“Adversity is part of life.  How you deal with it determines how far you go.”


Coach Bill Yost – Remember the Titans



How will we remember this season?  Will we come away bitter, wondering what great mysterious forces conspired against us?  Will we always think back to what could have been?  Will we complain that life is not fair? “…We worked so hard!  Why us?” Or, and I hope this is the case, will we realize that adversity is, indeed, a part of life and take pride in the fact that we met it head on and did not let it defeat us?  That is the lesson, and the beauty, of this season.  While it may be true that things did not go as perfectly as we would have liked, it was not for lack of trying.  Without question, we had more people running more miles than ever before, pushing themselves harder in practice than ever before, and staying more focused on team goals than ever before.  You are each to be commended on your dedication to the team and your focus on excellence.  Injuries are a part of the sport, just as adversity is a part of life.  As you reflect on the 2004 cross country season, remember the words of legendary football coach, Vince Lombardi:  “It’s not whether you get knocked down; it’s whether you get back up.” 


Gentlemen, there is no doubt about it…you got back up!.  Let’s take a look at the season…


On Sunday, June 20th, we began a 20 week period, taking us through the first week in November, during which the 29 members of the team logged over 23,000 miles of training.


On August 17th through August 22nd we sent our largest group ever – 19 individuals – to RunningWorks Cross Country Camp.


On September 2nd, Team Captain Sean McLaughlin, injured his Achilles tendon on a solo training run after his recruiting visit to Iona College.  While we didn’t know it at the time, it would turn out to be a season changing injury for Sean.


During the week of September 6th, senior, James Maneval, who had been experiencing some shin pain, got the news that what we feared was true.  His bone scan revealed a stress fracture, putting him out for the next four weeks.  This, along with Sean’s injury, did not bode well for the season.  Talented sophomore, Colin Cunningham, also was experiencing leg pain that would end up interrupting his season for several weeks.  It was also during this week that Steve Nelson, a junior soccer transfer, collapsed near the completion of the 10 mile time trial.  Suffering from severe dehydration, Steve was hospitalized and gave us all a scare.  Sean, James, Colin and now Steve…we were beginning to wonder where it would end.


On September 14th, at Gloucester County College, we began our quest for an 8th straight division crown with a 15-50 drubbing of Pennsauken.  Freshman, Alex Yersak, not to be outdone by his senior brother, earned Athlete of the Meet honors for his first place finish with the rest of the varsity squad right behind him for support.


On September 15th, the first Newark Star Ledger top 20 poll was published.  We began the season ranked 2nd behind CBA.


On September 18th, on a new, slower course, we hosted teams from all over Central and South Jersey in the 9th annual Cherokee Challenge.  Alex Yersak continued his winning ways with a victory in the freshman race to take his 2nd Athlete of the Meet award.  At the same time, senior, Mike Candy felt some reoccurring pain in the area of his earlier stress fracture.  A visit the following week to his doctor confirmed another stress fracture and more gloom for a team poised to contend for a state championship.


On September 21st, we improved our dual meet record to 3 and 0 with convincing wins against overmatched Eastern and Seneca.  Matt Dolan, Alex Yersak, Tom Yersak, Greg Bredeck, Vinny Marziano, Paul McFadden, Will Andes, Steve Brown and Rich Nelson swept the first 9 places to secure the victory.  Junior, Matt Applegate, a soccer transfer running only the 3rd cross country race of his career, earned Athlete of the Meet honors by dropping over a minute from his previous 5k time.  Oh, and Coach Shak received a bucket of cold water over his head for being old enough to accumulate 100 wins!


On September 25th, we won the team championship at the inaugural South Jersey Shootout.  Junior, Vinny Marziano led the way with his win in the 5-6-7 man race while senior, Steve Brown, earned Athlete of the Meet honors for his impressive victory in the JV race.  Senior, Matt Raychert, had his best race of the season, dipping under 20 minutes on the challenging course.


On September 29th, we moved to 5 and 0 in dual meets with wins over Washington Township and Lenape.  Once again, the varsity group ran together to secure the win with junior, Will Andes getting the nod for Athlete of the Meet based on his controlled effort in a brisk 17:08.  This meet also marked Sean McLaughlin’s return after only a couple of days of running.


