“Running is the classical road to self-consciousness, self-awareness and self-reliance. Independence is the outstanding characteristic of the runner. He learns the harsh reality of his physical and mental limitations when he runs. He learns that personal commitment, sacrifice and determination are his only means to betterment. Runners only get promoted through self-conquest.”
- Noel Carroll
Being a long distance runner is not easy. You understand this, don’t you? You are special . . . in a semi-insane kind of way. You have chosen a sport that can be very harsh . . . some days harsher than others.
You know those days . . . when nothing feels right, when every step requires work, when running is just plain torture . . . and you are only 20 minutes into an 80 minute long run. Oh, yes, you know those days.
They are the days that make you wonder what you were thinking when you allowed yourself to be talked into this madness. But, they are also the days that toughen you . . . make you realize that you can do just about anything when you put your mind to it. They are the days that make you a runner. And, in doing so, they make you a stronger, more capable, person. You face adversity every single day at practice. You conquer your fears and doubts every single time you step to the line to race. What can life throw at you that you can’t handle?
Because running is difficult, your peers stay away from it in droves . . . which explains the size of our team in a school of 2400 students. They don’t understand it and, besides, in their sport, running is the punishment. And yet, here you are . . . training day in and day out and lining up for race after race, knowing each time that you step to the line that you are about to put yourself into a world of hurt.
But, despite the hardship, there is something there that draws you to it, and it’s certainly not the recognition. You don’t run cross country to be noticed. You do it for your teammates, who in turn do it for you. You do it for your coaches, despite the pain they put you through. But, most of all, you do it for yourself . . . for that special sense of self-satisfaction that comes from testing yourself both physically and mentally . . . and passing the test . . . learning to accept the physical punishment that is so necessary to success . . . conquering the self-doubt that eats at you on race day. Self-conquest, Noel Carroll would say. And it’s a beautiful thing.
And so, through your self-conquest, each of you has contributed to the fine season we have enjoyed. Those accomplishments are particularly noteworthy given where we have come from . . . graduating most of the varsity from a team that didn’t win a single race last year. At last year’s banquet, it was difficult to envision a scenario in which we would win a championship this year . . . any championship, no matter how small. And yet, you made it happen, capturing five championships, culminating with only the 7th South Jersey Group 4 crown in school history. We are proud of you.
The South Jersey Shootout: This was not only the first team championship; it was the first 5k race for the varsity. We had raced the 2 mile Cherokee Challenge and tempo-ed the first batch meet but this would be our first real go at a 5k race. As a result, we didn’t know exactly what to expect. Justin DeTone started things off nicely in the freshman race, with his medal winning 14th place finish, giving us a preview of the fine season he would have. Having already lost fellow freshman, Patrick Hickey, for the season to injury, it was nice to see Justin run so well. The JV race which followed didn’t go as we had hoped, although first year runner, Drew Scott, improved by almost a minute to lead the team, and fellow first year runner, Zach LoPresti, managed to knock 1:45 off of his time run on the same Gloucester County College course four days earlier. Unfortunately, for senior, Vishnu Kadirisani, it would be his last race of the season as the pain he had been experiencing in his leg turned out to be a stress fracture.
It was now time for the first of three varsity races. The Shoot-out is a unique format in which each team’s varsity is divided into three groups with the 5-6-7 runners racing first, followed by the 3-4 runners and, finally, the top 2. Matt Decker, Jeremy Morgan and Phillip-Robert Cerria got us off to a good start, placing 2nd, 3rd and 6th respectively, in the first race. Their times of 17:28, 17:32 and 17:49 were far superior to anything they had run at the GCC course last year, a result of the great summer of training each had put in. The 3-4 race produce even better results with Aiden Lynch (running his first race of the year after returning from a minor injury) and Mike Lowinger (racing his first 5k) both dipping under 17:00 to take the top two spots. With only the “stud race” remaining, we had a strong lead over the rest of the field. Still it would take good performances from first year runner, Shawn Wilson, and veteran, Matt Venanzi, to hold the lead. When Matt got tripped up and took a fall early in the race, it looked as though our lead might disappear. However, slowly over the course of the race, Matt battled back, moving into the top 10 late in the race and securing a 9th place finish. While Matt was working his way up, Shawn was pulling away in route to a dominating 14 second victory over runner-up, Nick Costello of Delsea ,with a 16:07 clocking. Shawn’s win kept him undefeated, coming on the heels of his win in the Cherokee Challenge Junior Race with the fastest time of the day. When the dust cleared, the final result was an impressive team win, 21 points in front of runner-up Haddon Township, and our first team championship of any kind since the fall of 2009.
