“It eluded us then, but that's no matter. Tomorrow we will run faster . . . Stretch out our arms farther – And one fine morning . . . “ - F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
Who was it that coined the phrase, you can't win them all? I'm pretty sure this insight did not come to him after an impressive victory . . . rather, a painful defeat. Well, he was right. You can't win them all. If winning is your only reason for doing something, you will find it difficult to continue in almost any endeavor. If you run cross country only to win – unless you are Joe Rosa – you will quickly lose your will to compete. The truth is that winning is elusive, even for the best. So, if it is not simply to win, then why is it that we do this? Competitive distance running is difficult. It requires dedication, determination, sacrifice and, perhaps above all, courage. Standing on the starting line, knowing what lies ahead, each athlete is forced to confront his own fears. Will I be strong today or give in? Will I let my teammates down? Can I live up to the expectations of my coach? Do I have what it takes? Can I do this? Negative thoughts enter our head, without permission, and we are forced to confront them. In doing so, we find things out about ourselves.
In reflection, perhaps this is why we do it . . . to challenge ourselves, to confront our fears, to find out what we are made of. In our dreams, of course, we are always up to the challenge . . . always winners. But that is not reality. In reality, sometimes we do not win. Ironically, it is in those moments – when we fail to reach our potential – that we learn the most about ourselves and what it takes to succeed. If we are open to it, our losses will help to make us stronger, better prepared and more courageous.
“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do that which you think you cannot do.” - Eleanor Roosevelt
You, the members of the 2009 Cherokee Cross Country Team, upheld the fine tradition of the program over the course of the season. Through your determination, sacrifice and courage, we were able to accomplish a lot – American Division, Burlington County, and Olympic Conference Championships. Moreover, our close 4th place finish in a very competitive South Jersey Group 4 Sectional race insured our 16th consecutive appearance in the Group 4 State Meet. These accomplishments would not have been predicted by impartial observers of the sport when the season began. You are to be commended for continuing the tradition of excellence that is Cherokee Cross Country. Indeed, so much went right that, by any measure, this season was successful. And yet there is a tendency to dwell on what did not. What went wrong boils down to one off race at an inopportune time. Our 13th place finish at the State Group 4 Meet in the most competitive field ever assembled for a group state meet, kept us (with the exception of Burk) from competing in the State Meet of Champions. That brings us back to the “you can’t win them all” statement. It’s important to understand that winning (aka. having success) is never guaranteed. It is rare and it is something to be treasured and appreciated. Conversely, losing (aka. failure to achieve your goals) is not something of which to be ashamed. It happens. Be momentarily disappointed, then learn from it and move on. As a team, you worked as hard as any in Cherokee history. Be proud of what you accomplished . . . you earned it.
As always, the season really began a couple of weeks after the end of spring track. We knew that we would be facing tough competition come September so, at the end of June, preparation began in earnest. Led by Steve Burkholder, Matt McCarroll, Frankie Devine, Mike Czuba and Kyle Smith, seniors who had been with the team since their freshman year, we began putting in the miles.
On Monday, August 17th, the aforementioned seniors along with several teammates, made the trek into the hills of Canadensis, PA for the annual RunningWorks Cross Country Camp experience. Matt McCarroll was nursing sore shins but otherwise, the summer training had gone well. When camp ended on the 23rd, we returned to Marlton ready to begin daily practice. Matt’s shins continued to hamper his training despite his best efforts to deal with the problem. Eventually, several trips to the local Active Release Doctor got Matt back up to speed. It would take a while, however, before he returned to top form.
As we began daily practice sessions, another injury issue impacted the strength of the team. Kyle Smith injured his soaz muscle (lower abdominal). How? We do not know. The only consolation was that it wasn’t quite as freakish an injury as the mysterious flip flop – broken toe injury he suffered last year! Nonetheless, it was serious enough to limit Kyle’s training for much of the season. He too began regular visits to his chiropractor for the magical active release therapy.