On October 2nd, in Cary, North Carolina, the team won its first major championship of the year with a victory in the seeded invitational race at the Great American Cross Country Festival.  Senior, Matt Dolan had a breakthrough race to finish 19th (3rd for Cherokee) in 16:41 and earn Athlete of the Meet honors.  Alex Yersak added a JV individual championship to top off the day.


On October 5th, we ended another undefeated dual meet season with big wins over Cherry Hill East and Shawnee.  It marked our 8th undefeated dual meet season in a row and our 8th straight division championship.  Junior, Rich Nelson, one of 6 Cherokee runners who finished together in front, got the nod for Athlete of the Meet honors.


On October 7th, the freshmen and two sophomores had successful days at the Burlington County Freshman-Sophomore Championships.  Kevin Schickling got his first win of the year with a strong performance in the freshman race.  He was followed closely by Kyle Adams, Brenden Burke, Steven McCarroll, Alec Mitchell, Darius Reid, Tyler McAdam and Liam Eells, all of whom finished in the top 20.  In the sophomore race, Colin Cunningham, in his first race after returning from injury, placed 2nd while Mike Medvec had his best race of the year to finish 4th.


On October 9th, while the varsity visited Holmdel for a workout, the JV and freshmen competed in the South Jersey Open.  The freshman team finished second to a very good Cherry Hill West squad led by Alex Yersak’s individual victory, while Athlete of the Meet, Colin Cunningham, continued his return with a 3rd place finish in the JV race.


On October 16th, the team took a trip to fabled Van Cortlandt Park in New York City for the Eastern States Championship.  The varsity squad finished 2nd to CBA with Paul McFadden earning Athlete of the Meet honors by dropping over a minute from his time last year.  The meet also featured the return to competition of James Maneval, who placed 4th in the JV race behind 3rd place finisher, Rich Nelson.


On October 18th, only two days later, the freshmen and sophomores were back in competition at the South Jersey Frosh-Soph Meet.  Brenden Burke earned Athlete of the Meet honors as he led the freshmen with his 23rd place finish, followed closely by Kevin Schickling, Steven McCarroll and Kyle Adam in 24th, 25th and 26th, with Alec Mitchell also medaling in 38th place.  Mike Medvec earned Cherokee’s only sophomore medal with his 46th place performance.


Friday, October 22nd would prove to be the highlight of the season for the team.  With typically strong performances from senior, Tom Yersak and junior, Greg Bredeck in 2nd and 3rd; a great return to form for Sean McLaughlin in 4th (Athlete of the Meet), an outstanding race from Vinny Marziano in 5th and strong efforts from Paul McFadden and Matt Dolan in 8th and 9th, the varsity squad demolished the rest of the county with a low score of 22 points, 102 better than runner-up, Lenape.  In the JV race the devastation was even more complete as Cherokee swept the first 6 spots.  Junior, Mike Brown, ran one of his best races of the year to finish in 13th, the 10th Cherokee runner across the line!  Also, senior, Ian Mitchell, set a 5K PR in only his first race of the season.


On October 27th, with the varsity 7 on the sideline, the team divided in two and competed against each other, and other South Jersey teams, at the Haddonfield Invitational.  The Monmouth Hawks, coached by Shak eked out a one point victory over the Cal coached, Felician Golden Falcons.  The individual race was a good one with Athlete of the Meet, Mike Candy, pulling away late from Will Andes for the victory.  Joe Foley, Brenden Burke and Kyle Adams all ran well to get their first sub-19:00 clockings, while Brian Scott, Tyler McAdam and Darius Reid all broke the 20 minute barrier for the first time.


On October 28th, Sean McLaughlin sprained his ankle in practice, putting him out for Sectionals and making his return for States questionable.  Despite this unfortunate occurrence, the team stayed focused on winning the South Jersey Group 4 race in two days.


On October 30th, Tom Yersak, Greg Bredeck, Vinny Marziano, Matt Dolan, Paul McFadden, James Maneval and Mike Candy competed hard but came up just short in their attempt to win Sectionals without Sean.  Rival, Toms River North, ran well for a 9 point victory.  Vinny continued his outstanding season and earned Athlete of the Meet honors with his strong 12th place finish.


On November 5th, the team suffered a slight let-down in the Olympic Conference Meet at Gloucester County College.  Washington Township ran their best race of the year to score a well-earned victory over the Chiefs who were running without 5 of the top 7 runners.  In the JV race, Matt Applegate ran well to finish 3rd while freshman, Alec Mitchell, had his best race of the year to finish 5th for Cherokee and 31st overall.


