Christian Brothers Academy (CBA) Colts, the top-ranked boys' cross country team in the nation, will be the featured star vying to hold onto its stellar rank in the annual Shore Coaches Invitational meet on Saturday at Holmdel Park.
The event features more than 100 teams, on both the boys' and girls' sides, from around the state squaring off on the 5,000-meter course. There are six varsity races for each gender, based on school enrollment, as well as a champions race on each side featuring the top teams and individuals in the state.
The varsity races begin at 10:10 a.m., and the last race is scheduled to go off at 5:15 p.m. The girls' championship race is at 2:55 p.m., followed by the boys' at 3:15 p.m.
Leading the way on the boys' side is , the team which is ranked number one in the country and is the defending winner in the champions race, featuring the state’s top teams. Dyestat.com, ESPN Rise and Marc Bloom’s Super 25 all have CBA as the top team in the nation, so its Colts will be looking to show why at Holmdel Park on Saturday.
CBA is led by senior George Kelly, who took seventh in last year’s champions race with a time of 16:17. Junior William Bragg also returns after running 16:51 at last year’s Shore Coaches meet, and he is joined by seniors Tom Gorman, Conrad Lippert and Scott Zapcic as well as juniors Jack Boyle and Aaron Liberatore. Lippert has battled nagging injuries early in the season, but is expected to be ready to go on Saturday.
CBA is coming off an impressive performance in winning a race at Bowdoin Park in Wappinger Falls, N.Y., as it averaged 16:30 as a team. Kelly also won the individual title at the Bowdoin Classic. As far as the course at Holmdel Park is concerned, CBA ran a course-record 16:05.3 to win the NJSIAA Meet of Champions last year, and it has had a long track record of success on this course.
The Colts’ main competition appears to be West Windsor South, which is ranked 15th in the nation and considered the second-best team in New Jersey. The main Shore Conference teams looking for a strong showing on Saturday are Southern Regional High School in Manahawkin and Lacey High School.
Southern returns senior Eric Dragonetti, who finished 12th in the champions race last season with a 16:31, while Lacey brings back senior Noah Jacobs, who ran a 17:08 in last year’s Varsity B race.
On the individual side, the main intrigue surrounds whether the course record will be broken by Edward Cheserek, a Kenyan who runs for St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark.
Cheserek came to New Jersey from Kenya last fall and has set course records at numerous New Jersey courses, including one at Garret Mountain in a meet last week. The Holmdel Park course record of 14:56 was set in 2009 by West Windsor North’s Joe Rosa.
On the girls' side, Voorhees High School of Glen Gardner enters as the team to beat, led by sophomore Nisa Cicitta, who took fourth overall in last year’s championship race with a time of 19:14 and later ran 18:34.6 for a personal best on the Holmdel Park course.
The top local team looks to be Red Bank Catholic, which is led by senior Liana Marzano, who took 12th in last year’s champions race with a 20:05. RBC’s strength is its depth, as the Caseys’ lineup also includes talented seniors Lindsey Bellaran and MaryKate Byrnes and sophomore Katerina Saling.
Howell is another team to watch, as the Rebels will compete in champions race along with Jackson Memorial, Holmdel and Lacey. Howell features junior Aileen Rivell, who comes in with some momentum after running a personal best 21:12.02 last week at the NJCTC Stewart Invitational.
Rumson-Fair Haven is also looking for a strong showing in the Varsity D race, as the Bulldogs are led by senior Molly Hellman, who had a top 10 finish in last year’s race with a 20:12.
Individually, the favorite is Marlton's Cherokee High School senior Megan Lacy, the reigning NJSIAA Group IV champion, who was fourth at the Meet of Champions as a junior after running 18:14 at Holmdel Park.
The top two local girls who look to have a strong showing are Holmdel sophomore Lennon Cooper and Point Pleasant Beach senior Brianna Feerst. Lennon placed in the top 25 at the Shore Coaches Meet as a freshman with a 19:41.
She already has a victory at a race at the Thompson Park Class Meet earlier this season. Feerst, took 24th overall last year and ran a Holmdel Park personal-best 19:19.5 at last year’s Meet of Champions.