Completing The Perfect Year
A Special Report from our On Site Correspondent
PORTLAND MEADOWS, Ore
It will go down as one of the greatest races in U.S. history and a monumental victory in New Jersey history. Christian Brothers Academy, which came in ranked No. 1 in the U.S, and US #4 Carroll of Southlake in Texas locked up in a steel cage match today as the two heavyweights produced a race for the ages at the eighth Nike Cross Nationals at the Portland Meadows Race Track. Carroll dropped the first haymaker by blasting out to a huge lead at the 1-K mark with CBA a distant fourth. But CBA steadily moved up before delivering the final blow of this slugfest with a powerful surge over the final 1-K to cap a wild comeback that ended with CBA outscoring Carroll, 91-95 in an epic and historic battle.
CBA's 91 points is a meet record (old record of 92 by Arcadia of California last year and Kroy in 2004) and its average of 15:58.99 broke the course record average of 16:00.22 set by 2008 runner-up Elmhurst, IL. Carroll, which averaged 15:59.16, now has the fourth lowest point total in meet history. The Colts, who excelled at running as a tight pack all year had a remarkable 1-5 compression of 24 seconds.
Senior George Kelly, junior Jack Boyle, senior Tim Gorman, sophomore Mike McClemens and junior Billy Bragg all made up a lot of ground over the final 1-K to make sure CBA finished off a perfect campaign as the Monmuth County juggernaut finished the season No. 1 in the nation. With 1k to go, Carroll had the Colts by 16 pts (85-101). In that last 1,000m, Kelly picked up four spots and passed a pair of Carroll runners, Gorman caught a couple runners before the line, and McClemens closed by picking off seven runners in the last stretch, including a runner from Carroll just before crossing the line. CBA put three runners across before Carroll's second.
Boyle, who turned in a spectacular race up front to help lead a lethal CBA frontal attack as the Colts put three guys in front of Carroll's No. 2 man, said it was all about the finish. ``I got out good with George, but there were two runners from Carroll ahead of me near the halfway point,'' said Boyle, who suffered a gash from being spiked that required some medical attention. ``I knew I had to get ahead of them and finish strong and I was able to do that. And everyone on our team had great finishes, which is why we won.''
Kelly finished 23rd in 15:50. Boyle was 29th in 15:53. Gorman was 36th in 15:55. McClemens was 61st in 16:06, Bragg (who also suffered a cut on his leg from being spiked) was 72nd in 16:14, senior Conrad Lippert 95th in 16:26, and junior Aaron Liberatrore 134th in 16:46.
``This was our goal ever since we were fifth here last year,'' said Kelly. ``Since then we've been working for this race, for this moment. Even though we put a lot of pressure on ourselves by saying that this season would be a disappointment if we didn't win nationals, that was the mindest we had to have to get it done. To do something no CBA or Jersey team has ever done and make history is amazing. It's something none of us will ever forget.''
CBA did avoid a last minute snafu before the start of the race when the Dartmouth-bound Gorman realized he wasn't wearing his jersey.
``It was about five minutes before the race and I took off my sweats and saw I didn't have my jersey on,'' said Gorman. ``I didn't really panic because I knew I could go get it on and get back to the line.'' Gorman made it to the line with about a minute and a half to spare.
This was CBA's fourth appearance at NXN (11th in 2004, eighth in 2005, and fifth last year), and this was the one thing missing from its legacy as one of the greatest programs in U.S. history. CBA already owns the national record for consecutive dual meet victories (315 and counting) and has won a state record 17 Meet of Champions titles.
``This is an exclamation point on all the accomplishments in the history of CBA,'' said CBA coach Tom Heath, the coach since 1971. ``This was the only thing left to do. But now we have to comeback and become the first team to win it twice.''