On November 13th, the team headed back up to Holmdel Park for the Group 4 State Championship.  With Sean McLaughlin’s ankle not completely healed, we knew that we would need strong performance from everyone and, perhaps, a bit of luck, to win.  Unfortunately, it was not to be.  Tom Yersak and Greg Bredeck (the Athlete of the Meet) got us started in fine fashion, finishing 3rd and 5th respectively with course PRs.  Vinny  Marziano became Cherokee’s 14th sub-17 minute runner at Holmdel with another solid effort for 29th place, while Paul McFadden PRed as well to get 38th.  Behind them, James Maneval, still working to regain his form after his extended injury time-off, struggled to a 49th place finish, while Sean was unable to get the push-off he needed from his injured ankle to run the hills effectively.  What we did not know at the finish, and what made everything else seem unimportant, was that Matty Dolan had collapsed 600 meters from the finish.  We breathed a big sigh of relief when he was finally, with assistance, able to walk out of the woods to the emergency medical vehicle.  Matt would spend most of the next week undergoing every conceivable test to determine what caused his black-out.  …When the results of the race were tabulated, we were 3rd.  The bus ride home was not a happy one.


On November 20th, we were back at Holmdel after an overnight stay in Red Bank.  The mood was optimistic as we prepared to compete in our 8th straight Meet of Champions.  Matt had been cleared to run by his doctor, Sean was clearly determined to overcome the ankle problem and, while Paul was dealing with a bit of a cold, everyone else seemed healthy and focused.  As the gun sounded, 20 of the top teams in the state, as well as 42 additional standout runners, headed up the hill and into the woods.  Several minutes later, when they emerged from the woods for the finishing straight, Tom Yersak was fighting for a spot in the top 10.  He finished in 16:12.1 and grabbed the 10th spot, moving to number 4 on the All-Time Cherokee Holmdel List and earn Athlete of the Meet honors.  Greg Bredeck also improved his time from the Group 4 Meet with his 22nd place finish in 16:25.2, making him number 5 on said list.  Vinny Marziano dropped 5 seconds, moving to 11th place on the List, James Maneval improved by 18 seconds, and Sean McLaughlin dropped a full minute and 15 seconds from the previous week.  Weaken by his cold, Paul McFadden still finished respectably with his third fastest Holmdel time.  …But, where was Matt Dolan?  Once again, the final score lost all significance as we heard the news that Matt had collapsed at the Bowl and was on his way, by ambulance, to the hospital.  When Mr. Dolan called to say that Matt was alright and would be returning to the park, our spirits were lifted.  As we stood on the podium, accepting our 5th place awards, we felt a twinge of disappointment for what could have been, but also a swell of pride in knowing that we gave our all.  Only one team in the entire state has stood on that podium in each of the last eight years.  That team is Cherokee. 


On Sunday, November 21st, Tom Yersak and Greg Bredeck were selected for the second straight year to the All-South Jersey Team.  Tom was also picked as the South Jersey Runner of the Year for the consistently high level of performance he maintained over the course of the season.  It marked the 3rd time in the last four years that the Runner of the Year has been from Cherokee.


On November 27th, Tom and Alex Yersak, and Greg Bredeck, competed in the Footlocker Northeast Regional Championship at Van Cortlandt Park.  Alex finished 20th in the freshman race while Tom and Greg were 61st and 71st in the seeded race, the two highest finishers from South Jersey.


On November 28th, the planning for Cherokee Cross Country 2005 began. 





Thank you:


Thank you athletes.  We appreciate your hard work and dedication to the team.


Thank you parents!  We certainly appreciate all your support.


Thank you Mr. Schramm and Mr.Benedetto.  It’s great to have an athletic administration that knows cross country!


Thank you Mr. Smyth, for the photos, the website and the constant support. 


Thanks to the booster club volunteers who put the awards dinner together for us and handled the concessions at the Cherokee Challenge.  A special thanks, once again, to Mr. Candy for the music at the Challenge! 




To all of this year’s seniors:


You have our eternal gratitude for the contributions you have made to the Cherokee Cross Country Program.  We could not continue to maintain the level of excellence we have without your hard work and sacrifice.  Please know that, whatever we accomplish in the coming years, you are, and will always be, a part of it.


To those who are returning:


Start dreaming of next year.  Soon, those dreams will become our goals.  There is nothing we can’t accomplish if we support each other, work hard, and keep believing.