Long before the current high school cross country season began to have even practices, McNair Academic’s Fahd Nasser went to a camp in Glens Spa, N.Y. that is run by the dedicated coaching staff of Christian Brothers Academy in Lincroft.
While he participated in the camp, Nasser was asked to put down his goals for the upcoming season.
“I was asked to draw a poster with my goals,” Nasser said. “It had to have my short term and long term goals. It was all about setting goals and reaching for them.”
So Nasser boldly placed on the poster what he had hoped to achieve this season. On it, he said that he wanted to win the Hudson County Track Coaches Association championship, the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I title and the overall Group I state champion.
It really was saying a lot, considering just two short years ago, Nasser was a basketball player at McNair.
“I didn’t even know what cross country was,” Nasser said.
But after Nasser joined the track and field program at McNair, he found out that he liked running.
And thus the goals he set back at camp over the summer.
“That’s where it started, in camp,” Nasser said. “I did things to constantly remind me, like put it on my notebooks in school or in my locker. I had it everywhere.”
Well, Nasser sure enough won the county title a few weeks ago and added the state sectional gold medal two weeks ago.
It left just the overall Group I state title from his camp poster.
Last Saturday, Nasser added the last piece to the puzzle. He romped home at the Group I state meet at Holmdel Park in 16:15, four seconds ahead of runner-up Drew Maher of Shore Regional.
With the win, Nasser became the first-ever overall Group I cross country champion from Jersey City and the first from McNair Academic, which has enjoyed a rich and storied tradition over the last 20 years.
“It’s incredible,” Nasser said. “Someone told me that I was the first and that was just amazing. It means so much to me. It’s really incredible.”
Nasser was ready to go from the start of the race, despite the frigid cold and wind that embraced Holmdel Park.
“It was so cold,” Nasser said. “I was worried that I was going to get too stiff. It was tough conditions to run in.”
He was given a pair of gloves to wear from head coach Matt Hogan.
“I ended up keeping them on the entire race,” Nasser said. “I needed to keep my upper body warm. I couldn’t wear a T-shirt underneath, because I was afraid it would weigh me down. I just had to go out there and run my race. I had to separate myself from the pack.”
At the two-mile mark, Nasser was in complete command.
“I split away from the pack,” Nasser said. “I had run 10:30 and the rest were about 60 meters behind me, so I knew that I was in good shape. I had done my damage and took a substantial lead. That’s what propelled me home.”
When Nasser crossed the finish line, he didn’t realize that he created a piece of history.
“It was just a sigh of relief that I won,” Nasser said. “I celebrated with my friends who were waiting for me. It was just awesome. I came to the realization that I could do it. It was not just a milestone for me, but it was for the entire school. I’ve now set the bar higher for someone to come along and carry that tradition.”
Hogan wasn’t surprised with Nasser’s championship.
“He showed last year that he had the ability,” Hogan said. “He just didn’t run anything close to this in cross country. He dropped 35 seconds at Holmdel [earlier in the year]. That was a sign for me. When you watch him, he’s an impressive runner. He has all the tools.”
And Hogan made a unique distinction about Nasser.
“He’s the best distance runner I’ve ever coached,” Hogan said.
That’s saying a lot.
“He’s had such a great season,” Hogan said. “He was used to going out and getting the lead, pushing the pace and holding the lead. I couldn’t be any prouder of the kid. He deserves it for the way he trains. He’s a team leader who does all the little extra stuff. He didn’t get better by accident. He put the effort in.”
Nasser was asked if three years ago, he could have seen himself as a state champion.
“No, never, ever,” Nasser said. “I never thought I would do anything in cross country. For me, it was mainly basketball. I never thought I’d do it. Most people can’t even jog a 5K [3.1 mile course], never mind run a race. When I found out the races were three miles, I almost quit. I asked, ‘Did I sign up for this?’ So this is a big surprise.”
Nasser now heads to the overall NJSIAA Meet of Champions this weekend with other goals in mind.
“Maybe I can finish in the top 10 and break 16 [minutes] at Holmdel,” Nasser said. “I made it this far. I’m going to give it all I have.”…
Speaking of cross country, we had some gross oversights in our reporting of the recent NJSIAA state sectional meets.
First, in writing about the McNair Academic girls’ state sectional championship, we forgot the major contributions of sophomore Bonu Akhadova, who finished sixth in the North Jersey Section 2, Group I meet at Greystone Park. Akhadova finished the race in a fine 22:03.83…
Next, we overlooked the fine efforts of both the boys’ and girls’ teams at Secaucus, which qualified for last week’s Group I championships by finishing fourth in that sectional.
Among the Patriot boys, the top finishers were Adam Khriss (15th in 17:52), Mohammed Alobaidi (17th in 17:56) and Sebastian Flood, who finished 29th in the race…
Among the Secaucus girls that finished fourth in North 2, Group I were Alexandra Molta (19th in 23:14), Victoria Saniko (20th) Kirsten Williams (22nd) and freshman Grace Bowers (27th in 23:43), who posted the second fastest time among freshmen in the race. Apologies to all that were somehow forgotten last week…
As for this week, two local Non-Public teams ran well at the Group championships last week to move on to this weekend’s Meet of Champions.
The St. Peter’s Prep team fared well in the Non-Public A Boys championship, finishing second to perennial state powerhouse Christian Brothers Academy.
Freshman Edwin Klanke finished fourth overall and was the top freshman finisher in the race, crossing the line in 16:24. Paul Ames (24th in 17:13), Liam Christman (26th in 17:15), Thomas Narramore (37th in 17:27) and Kevin Keegan, the third place finisher in the Hudson County championships three weeks ago, was 46th in 17:39…
And St. Dominic Academy was third among the girls’ teams in Non-Public B, behind winner Villa Walsh and runner-up Trinity Hall.
Freshman Kayla Sullivan, the niece of all-time great SDA performer Liane Sullivan Rae, was 9th in 20:48 and was the second best finisher among freshmen in the race.
Jessica Wisowaty (24th in 22:04), Andrea Tlacuilo (26th in 22:17) and Megan Van Alstyne (27th in 22:18) were the top finishers for the Blue Devils.
So both the Marauders and Blue Devils will represent the area this weekend, as well as Group I champ Nasser…
The Great Hagueini was a perfect 5-0 last week with his picks and almost nailed the St. Peter’s Prep score, predicting a 42-13 score when the real final was 41-18.
So here are this week’s selections in the NJSIAA state playoffs, with only two local teams still alive.
Bloomfield at Union City, North 1, Group V semifinals, Friday, Roosevelt Stadium: The Soaring Eagles will march to MetLife Stadium on the strong legs of the powerful 1-2 backfield of Izayah Reyes and Jean Alvarez and the defensive wizardry of Neurys Ortiz, who had six tackles and an interception last week. Union City 21, Bloomfield 13.
Paramus Catholic at St. Peter’s Prep, Non-Public Group 4 semifinals, Friday, Caven Point Cochrane Stadium: It’s hard to deny the Marauders the way they’re playing these days. They earn a rematch with mighty Bergen Catholic in the finals at MetLife. St. Peter’s Prep 28, Paramus Catholic 14. – Jim Hague.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.