There can no longer be much debate if any over the best team in state history. CBA finished a perfect nine for nine in its major meets this year and broke course records at Ocean County Park, Holmdel Park and now Portland Meadows. "And think what this team did speak for itself,'' said Heath. ``Before this season, my 1987 team (led by John Coyle and Matt Mitchell) was the best ever at CBA. The only way any team could top that team was by winning the national title, and this team did that so they are now the best ever.''
On the Girls side, it was also a great day for Bernards senior Dana Giordano, who executed the race plan put together by coach Dave Szostak to perfection.
Giordano, who will join Gorman at Dartmouth in the fall, made a big move in the second half of the first mile to get into the top 10 and statyed near the group the whole way as she finished 12th in the field of 196 in 18:10. Giordano flashed a big smile when she finished and was greeted with a big hug from her mom, Sue.
``I am so happy right now,'' said Giordano. ``To finish 12th with all these great runners and run a time like that is just amazing. I wasn't real happy with getting fourth in the regional last week and wanted to run a stronger race today and I did that. Everyone went so fast, so I just stayed back a little and then moved up on the straightaways.
Giordano said working out over some hay bales on the Bernards track this week certainly helped. ``I think it gave me the confidence that I could handle them just fine when I ran here,'' said Giordano. ``This was a the perfect way for me to me end my high school cross-country career."
Also in the girls race, junior Sarah Disanza of High Point was 53rd in 18:49 and junior Marisa Ruskan of Bridgewater-Raritan was 58th in 18:52.
For Ruskan, who played soccer until this fall, it was great way to cap off a storybook rookie season on the trails. ``I have nothing to be disappointed about,'' said Ruskan, who caught a stitch in her side halfway through the race. ``I went out hard, but so did everyone else. I just coudn't stay up there with them the way I wanted to. But I ran as hard as I could and did the best I could, so I am happy with that.''
Ruskan was thrilled for Giordano, her fellow Skyland Conference foe. ``I am so happy for Dana,'' said Ruskan. ``Since I am just a junior, I look at what she (Giordano) did today and feel like that could me next year. I never imagined my first cross-country season would end with me running at nationals, so I am real thrilled with what I was able to accomplish. It was an awesome season."
Disanza, also a junior who had a remarkable runner-up finish at the NE Regional last week, was a bit down after her race.
``The mud really messed with me,'' said Disanza. ``I thought I could go out fast and move up, but it never really happened. I just got kind of stuck and couldn't get going the way I wanted to.''
In the boys race, Tyler Gibbons of Ridge was 71st in 16:13, Christian Costello of Don Bosco Prep was 82nd in 16:19, and Ben Malone of Pascack Valley was 119th in 16:37, and NE Regional champ Jack Leahy of Westfield was 132nd in 16:44. Gibbons, the NE Regional runner-up was happy with his race and the overall experience he had.
``There are 8,000 runners that run at all nine regionals combined and only 398 make it here,'' said Gibbons. ``That's just 0.735 percent, so to make it here is a special accomplishment. I ran as hard as I could and got the place and time I got, but the expereince of being a meet like this was what it was all about for me. I had a good time.''
Things didn't turn out as well as Westfield, one of the four at-large qualifiers, had hoped in the last meet for retiring coach Jack Martin. Misfortune struck the Blue Devils soon after the start when sophomore Matt Luppino and senior John Kirna took a spill. Kirna wound up getting trampled, something that is difficult for any runner to overcome. Westfield wound up last in the field of 22.
The weather (cool with no rain) and course conditions (not nearly as muddy as years past) played a huge factor as Futsum Zeinasellaissie of Indiana ran a course record 15:03 to win the boys race while Sarah Baxter of California captured the girls title in 17:38. The victory by Zeinasellaissie sets up the long awaited showdown between himself and Edward Cheserek of St. Benedict's Prep in a battle of unbeatens at next Saturday's Foot Locker Nationals in San Diego. Cheserek, seven for seven in breaking course records this season, is favored to win as he tries to give New Jersey two national champions.
What an amazing season in the Garden State!!!!!
Article Photos by: Patrick Bendzick for The MileSplit Network