On Saturday, September 12th, the team took to our home course for the 14th annual Cherokee Challenge. What began thirteen years earlier as a small, low key, class race to ease into the season had, over the years, developed into a ferociously competitive meet, the 2nd largest meet in New Jersey with over 2,000 competitors. The torrential rains of the previous few days left the course in bad shape and actually forced a slight revision to avoid the lowest lying area. It was not the course but the heavy training volume of the past weeks, however, that took a toll on the team, resulting in times that were not quite up to par. No matter, our sights were set on more important events later in the season and this short 3200 meter race provided a good starting point for the competitive season. There were some good performances, however, including freshman, Freddy Rasmussen and sophomores, Albert Ptaszenski and Zach Roether. Albert lowered his time from the time trial, less than two weeks earlier, by 3:39! Not to be outdone, Freddy topped that by knocking 4:19 from his time trial result and Zach earned Athlete of the Meet honors by shaving a whopping 6 minutes from his time trial result!
On Tuesday, September 15th, as we headed to BCC, on a warm, sunny day, for our first dual meet of the year against Cherry Hill East and Washington Township, we felt the pressure of continuing an unbeaten streak against American Division opponents that was going on 13 years. Both East and Township returned a good group of runners and we knew we needed to run well. Fortunately, we did. Steve Burkholder led the way with the individual victory. Thirty seven seconds later, when our 7th man, Josh Perez, crossed the line in 10th place, we had the double victory well in hand and a good start on another division championship season. Ryan Bobb gave us our first glimpse of how good and consistent a runner he had become, earning Athlete of the Meet honors, with his 4th place finish. Throughout the season, Ryan would continue to be one of the most dependable members of the varsity team.
With only a single dual meet versus Pennsauken on the schedule for the next 10 days, we upped the training intensity to take advantage of the break. Knowing that Pennsauken did not have the runners to challenge us in dual meet, we headed into the September 23rd meeting with the varsity scheduled to run through the course at a tempo effort in training shoes. Our recently acquired Italian exchange student-athlete, Alberto Redaelli, took full advantage of the opportunity to run at the front of the pack. Alberto pulled away from the field over the later stages of the competition to win his first race on American soil. He was followed across the line by 17 teammates before the first Pennsauken runner finished. Among the pack of Cherokee runners, notable performances were turned in by junior first year runner, Ryan Merrigan, and freshman, Matt Decker, both of whom recorded their first sub-20 minute 5k times. It was Freddy Rasmussen, however, who earned Athlete of the Meet honors by improving his time from the first dual meet by an incredible 8 minutes!
On Friday, September 25th, both the boys and girls teams boarded a chartered bus for the ride down to Richmond, Virginia, for the Maymont Invitational the following day. After two years of heading north on this weekend to race in Rhode Island, we decided it was time for a change. The trip to Virginia turned out to be a good one. The meet was well run and the trip to Kings Dominion, which followed, was a lot of fun. The team finished 4th in the Championship Division while the JV squad place 5th in their race. Hurdler, Darren McCluskey, out for the team to get ready for track, took his first try at the 5k distance and acquitted himself nicely with a 20:39 performance. Darren was so satisfied with the result that he decided once was enough! Greg Malloy was named Athlete of the Meet following his strong race against a very competitive field on a difficult course. He certainly earned it. Greg ran the first cross country race of his life exactly one year earlier at the Ocean States Meet in Rhode Island, finishing 174th in the JV competition with a time of 22:44. One year later, on the much more difficult Maymont course, Greg placed 34th in the varsity competition, running over five and a half minutes faster! His success is a great example of what can be accomplished through hard work and determination.
After the weekend in Richmond and a day off on Monday, it was difficult to get right back into race-mode as we traveled to Camp Ockanickon in Medford for the first District JV Championship on Tuesday, September 29th. But that’s just what the team did. With Frankie Devine easily leading the way with a 24 second margin of victory, we dominated the race. Alberto Redaelli, Billy Hornung, Mike Palmieri, Matt Venanzi and Eric Birkhead finished 2nd through 6th behind Frankie’s win.
Some time in late September or early October, we added another track-trainee to the squad. Sprinter, Jon Scott, transferred from football to begin his preparation for an assault on the school 100 Meter record this spring. The average 100 meter dash time on the team immediately dropped by 5 seconds.