The American Division Championship: Having lost a close one to Lenape last year, we came into this meet knowing it would be another battle with our sister school. The conditions (windy and a soaked course) would not make for fast times but we knew that it would be place, not time, that mattered. As the runners came through the mile mark, we were in a close battle with Lenape. Soon after, Aiden Lynch began falling off the pace. We would come to discover that his heel had been clipped and his shoe had come off. With Lenape’s first three men racing strongly, the situation did not look promising as the runners passed the 2 mile mark. It was clear that, if Aiden could not finish, Lenape would win the team championship. To his credit, Aiden kept his composure and held on for an 11th place finish as our 4th man, behind Shawn Wilson – 1st, Mike Lowinger – 7th and Matt Venanzi – 8th. Although Lenape put three in before our 2nd, when 5th man, Jeremy Morgan, crossed the line in 13th, one spot in front of Lenape’s 4th man, and 6th man, Matt Decker, finished in front of Lenape’s 5th, the victory was ours by the close score of 40 to 45. It was our 14th division championship in the past 15 years. Shawn’s individual victory kept him perfect for the season at 3 and 0.
The Burlington County
Championship: After returning
from Florida where we
swam ran our way to a 3rd place finish
in the Varsity 3A Championship on the rainiest weekend in Orlando history, we
set our sights on the upcoming county meet. We were seeking our 15th
county championship in school history, hoping to rebound from last year’s loss
to Lenape. This would also be a big
test for Shawn Wilson as he would have his first of
five races with the Shawnee duo of Connor Herr and Peter Murray, the top two
returning runners in South Jersey.
Although the pressure of an undefeated season was off, having placed
2nd in the Disney Invitational, it was still important to Shawn to
see how he would stack up against such strong local
The forecast called for rain but, as we arrived at Millcreek Park, the sun was shining . . . but, not for long. A storm rolled in soaking the already saturated course, briefly delaying the start of the class race, which would feature the return of Billy Hornung after a month out due to a herniated disc. As expected, Billy jumped out to an early lead and never looked back, winning the race by 37 seconds and showing that he would factor into our varsity as we headed into the championship season. Behind Billy, Justin DeTone had another good race, coming on the heels of his 72 second PR at the Disney meet, to finish first among the county freshmen. Other medal winners in the class race included Danny Mintzer – 10th junior and James Transue – 12th freshman. Although finishing out of the medals, junior, Freddy Rasmussen had his best race to date, setting a 5k PR on the tough Millcreek course in less than ideal conditions.
As more rain came down, the varsity prepared for their race, not knowing that the Rancocas River running along the back trail of the course was overflowing its bank. At the gun the runners began their trek around the field and pond before heading for the one “man-made” hill on the course. As the runners crested the hill and headed into the woods toward the river, it was a close team battle between us and Lenape. Up front, Connor Herr and Shawn had opened a small gap on Murray who, in turn, had a lead on the rest of the field. As the leaders rounded the back trail and headed along the Rancocas, it became clear that the conditions had worsened drastically since they had done their warm-up run 45 minutes earlier. The area that had simply been muddy earlier was now under water. Herr went to one side, Shawn to the other. Herr chose wisely, avoiding the worst of it. Shawn, on the other hand, went for a swim . . ..
