his career by always coming back strong after overcoming injuries and adversity, did it again!!
Wischusen, forced to drop out with a hamstring injury just past the 2-mile mark at both the State Non-Public A race and the Meet of Champions, picked himself up off the mat once again and came out swinging. Wischusen positioned himself perfectly early in the race, sat in fourth at the halfway point, and then poured it on over the final 1,200 meters to move into second place to lock up his trip to Portland.
In a race that saw NJ runners take seven of the top nine places, Pash, a junior, placed fifth in 15:56.6, and McMahon, also a junior, placed 8th in 16:10.8, to secure their national championship berths.
After the race, a relieved, excited, and understandably emotional Wischusen talked at length about how much this moment meant to him after so many ups and downs in his career, which includes winning the Meet of Champions Indoor 3,200 last year, and missing most of the 2022 XC season and the end of outdoor season last spring with injuries.
Wischusen, who never stopped believing in himself and has displayed remarkable intestinal fortitude during his amazing career, also spoke from the heart as he offered great advice for runners/athletes who are dealing with setbacks in life and the physical and mental challenges that go with that. Wischusen's video interview above is a must watch for everyone, especially anyone out there that's struggling with the highs and lows of the sport. Wischusen's words and his message are so important and they really hit the heart!!
UNION CATHOLIC LEVELS UP
The Union Catholic girls have had a target on their backs all season, and every time they've toed the line this young and ultra-talented pack, comprised of three freshmen, two sophomores, and 2 seniors, have handled the pressure by delivering clutch performances in a variety of ways to stay undefeated.
The mark of any great team is finding ways to win when things don't go as planned, and that's what the Vikings did on Saturday when they overcome adversity to win their first Nike NE Regional Championship.
Heavily favored UC, ranked No. 1 in NJ and No. 6 in the nation, was leading North Allegheny of Pa., by just 10 points, 55-65, at the halfway mark, and senior Peyton Hollis, one of UC's top guns, had just dropped out with an injured calf.
So the Vikings entire pack, knowing the situation, all began to crank it up and level up, closing hard en route to a 54-82 win over North Allegheny. There just aren't many teams that can overcome the loss of a runner as good as Hollis, the Union County champion the past 2 years, and still win a Regional Championship. But Coach Mike McCabe's team is just built different and will go down as the best girls squad in NJ history!!
This is the first NE Regional title for UC, who earned its first trip to nationals last year by placing second in the Regional.
Sheppard, who ran a perfect tactical race, ignited the charge for the Vikings with a masterful performance as she used her superior kick to explode past Ella Woehlcke of Mount Saint Joseph Academy in Pa., with about 100 meters to go to finish first by a couple strides in an eye-popping 18:12.2!! That's the second fastest time by a NJ girl in course history. Only Charlotte Bednar of Lawrenceville, who ran 18:00.0 to win the NE Regional in 2019, has run faster.
Sheppard's victory led a scoring combination of 1-5-11-17-20 for UC, which averaged a red hot 19:06.2, which is believed to be a NJ course record!!! I can't find a faster NJ team!
UC's top five consisted of Sheppard, Courtney Kaiser, 7th in 18:52.1, Cayleigh Kaiser, 15th in 19:07.7, Kayla Devine, 27th in 19:38, and Ella Solorzano, 30th in 19:40.7.
Individually, the Villanova-bound Shay continued her sensational senior season by placing fourth in 18:56.9 to qualify for nationals. Olivia Murray of Pingry, a Foot Locker National finalist last year, placed 10th in 18:58.7, narrowly missed the final qualifying spot by .2. Murray is the first alternate.