Saturday, October 3rd, gave us our first indication of just how tough this year would be in New Jersey as we faced many of the teams we would have to contend with at States in the Shore Coaches Invitational A Race. Although we ran well, we finished a distant 8th. There was hope, however. A small amount of improvement by the State Meet could have us right in the hunt. Moreover, despite the 8th place finish, there were certainly some highlights. Steve Burkholder moved to number 13 on the all-time Cherokee Holmdel List with his 16:43 clocking, while Matt McCarroll took over the number 2 spot on the team and earned Athlete of the Meet honors for his big course PR of 17:12. Greg Malloy, Ryan Bobb, Aiden Lynch and Frankie Devine all set course PRs as well.
Since the narrow 3 point win over cross-town rival, Lenape, in last year’s dual meet, we had been concerned. They graduated only their number one runner and we lost four from our top seven. Knowing this, we were all business as we lined up for the double dual with Eastern and Lenape at BCC on Tuesday, October 6th, and it showed. Not only did we easily win the meet, clinching our 13th consecutive American Division Championship, but we received top efforts right down the line, with few exceptions. Steve Burkholder led the way, as always, with his individual victory and a 5k PR. Matt McCarroll and Aiden Lynch secured the 4th and 5th spots with PR performances . . . Aiden’s being his first foray under 17:00. Ryan Bobb, Greg Malloy and Josh Perez also went under 17:00 for the first time, sweeping places 7-8-9 to seal the victory. It didn’t stop there. Alberto Redaelli and Matt Venanzi both broke 18:00 for the first time while, close behind, Mike Palmieri and Mike Czuba set non-Pennypacker PRs. Oh, yes . . . the list continues. Eric Birkhead dipped under 19:00 for the first time while Jeremy Morgan got his first sub-20 minute performance by a truckload at 19:08. Lou DiGeambeardino and Justin Domingo both joined Jeremy in the sub-20 club while new PRs were also set by Matt Decker, Matt Adams, Zach Roether and Freddy Rasmussen. In addition, seasonal bests were recorded by Andrew Yang and Dave Wallace. Matt Adam’s PR earned him Athlete of the Meet honors due to the focused, determined way in which he raced.
The ten days between the Lenape/Eastern meet and the Burlington County Open on Friday, October 16th, gave us a much needed chance to train and rest. On race day we were ready for a battle between the district schools for the Championship. At 17:27 into the race, as our 7th man, Kyle Smith, crossed the line in 23rd place, we had taken a close one with a 9 point victory over Lenape and 12 over Shawnee. The win, our 12th in the last 15 years, was sparked by senior, Josh Perez, who had his best race of the season to finish 9th and earn Athlete of the Meet honors. Josh’s time was 1:37 faster than what he ran last year. In the open race following the varsity event, Cherokee dominated the front of the pack led by individual champion, Frankie Devine. Several individuals showed good improvement from last year’s meet on a cold, windy, rainy day not ideal for fast times. Matt Venanzi and Andrew Yang each dropped more than 30 seconds while Matt Adams took off almost a minute and Zach Roether dropped almost two minutes. Jeremy Morgan, however, took the award for the biggest drop as he improved by 2:38 from his time last year!
As the championship season continued, we headed back to GCC on Friday, October 23rd, for the Olympic Conference Championships. The competition, we knew, would most likely come from the same teams we faced the previous week – Lenape and Shawnee. With Kyle Smith sick and unable to run, we knew it meant we had very little margin for error. We needed some good races . . . and we got them. The best effort of the day came from sophomore, Aiden Lynch, who finished in 12th position as our 3rd man, showing the potential that could very likely make him one of the area’s top runners by next year. Aiden’s performance earned him Athlete of the Meet honors and went a long way toward securing a very close five point victory over Shawnee, who continued their steady improvement. In the JV race, we took five of the first thirteen places – Alberto Redaelli – 5th, Billy Hornung – 7th, Matt Venanzi – 8th, Mike Palmieri – 10th and Eric Birkhead – 13th.