As the runners exited the woods, Shawn was playing catch-up while Herr took advantage of the mishap to press the pace. Behind the leaders, things were looking up. Aiden Lynch had moved up steadily through the race and was challenging the Lenape trio for the 4th spot. Behind Aiden, Matt Venanzi, who had started slowly, was also moving up steadily. In addition, Mike Lownger, Matt Decker and Jeremy Morgan were all running well. Only PRC, who was racing with a sinus infection, was struggling. As the leaders headed up the hill for the last time, Shawn was still battling Herr for the win. However, the strain of making up the ground lost in the woods had taken its toll. As the duo headed down the hill, less than a half mile from the finish, Herr opened a small lead which he held to the finish. Although disappointed, Shawn had accounted himself well in his first meeting against the top returning runner in the area. The realization that he had almost won, despite falling, gave Shawn confidence for the future. Behind Shawn, Aiden finished 4th, Matt V – 6th, Mike – 10th, Matt D – 14th, Jeremy – 18th and PRC – 34th as we took the team title by a surprisingly large margin. We had not only run our best race to date, we knew that we had more in us. We left Millcreek Park excited for the coming Olympic Conference and Sectional championships.
The Olympic Conference Championship: Nice running weather greeted us as we stepped off the bus at Gloucester County College for the conference meet. Although we had soundly defeated Lenape the previous week, we knew not to be over-confident. They had the ability to run much better and we needed to be ready. In addition, Cherry Hill East had just won the Camden County Meet and appeared to be coming on at just the right time.
In the JV race, we had a slew of great performances. Phillip-Robert Cerria led the way as he battled back from the sinus infection that had hampered his performance at the County Open. Although, not 100%, he ran a tough race to take 4th with freshman standout, Justin DeTone, right behind him. Justin beat his old GCC PR by almost two minutes. Behind Justin, the rest of the team performed equally well. Danny Mintzer improved his GCC PR by 2:14, Freddy Rasmussen by 1:50, James Transue by 3:33, and Chris Oltorik by 5:48! In addition, Matt Adams had his best GCC time of the year by 3:09.
The varsity race would prove to be much closer than last week with Lenape running their best race of the season. Shawn Wilson got things started for us with a perfectly executed race plan to win the race and even the score with Connor Herr at 1-1. Shawn’s time of 15:41 was the 2nd fastest ever recorded on the GCC course, only one second off the course record. Aiden Lynch showed that his county race was no fluke as he, once again, finished 4th in a new PR of 16:22. While Matt Venanzi and Mike Lowinger were each having one of those days where nothing comes easy (you know those days!), they both ran tough enough to keep us in the lead, finishing 12th and 15th respectively. Matt Decker – 19th, Jeremy Morgan – 21st and Billy Hornung – 27th all ran well to hold off Lenape by the score of 51 to 69 and secure our 9th Olympic Conference Championship. Things were looking good as we began the two week training cycle to take us into sectionals.
The South Jersey Group 4 Sectional Championship: As the varsity prepared for the sectionals, the rest of the team focused on their two remaining races, The Haddonfield Invitational and the State JV/Freshman Meet.
At Haddonfield, Varsity runners, Billy Hornung and Phillip-Robert Cerria joined the squad and made the most of the opportunity with Billy winning in 16:57 and PRC taking 2nd with a big PR of 17:17. In addition, Justin DeTone earned his varsity letter with his 7th place finish in 17:47. Other PR’s were set by Danny Mintzer, Freddy Rasmussen, James Transue, Drew Scott, Zach LoPresti, Matt Adams and Chris Oltorik. It was a good day all around and the intra-squad competition between Team Shak and Team Cal got back to its usual look with Shak’s team coming out on top by a score of 26 to 29. That puts the series record at 11 wins for Shak and 1 for Cal . . . but who’s counting?
