Cherokee Cross Country Pictures, 2012, Page III

The State Championships

The early part of the Championship Season ended with the Conference and County Championships! Now the team moves into a series of state championship races where they need to qualify among the top five teams in the race to move on: the South Jersey Sectional Championships, the New Jersey State Group Championships, and the State Meet of Champions! GO CHEROKEE!

NJSIAA South Jersey Sectional Championships

Cherokee entered this race with lowered expectations -- they were seeded 11th by the computer at NJRunners/MileSplit -- but with high hopes as the team had qualified for the Group IV State Championships 18 years in a row and they intended to continue that incredible string! Unfortunately, that was not to be.

There were a few bright spots, however. Shawn Wilson ran a controlled effort to easily take the victory and qualify for the Group IV State Championship next Saturday! In winning, Shawn remained undefeated against all state competition and he became Cherokee's first sectional champion since Alex Yersak won his last of three in a row in 2007! Behind Shawn, junior Kaleb Burch ran his best race of the season to place 9th and qualify for the Groups in just his first year running cross country! Also, sophomore and first year cross country runner, Rob Harper, ran his best race of the year. Rob has shown steady improvement all season, as has Kaleb, and they will be the nucleus of next year's team and strong team leaders!

Coach Shaklee named Kaleb Burch the Runner of the Meet, pointing to his excellent, aggressive race and his top-10 finish!

There were disappointments too, and not the least of which was the team's failure to secure a spot in the Group Championships. That 18-year stretch was the longest record of its kind among public schools in New Jersey and the team missed qualifying by one place . . . they were 6th instead of 5th. Yikes! But another disappointment is the dilemma facing Shawn Wilson as he advances.

Winning sectionals and advancing to State Groups should result in unadulterated joy but the recent hurricane and the decision by the state's athletic governing body, NJSIAA, to tighten the schedule only presents problems as top athletes advance towards Nationals. Reuben Frank, former sports writer for the Burlington County Times and now at Comcast, mentioned this problem in his remarks on the South Jersey Track and Field website: From The Backstretch. However, Mr. Frank does not mention the serious penalties to be administered by NJSIAA against the athlete if he qualifies for the Meet of Champions at State Groups but does not run the Meet of Champions. Stay tuned to see how this problem is resolved!

John Healy of The Star-Ledger wrote about Shawn: Cherokee's Shawn Wilson wins SJ Group 4, will run at Regionals.

Meet results at: MileSplit/NJRunners.

Burch, Wilson, Harper, Decker start Burch at start Harper and Decker start at start Cerria and DeTone at start Dan Mintzer at start Harper at 500m
Decker at 500m DeTone at 500m Cerria at 500m Mintzer at 500m Wilson at ravine Wilson at ravine
Burch at ravine Harper at ravine Decker at ravine DeTone at ravine Cerria at ravine Mintzer at ravine

NJSIAA State Group Championships

On November 17, 2012, Cherokee traveled to Holmdel Park, the site of all the major state championships, to compete in the NJSIAA State Group Championships. Cherokee had two athletes who qualified: Senior, Shawn Wilson, the winner of the State Sectional title; and Junior, Kaleb Burch, who finished 9th in Sectional competition.

Here, in the Group Championships, Kaleb ran very well to finish as the 9th runner from the entire South Jersey area and beat his previous best time on the difficult Holmdel course by 35 seconds!

Shawn ran an incredible race, taking the lead from the start and running the entire way well in front of the field to win by 23 seconds -- probably the largest margin of victory ever in a Group IV State Championship race -- to become only the 3rd Cherokee Athlete to win a state championship in cross country! (To put that into perspective, most high school teams in New Jersey have no state champions!) The two other Cherokee athletes to win the state crown were Joe Halin in 1999 and Marc Pelerin in 2001. Shawn's time of 15:40 broke the old Burlington County record set in 2001 by Marc! It also moved Shawn to 3rd on the all-time South Jersey list, and 24th on the all-time New Jersey list, at Holmdel which has been the site of the state championships for the past 35 years!

Shawn ran aggressively from the start . . . actually a little too aggressively. He came through the first half-mile -- the toughest half-mile of the course -- in 2:29 and had already built a sizable lead. For most athletes, that pace would have been suicidal. Shawn, however, was so strong that, even though he over-ran the start and ran the entire race without the benefit of competition, he was still able to hold a strong pace the rest of the way and continue to pull away from the field!

Kevin Kolodziej of the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote about Shawn's victory: Wilson Wins State Title, Sets County Record.

Race details at: MileSplit/NJRunners.

Group at hotel Magnificent 5? Kaleb and Shawn warm-up Shawn at meadow going out
Kaleb in crowd at meadow going out Shawn nearing tennis courts Kaleb nearing the tennis courts Jose shot at finish

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