With the season winding down, the team took two different directions – one for those who would compete in the sectionals and states, and one for those who would finish their season with runs at Pennypacker and Thompson Parks. On Thursday, October 29th, the later group arrived at Pennypacker for the annual Haddonfield Invitational. As always, the team was divided into two, each team led by one of the coaches. Shak was looking for his 9th victory in 10 meetings (his 10th against Cal as his lone loss came at the lucky hands of first year volunteer assistant coach, Jeff Thompson in 2007). Cal was just looking to stop the nightmare of consecutive defeats which was already at nine. As the runners approached the finish line, it was clear that Billy Hornung was having an outstanding race. Kicking into the finish, Billy stopped the clock at 16:53 for a big PR and a 3rd place finish. Alberto Redaelli also closed well to secure 8th place with a PR of his own. While eight other Cherokee runners set PRs, including Mike Palmieri, Mike Czuba, Eric Birkhead, Justin Domingo, Ryan Merrigan, Matt Adams and Freddy Rasmussen, it was Jeremy Morgan’s PR performance (a 2:13 improvement from last year) that earned him Co-Athlete of the Meet honors along with Billy. Jeremy’s steady improvement from last year to this is a testament to his dedication and hard work. When the dust settled and the team score was computed, it was Shak’s team on top with a 50 to 55 victory over Cal’s. Ten in a row . . . we’ll try not to rub it in! J
For all but the top seven, the final meet of the season arrived on Wednesday, November 4th, at Thompson Park. The unofficial JV/State Meet, only in its 3rd year, had grown into a huge event. This year the JV field was so big that the organizers divided it into two races – a Championship race and an Open race, each of which had over 200 runners. Prior to the JV races, the freshman event was held and was quite successful for our two freshmen. Matt Decker hit his goal of breaking 19:00 with a time of 18:51, good for 32nd place in the field of almost 200. For his effort, Matt was selected as Athlete of the Meet. Freddy Rasmussen also achieved his goal, finishing in 22:22 for a big PR and a nice way to end the season. While the JV team did not fare as well, they still managed an 8th place finish in the Championship race. Kyle Smith, returning from illness, was the team’s first finisher and earned a spot as the 7th man for the upcoming sectional race.
On Saturday, November 7th, we arrived at Delsea High School for the South Jersey Group 4 Sectionals. We came in expecting a very close competition as five teams ranked among the top 20 in the entire state would be contending for the championship. While we were one of them, we knew that we were not the favorite and that we would need seven good races to have a shot at reclaiming the title we last won in 2007. Complicating our task was the fact that Aiden Lynch had been sick for several days and Ryan Bobb was fighting a head cold. Throughout the race it was very difficult to determine which team was leading. Toms River North, the favorite had two of the race leaders but their 4th and 5th runners were back. Shawnee had three in the top 10 and their 4th man looked to be running better, but their 5th was back. Southern was showing some pretty good upfront strength and a decent pack. We clearly had the advantage when it came to the 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th runners but we were lacking the upfront strength. As the teams crossed the line, no one knew for sure who had won, only that it was close. We had run well but was it enough? Unfortunately, it was not as we finished 4th with 89 points in the closest four way finish in South Jersey Sectional history. Shawnee was the surprise winner with 84 points, followed by Southern – 85 and Toms River North – 86. Although disappointed at not winning, we could not fault the effort. Everyone gave it their best. Steve Burkholder set a new 5k PR to finish in 7th place. Matt McCarroll, Ryan Bobb, Greg Malloy and Josh Perez all finished within 16 seconds of each other. Ryan’s performance was especially impressive and earned him Athlete of the Meet honors. Although fighting a cold, Ryan stayed totally focused and raced with a lot of heart. His transformation from a middle-of-the-pack freshman into a strong and dependable varsity competitor, in a short two year span, is another great example of what can be accomplished through hard work and determination. Aiden Lynch and Kyle Smith our 6th and 7th runners, were not far behind Josh, giving us, by far, the best pack. Our 7th man beat every team’s 5th man with the exception of Southern (one place in front of Kyle). If they scored 6 or 7 runners in cross country, the victory would have been ours. We left Delsea determined to step up next week at the Group 4 State Meet.