At the JV/Frosh State Meet the next week, things did not go quite as well with no PRs being set, although, to be fair, the Thompson Park course is more difficult than the lightening fast Pennypacker Park layout. The highlight of the day was the aggressive racing of freshman, Justin DeTone, who showed he can compete with the best freshmen in the state as he ran with the leaders before fading slightly over the last half mile to finish 12th.
Bright sunshine was the order of the day as every cross country team in South Jersey converged on Delsea High School for the Sectional Championships. Our race, the Group 4 Championship, would feature eight of the top 20 ranked teams in South Jersey (Cherokee, Lenape, Cherry Hill East, Clearview, Shawnee, Washington Township, Egg Harbor Township and Vineland) along with last year’s champion, Southern Regional, and perennial power, Toms River North. Of these ten, only 5 would advance. Our thoughts were not on merely advancing, however. Even though we were missing Jeremy Morgan due to a strained Achilles tendon, we were 100% focused on winning.
As we awaited the starter’s gun, each runner was focused on what they needed to do to race their best. Everyone knew that it would require a total team race to take this championship. The individual race up front figured to be another Shawn Wilson – Connor Herr match-up. Shawn was ready . . . a little bit too ready. When the gun sounded, Shawn took off as though the race was an 800. Immediately, the coaches began signaling him to slow it down. Unfortunately, the signals were not clear and Shawn, being unfamiliar with the course, continued sprinting but began veering off to the right, assuming he was being signaled to do so. After several seconds of confusion, Shawn got back on course but the damage was done . . . too much energy had been expended too early. It would make a difference late in the race.
The rest of the team got off to a decent start although early in the race it was difficult to tell how the team contest was going. As the runners exited the woods at the halfway point, we looked to be in good shape but several other teams seemed close. However, over the 2nd half of the race we appeared to hold steady while some of our opponents faded. As the leaders entered the stadium for the finish, Shawn was barely hanging on to Herr, the early mistake taking its toll. Herr pulled away to win in 15:27, the fastest time of the day and Shawn placed 2nd in 15:33, the day’s second fastest time. Behind Shawn, Aiden Lynch closed well to place 4th with his best race of the year and a new 5k PR of 16:02. Matt Venanzi rebounded from his off day at the Olympic Conference Meet to run his best race of the year as well, finishing 15th in 16:36. Mike Lowinger struggled the whole way with some stomach issues but again hung tough to take 23rd in 16:56. When Billy Hornung crossed the line in 29th at 17:04, it was clear that the victory was ours. For good measure, Matt Decker (39th in 17:17) finished in front of every other team’s 5th man except for one, and PRC ran his 2nd fastest 5k, clocking 17:48.
Although the dream season would end in a team nightmare the next week at the Group 4 State Meet, this squad had accomplished more than anyone could have dreamed possible only a year before . . . a true testament to what hard work and determination can bring. For Shawn Wilson, the dream season would continue with a 2nd place finish in the Group 4 State Meet, a 5th place medal from the State Meet of Champions, and a 21st place showing at the Footlocker Northeast Regional.
And so a season that would have made Noel Carroll proud has come to an end. We thank all of you for the hard work and dedication you have shown. Seniors . . . Best of luck in all of your future pursuits. Thank you for your contributions to the Cherokee Program. Please know that, whatever we accomplish in the coming years, you are, and will always be, a part of it. Underclassmen . . . What are you willing to do now? How much are you willing to sacrifice? The future of Cherokee Cross Country is in your hands. Once again, we do not have the best returning team on paper. It will take a supreme effort to continue the lofty tradition set by those who have preceded you. But do not doubt your own ability or that of your teammates. Don’t be afraid to dream big. Anything is possible if you believe.
Dream your dreams, believe in them, set your goals, and work hard.
“A dream is just a dream. A goal is a dream with a plan and a deadline.”
- Harvey Mackay
. . . Our deadline arrives next fall. Let’s make sure we are ready.
Thank you all for a great season. We are proud to be your coaches.
Coaches Shak, Cal, Pelerin & Cuneo