Big Year for South Jersey Cross Country

by Marc Narducci | Nov 28, 2014
Big Year for South Jersey Cross Country It was a highly successful season for competitors from the seven-county South Jersey area in both boys and girls cross country.

The season culminated with South Jersey athletes winning the boys’ and girls’ Meet of Champions individual titles. Neither of the South Jersey champions entered as the favorite to win the race. (The MOC consists of the top six finishers in each of the state championship races).

Haddon Township senior Luke Petela won the boys’ MOC in a time of 15:40, edging out Nikhil Pulimood of West Windsor Plainsboro South and Bishop Eustace’s Shawn Hutchinson, who both were timed in 15:42. Petela has placed second the week before in the state Group 1 meet. He ran 15:49, which was nine seconds behind Craig Corti of Wallkill Valley. (Corti would finish fourth at the MOC in a time of 15:52).

What has made Petela’s success so startling was that he didn’t even begin running cross country until his junior season. He was a soccer player before that.

The girls’ MOC winner was Ocean City’s Devon Grisbaum. A Vanderbilt recruit, Grisbaum won in a time of 18:20, edging yet another South Jersey and Cape Atlantic League athlete, Alyssa Aldridge of Mainland (18:22).

It was the first time that the boys' and girls’ champions were from South Jersey in the same season since 2000 when Eastern’s Mike Myers and Haddonfield’s Erin Donohue won the MOC titles. Besides Petela and Bishop Eustace’s Hutchinson, the other South Jersey Top 10 finishers were Timber Creek’s Dominick Munson, who was sixth, and Cherry Hill East’s Aaron Groff, who placed seventh.

Munson placed second to Leland Jones of Summit in the state Group 3 meet the previous week. Groff had finished second to WWPS’s Pulimood in the state Group 4 meet.

Grisbaum and Aldridge were the two South Jersey runners who placed in the girls’ Top 10.

In the boys’ MOC, three South Jersey teams were among the top five with Cherry Hill East third, followed by Kingsway at fourth, and Haddonfield fifth. The highest girls’ team was Haddonfield, which was 13th.

This also concluded a banner season for the boys’ cross country team at Cherry Hill East. The week before, the Cougars won their first ever Group 4 state title. Besides Groff, who placed second, East’s other finishers were Dan Helfand (10th), Christian Mele (14th), Josh Dillon (26th) and Isa Jean-Baptiste (38th).

The other South Jersey boys’ state champions were Haddon Township in Group 1 and Haddonfield in Group 2.

Sterling’s Sean McPherson was the Group 2 individual state champion.

There were no girls’ individual or team champions from South Jersey but Haddonfield sophomore Brianna Gess, who won the MOC last season, placed second in the Group 2 state meet.

Cherry Hill East also won the South Jersey Group 4 boys’ title. The other South Jersey boys’ champions from the seven-county area were Highland in Group 3, Haddonfield (Group 2) and Haddon Township (Group 1).

Kingsway’s Noah Culbreath won the SJ individual Group 4 title, Timber Creek’s Munson was Group 3 champ, Sterling’s McPherson won Group 2 and Petela was Group 1 champ.

The South Jersey girls’ champs were Shawnee (Group 4), Seneca (Group 3), Haddonfield (Group 2) and Haddon Township (Group 1). That gave Haddonfield and Haddon Township sectional championships for the boys’ and girls’ teams.

Individual girls’ champions were Shawnee’s Nina Bendixen (Group 4), Grisbaum (Group 3), Gess (Group 2) and Haddon Township’s Annika Merkh (Group 1).

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