Over the years, the St. Dominic Academy cross country and track and field team has prided itself on being able to make trips together to compete in spots all over the map.
Recently, the Blue Devils’ cross country team literally made a trip across the country, heading to the Woodbridge-Nevco Invitational Meet in Nevco, California. It was the largest cross country race in the nation, totaling 450 schools and 15,000 runners. Trinity Prep of Winter Haven, Florida and the Blue Devils were the only schools from east of the Mississippi River. SDA was the first team from New Jersey to ever compete in the race.
It marked the first time that the Blue Devils headed to the Golden State since 2005.
According to veteran Hudson County Hall of Fame coach John Nagel, the Blue Devils began preparing for the 2019 campaign shortly after the outdoor track season ended in June.
“We ended the outdoor season on June 15 and began cross country on June 24,” Nagel said. “We did four nights a week all summer. Generally speaking, we had everyone there about 90 percent of the time. We had a couple of summer road races and went to [the Christian Brothers Academy] camp. It just comes with the territory. They know if we were going to be good, they know what’s involved.”
Nagel had been professing that this year’s team had a solid chance to be very good this season and the veteran coach rarely speaks in the superlative. Nagel downplays his team’s prospects year after year. He remains as even-keeled as anyone involved in the sport.
But Nagel proudly proclaimed a prophecy about this year’s version of the Blue Devils.
“They could go down as the best team we’ve ever had,” Nagel said. “And that’s saying a mouthful. Since they were freshmen, I believed that. We’ve had a wonderful two and a half years getting ready for this year.”
Nagel’s team started the season by winning their own SDA Invitational in Lincoln Park in Jersey City, the 25th anniversary of the race, defeating solid squads like Rumson-Fair Haven and Bridgewater-Raritan in the process.
In years past, Nagel would take his team to race at Disney World in Orlando, but felt that the competition was steeper in California.
“I think they believe in what we do,” Nagel said. “They understand that if they train properly, they had a shot to be very good. How you train usually projects how you perform.”
As it turned out, the Blue Devils performed very well in California, as 11 of the 14 girls that competed came home with medals.
On the varsity level, the Blue Devils finished seventh as a team out of 42 schools.
The race began at 8:42 p.m. Western Standard Time, which translates to 11:42 p.m. Eastern time. The Blue Devils were competing 36 hours after leaving New Jersey.
“At that time, their legs couldn’t have been the perkiest they could be,” Nagel said.
Senior Suhalya Johnson – incredibly, the lone senior on the whole team – led the way for the Blue Devils, finishing 26th overall in 19:16.4. It marked the 10th different state in the country in her career that Johnson earned a medal.
“She’s not exactly a speed merchant,” Nagel said. “But she’s strong and consistent.”
Junior Kayla Sullivan, who was the overall winner of the SDA Invitational back home two weeks prior, was 36th overall in 19:32.6.
“She’s focused and confident,” Nagel said of Sullivan. “She goes out and runs hard. Her races have been good, comparable to Camille Bertholon’s senior year.”
Bertholon, currently the captain of the University of Rhode Island’s team, was the Hudson Reporter Female Athlete of the Year in 2015-2016.
To have both young ladies running sub 20-minute races this early in the season can only translate to better things down the road, like the Hudson County Track Coaches Association’s championships November 2.
Junior Charlotte Hennessey was next in 20:07.3, good for 52nd place overall.
“She did not run cross country at all last year due to illness,” Nagel said. “She just keeps getting better and better.”
Junior Avery Sullivan, the twin sister of Kayla, was 58th overall in 20:19.2.
“She’s vastly improved over last year,” Nagel said. “She’s not afraid of Kayla’s shadow anymore. She’s worked harder than ever before.”
Junior Caroline O’Donnell was 59th overall in 20:18.7.
“She did not run cross country last year, but she’s been very solid,” Nagel said.
Junior Milani Bethel, — a main cog during indoor and outdoor seasons in field events and shorter races — has been battling nagging injuries so far this season. She was 65th overall in 20:28.7.
Freshman Mia Martinko, who has been a strong addition to the program and finished third overall in the freshman race at the SDA meet, ran in the varsity race in California and ran well, finishing in 20:54.3. That was good for 15th overall in the freshman race, but was the seventh best time recorded by the SDA runners in California.
Others that competed in California and will run varsity races at some point this season included junior Te’a Baramidze, sophomore Madison Cortes and junior Olivia Aidukas.
“It was a great experience,” said Nagel, who will take his team to the highly competitive Shore Coaches Invitational at Holmdel Park in Holmdel October 5. “We’ve been going on trips since 1981. Some of the girls are 14 years old and never traveled before. It’s great for the girls to know each other.”
In a sport like cross country, there is no price tag for camaraderie. The Blue Devils are a team to watch for the remainder of the season…
Hudson Reporter High School Football Top Five: 1. St. Peter’s Prep (4-0). 2. Bayonne (4-0). 3. Union City (2-1). 3. North Bergen (2-1). 5. Lincoln (2-2)…
Hudson Reporter High School Football Top Five: 1. St. Peter’s Prep (9-3-1). 2. Ferris (10-1). 3. Union City (6-5). 4. Dickinson (7-5). 5. North Bergen (4-6-2). – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com