From the outset of the high school cross country season back around Labor Day, there was little doubt about the top two cross country teams were among the Hudson County schools.
Among the boys, it was St. Peter’s Prep, led by a superstar who was ranked the top returning junior in the entire state.
Among the girls, it was St. Dominic Academy, with a veteran roster packed with proven harriers with consistent times.
No brainer with either team. It was going to take a catastrophic event to knock either the Marauders or the Blue Devils off their running pedestals.
There wasn’t an earthquake or perhaps a tsunami coming across the Newark Bay last Saturday afternoon at Stephen Gregg Memorial Hudson County Park in Bayonne, so as long as the Marauders or the Blue Devils didn’t collectively fall down along the 3.1 mile course, then they were going to be in good shape.
As it turned out, with perfect, pristine weather for runners and people who don hooded sweatshirts alike, nothing was going to stop either team, as both rolled to their respective third straight Hudson County Track Coaches Association cross country championships.
So it was essentially a coronation of both teams rather than a running event.
The Marauders mauled the field, outdistancing runner-up Memorial with Secaucus placing a respectable third.
The Marauders posted the lowest team score of 18 points, breaking their own record of 21 set in 2013. They were 56 points better than the Tigers of Memorial, who have done their fair share of damage in this event.
But not this year. Led by junior sensation Edwin Klanke, who set a new course record of 15:19.90 (more on Klanke in the Athlete of the Week feature), the Marauders finished first, second, third, fifth and seventh respectively.
That’s total dominance.
After Klanke romped home with his impressive time, teammate Rodolfo Sanchez was second in 16:11.40 and Liam Concannon was third in 16:17.90. It was if the Marauders had their own little personal jaunt through Bayonne Park and invited 83 other runners to come along for the ride.
They weren’t done. After Weehawken’s ever improving junior Collin Shevlin broke up the Prep parade by finishing fourth in 16:19.40, another Marauder, senior Tyler Parrado was fifth in 16:20.50. Ironically Parrado is a resident of Weehawken, so the township on the cliffs had two residents finish among the top five.
Ruben Gonzalo of Union City finished sixth after a strong start to the race, where he was actually staying on Klanke’s shoulder, then it was yet another Marauder, Patrick McCabe, who finished seventh.
Someone witnessing the finish might have thought that there were only St. Peter’s runners in the race.
The rest of the top 10 finishers included Elvis Rosas of Memorial, who finished eighth and Daniel Chinchilla of Secaucus, who was 10th. Chinchilla has bigger fish to fry this weekend, as he leads the Patriots into the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I championships at Greystone Park in Morris Plains, a race that the Patriots are favored to win.
St. Peter’s Prep head coach Chris Caulfield was obviously pleased with the way the Marauders collectively performed – but in honesty, he thought his team would do even better if that’s possible.
“Top to bottom, we want them faster in two weeks [meaning the NJSIAA Non-Public A championships at Holmdel Park, a race that the Marauders legitimately have a chance to win for the very first time],” Caulfield said. “We want them to get just a little faster. The others were nine seconds apart behind Edwin [meaning Sanchez, Concannon, Shevlin and Parrado], which is fine.”
The Marauders were also without one of their top seven runners. Luke Bradley was making his Holy Confirmation Saturday and had to miss the race.
“That’s why I think we’ll be even better in two weeks,” Caulfield said. “The pieces will all come together in two weeks.”
Obviously, Caulfield and his team also have bigger fish to fry, like Chinchilla and the Patriots.
It marked the seventh time in eight years that the Marauders have taken home the HCTCA team title.
On the girls’ side, it was all Blue Devils as anticipated.
After Kearny’s Maria Laverde crossed the finish line as the winner of the race in 19:00 flat, the parade of SDA runners began with junior Kayla Sullivan finishing second in 19:42.70. Teammate Suhayla Johnson was third overall in a personal best 19:51.50.
Secaucus freshman Haley Nowak was the best rookie in the race, finishing fourth in 19:53.30, with Weehawken’s Delaney Rice fifth in 20:07.70.
McNair Academic senior Safaa Merghoub was sixth, followed by another Blue Devil in the surprising Caroline O’Donnell, who was seventh.
“O’Donnell made the difference,” St. Dominic Academy head coach and athletic director John Nagel said. “She didn’t run at all last cross country and now she’s doing pretty well.”
The rest of the top 10 included three girls from Kearny, but SDA junior Avery Sullivan, the twin sister of Kayla, was 11th and SDA freshman Mia Martinko was 13th. Needless to say, it was a great day for SDA.
“All things considered, the girls ran well,” said Nagel, who knew his team was without Milani Bethel, who was nursing an ankle injury.
Kayla Sullivan was trying desperately to keep with Laverde, but it was a fruitless attempt, so she decided to hold the fort and her place in second.
“Maria is a good friend,” Sullivan said. “We trained together in summer camp. I knew she was going to be gone by the second mile, so I didn’t go on. I thought that I made it this far, so I better make sure I’m in a good place. I’m definitely not mad about it. I’m okay. I just know that I definitely can do better. We’re getting into the championship part of the season, so I have to be ready.”
Johnson has made her mark as a track and field performer, but the cross country event was the first time ever she eclipsed 20 minutes. It was a fine farewell for the senior, who grew up a few blocks from the park where the race took place.
“I’ve been running in this park a long time, so it’s a good way to go out,” Johnson said. “We’ve had a solid history at the school with some amazing runners. We just wanted to keep it going. I think we all contributed and all came together. So the backdrop of my last cross country race in my hometown and living up to the tradition of St. Dominic, it was an amazing day.”
It was even more amazing, considering Johnson had to take the Scholastic Aptitude Test earlier in the day, then come to the park and run. That’s some day.
O’Donnell has no idea why she didn’t compete last season.
“I’m really not the biggest fan of cross country,” O’Donnell said. “I don’t even know what made me come back. But I’m glad I did. I feel really good contributing. I never expected this [a seventh place finish]. I’m just glad to be back.”
SDA had a close battle with Kearny for the team title, finishing just six points ahead of the Kardinals. Union City was third.
All in all, it was a solid day for the Hudson County runners, coming together to crown the “three-peat” champions.
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com. You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.com, follow Jim on Twitter @ogsmar and listen to the Hudson County Sports podcast weekly on YouTube, finding links on Facebook and Twitter.