After seeing the results of the other four sectional races, it became clear that our task at the Group 4 State Meet, on November 14th, would be a difficult one. Each of the other sections had featured races almost as tight as our four-way battle at Delsea. Moreover, according to the newly released state rankings, 13 of the top 18 teams in the entire state would be in our race. Our goal was to race our way into the State Meet of Champions for the 13th consecutive year. To do that, we would need to finish no worse than 5th to, at least, gain a wild card. It would not be easy but it could be done. All we needed was a good race. Everyone seemed ready during our run at Holmdel on Friday afternoon and the mood was good and relaxed during our traditional Olive Garden dinner (followed by the traditional birthday surprise for Shak . . . who would be around 90 by now if each of his celebrated birthdays were legit!). When we headed to the course on Saturday morning, we seemed ready. By the mile mark, however, it was clear that this would not be our day. A poor start by most of the team had us far back in the pack. Against such a strong field, making up enough ground over the remainder of the course would be next to impossible. When Steve Burkholder crossed the line in 22nd place with a ½ second course PR (earning Athlete of the Meet honors), we began the wait for our second man. It was not until 50 seconds and 53 places later that Aiden Lynch crossed the line with five teammates following all within 19 seconds. Without waiting for the results, we knew that the team would not be making the trip to the Meet of Champions this year. The final results confirmed this as we found ourselves all the way back in 13th place. All that was left to discover was whether or not Steve had qualified individually as a wild card. When all the other races were run, we found that he had, indeed, made it. The mood was quite somber as we were confronted with the harsh reality that we had not run as we were capable of and, in failing to do so, had ended our season a week early. That, of course, brings us back, once again, to the you can’t win them all statement. It was now our time to be momentarily disappointed, to learn from this, and to move on.
On Saturday, November 21st, the Meet of Champions took on a bit of a surreal feel for us. The entire team was in attendance but only Steve Burkholder was there to compete. It was a little breezy but the conditions were pretty good and the course was dryer than it had been for the Group State Meet. Steve’s teammates warmed up with him and kept him company at the starting line until just before the gun. When it sounded, however, Steve was on his own as he began his last cross country race for Cherokee High School after a four year varsity career. Over those years, Steve had helped the team win four divisional championships, three county championships, three conference championships, one sectional championship and one group state championship. His fine senior season, which was coming to an end, would earn him his first All-South Jersey award as one of the 12 best runners in the South Jersey area. When he crossed the line, 16 minutes and 45 seconds later, he had confirmed his status on All-South Jersey as the 8th area finisher . . . a fitting end to a very good high school cross country career. On a side note, Steve can also now claim the distinction of running in the race in which Joe Rosa, of West Windsor Plainsboro North High School, shattered the course record and became the first runner in Holmdel’s 30 year history to break the magical 15 minute barrier!
The 2009 Cherokee Cross Country Season was over.
Thank you for your dedication to the program. Without your hard work, we could not have accomplished so much over the past four years. The leadership you provided this year was a key ingredient to our success. No doubt, your athletic contributions were significant. However, it was your example to the rest of the team that will have a lasting effect on our program. The team was important to you . . . more so than your own accomplishments. For that, we thank you. Please know that whatever we accomplish in the coming years, you are, and will always be, a part of it. Thank you.
”A dream is just a dream. A goal is a dream with a plan and a deadline.” – Harvey Mackay
We know that, on paper, we are not the best returning team out there. But we’ve been in this position before over the past 13 years and, yet; we have 13 consecutive conference trophies in the display case. Just as other Cherokee teams have done, it is time for you to rise to the occasion. Accept the responsibility that goes with being a varsity athlete in the Cherokee Cross Country Program. Don’t put limits on yourself! Dream big . . . and then take those dreams and begin transforming them into goals. We know you can do it.
Thank you for all your support, Mr. Schramm. It’s great to have an Athletic Director who truly appreciates cross country!
Thank you Mr. Smyth, for the pictures, the website and the pretzels!
Thank you parents for all of your support!
Most of all, thank you, members of the 2009 Cherokee Cross Country Team, for another great season!
Coach Shak, Coach Cal, Coach Cuneo