By Jimmy Allinder
It’s an accomplishment for a high school team to win an NJSIAA state group championship in any sport, and both the Metuchen High School boys’ and girls’ cross-country teams did just that Nov. 12.
In the girls’ Group I race, which covers 5,000 meters, the Bulldogs finished with 66 total points, edging Kinnelon High School for first place and its third consecutive crown at Holmdel Park. In the boys’ race at the same site, Metuchen’s depth paved the way for a second consecutive title with 76 points — 13 fewer than Bogota High School.
Both teams return to Holmdel Park Nov. 19 to compete in the Meet of Champions, which brings together the state’s top high school teams and individuals.
According to Metuchen girls’ coach Kelli Holleran, the reason the boys and girls have been so successful in recent years has been a solid understanding of what’s required to prepare for distance running. Holleran and her husband, Marty, who coaches the boys, agree the programs have thrived for that reason.
“[Cross-country] is tough mentally as well as physically, and when the runners understand that, they know how much work and commitment it takes daily in order to improve and find success,” Kelli Holleran said. “Marty and I stress the necessity of doing those things every day because it isn’t just about the race.”
Race day, however, is when the dedication pays off, as it did for the Bulldogs.
Sophomore Nina Suss — younger sister of former Metuchen star Rachel Suss, who is now at Harvard University — ran the best race for the Bulldogs, placing 10th in 21 minutes flat. However, the rest of the top five contributed to the team victory.
Seniors Rachel Wentnick and Elizabeth Lawson placed 13th and 14th, respectively, sophomore Camile Lussier was 20th and sophomore Emma Capron placed 23rd.
In the boys’ race, Metuchen received strong performances from junior Jake Beacher, who placed 10th, and senior Jac Fracobandiero, who finished 11th. Also, junior Caelan Johnson was 17th, junior Divij Gupta placed 25th and junior Stephan Tang finished 28th.
Although Metuchen’s cross-country and track teams during the winter and spring have consistently excelled, Kelli Holleran says every year represents a different opportunity.
“We begin by talking about what we can accomplish and how we will strive together to achieve our goals,” the coach said. “It’s important that we are on the same page. Fortunately, we have tremendous kids who make that happen.”
Holleran said the teams attends summer practices starting in July and doesn’t get a break until after Thanksgiving.
“That requires hard-working and highly motivated athletes to stay the course for the entire season and race at a very competitive level,” she said. “Metuchen cross-country has established a strong tradition of producing runners who understand the difference between wanting to be good and truly working to be good.”
Despite switching from the Greater Middlesex Conference (GMC) Red Division to the White Division, the John P. Stevens High School football team is winding up another difficult season.
The Hawks finished 1-7 in division play, although the win against North Brunswick Township High School, 23-14, snapped a 22-game losing streak against GMC opponents. The team’s overall record is 1-8.
Last season, J.P. Stevens finished 1-9, with its only victory against William L. Dickinson High School in an NJSIAA state crossover game. This campaign concludes Thanksgiving morning when the Hawks visit crosstown rival Edison High School.
The contest will mark the final time in a J.P. Stevens uniform for quarterback Luke Jacobi. The senior not only spearheaded the offense with his passing (78 completions, 260 yards), but he also was second in rushing to Quian Muse (317 yards, four touchdowns) with 270 yards.
Joe Riggi, who completes his second year as head coach, believes the program will improve as the team gains added experience with his system.
“We’re young, but we’ve shown a lot of heart,” Riggi said. “Everybody continues to work hard regardless of the record. The kids believe they still can win.”
Riggi said he is confident that attitude will carry over to next season when a better understanding of his coaching philosophy will result in more wins.