Cherokee Cross Country Pictures, 2016, Page III

Championship Season: it gets a lot tougher but the results can be sweet!

Now it's for real! The final meets of the season for Freshmen, Junior Varsity and Varsity! All those summer days, burning in the sun, sweating in the heat, all of those days looking forward to the cooler days of Fall and the State and Regional Championships! Well, now they're here and the team plans to step-up and prove that all of that work wasn't for nothing!


Olympic Conference Championships

On October 21, 2016, the team returned to Rowan College at GCC for the Olympic Conference Championships -- the next step in their championship march -- and won both the American Division and Olympic Conference crowns! In the five-team Division scoring, Cherokee took 1st with 22 points, with Cherry Hill East scoring 48 points for 2nd! In the fourteen-team Conference scoring, Cherokee took 1st with 33 points, with Cherry Hill East scoring 70 points for 2nd! GO CHIEFS!

Everyone involved in Cross Country knows the importance of the team's 5th man. The top five on the team score points for the team and, simply put, in a big championship meet, if the top man has "a slightly bad day," he may end up 5th, 6th or 7th in the race. Generally, there are so few runners around him at that elite level, he doesn't lose many points. But, if the 5th man has "a slightly bad day," he can lose dozens of points because there are so many others competiting around him. At the Olympic Conference Championships, Cherokee's 5th man was unable to finish the race but their 6th man stepped-up and secured the win!

Freshman Chris Spisak earned the 5th-man position on the team in previous races but he suffered a serious cramp that forced him to drop out with only 1K to go. The unseasonable heat definitely contributed to that just as it slowed the entire field, and Chris should be fine as the team advances to SJ Sectionals. But the bigger lesson comes from Cherokee's 2nd Freshman who had earned a Varsity slot, Chase Miller! Chase came through and finished as the team's 5th man in 17th place to secure the win for Cherokee!

Up front, Jack Shea did as he did last year, using the conference meet as his starting point for the championship season! He won easily and should continue to improve as the team advances through Sectionals, Group States and the Meet of Champions! Nick Falk and Justin Kelly both ran well to take spots 3 and 4, and Brandon Marks continued his fine season with another strong showing in 8th! Especially significant was the depth shown by Cherokee's twelve-man squad: Cherokee's 11th man (12th if Spisak had finished) crossed the line in 44th place. Only one other team (Washington Township with 7) had more than 5 in by that time. Finally, 8 of Cherokee's top 12 runners are underclassmen, and that bodes well for the future!

The entire team continued to improve their strength and confidence and will be ready for the SJ Sectional Championships in two weeks! But Kingsway, Southern, Cherry Hill East, Jackson and TR North are also running well and it will be a tough race! Keep working, Chiefs!

Selecting the Runner of the Meet was nuts! Jack Shea made this his breakout race again this year! Nick Falk ran an aggressive race, pushed the pace early, and hung tough over the last mile to finish 3rd overall! Justin Kelly and Brandon Marks continued their excellent seasons, each with yet another strong race! Chase Miller stepped-up and became Cherokee's 5th man, cementing the win for the team! David Jackson finished as Cherokee's 7th man in just his second race back from injury! Matt Smith was right behind him and continued to impress . . . he didn't even make Cherokee's top twelve to run in this meet last year! Thay all deserved the honor but, even though the coaches broke the tradition of "naming only one" once this season, they picked one, noting that Jack Shea is Cherokee's first Conference Champion since Shawn Wilson in 2012, and stressing the importance of Jack's victory as a harbinger of championships to come! Congratulations to Jack as the Runner of the Meet! GO JACK!

Additional details at: NJ.MileSplit. Reuben Frank, formerly of the BCT and now at Comcast, reported on the meet at the SJTCA Web: Reuben Frank on sjtcaweb.

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Haddonfield Sub-Varsity Invitational

Years ago, Coach Baker of Haddonfield Memorial High School recognized a need for some formal end to the Cross Country season for those not scheduled to compete in the up-coming Sectional Championships. As it was, those athletes just "faded away" after the Dual Meets (intermural contests between conference teams similar to but more numerous than today's Batch Meets) and a few weekend races. Baker proposed the "Sub-Varsity Invitational" more than twenty years ago and it has been a success ever since!

Cherokee has been there from the beginning and, to add a bit more flavor, the coaches added an intramural contest of their own to the mix! Indeed, while it's nice to beat other teams who compete, for Cherokee, it has always been more important to beat the opposing Cherokee squad!

So this year, when the team arrived at Pennypacker Park in Haddonfield, the team was already divided into two equal squads -- theoretically, in talent as well as numbers -- "the Shaks" and "the Thomps," and they were set to race! (Really, they couldn't think of better names? How about the old "Shak Attack" . . . or "Shak's Sharks" . . . "Thomp's Terriers" (Come on, terriers are very aggressive dogs!) . . . "Thomp's Tarantulas" (Come on, they're killers!)? Let's work on that for next year!

This intramural aspect began more than 10 years ago and, this year before race time, the score stood: Coach Shaklee's teams, 10 wins; (former) Coach Callinan's teams, 2 wins; and Coach Thompson's teams, 1 win. (Those wondering how Coach Thompson managed to achieve this single victory may click back to the 2007 season for an explanation: Thompson savors victory.

Although teams were not scored in the overall competition, Cherokee would have secured 1st place team honors (19 - 39) as they took six of the top eight places in the race: Brendan Falzone, Joe Falk, and Chase Miller took 1st through 3rd; and then Matt Smith, David Jackson and Cam Wilburn came in 6th through 8th! More important, however, were the intramural results!

Past races have been recorded/reported differently so it's difficult to make judgements on how close some of the races were but surely this year's intramural race was one of the closest in history! Things started awkwardly even before the gun when Mike Gavio (S) went out with a sore hip and Taha Rana (T) went out with shin pains. After the race began, Cherokee runners dominated the front pack with a couple of runners from other teams. As they began the last mile, things really began to heat up! With 800m to go, Joe Falk (T) made a bold move to steal the victory but Brendan Falzone (S) stormed back in the final 400m to take the win and lead the Shaklee team! Falk finished well to get 2nd and lead two other Thompson runners across the line: Chase Miller (T) and Matt Smith (T)! Things looked bad for the Shaklee team after the first four runners! However, the foursome of David Jackson (S), Cam Wilburn (S), Jon Conn (S) and Mike Moraschi (S) took the next four spots for "the Shaks" to put their squad into the lead over "the Thomps!"

When the dust settled, "the Shaks" managed to hold on with the final score (scored through 9 runners each) coming in as: Shaks, 84 -- Thomps, 87!

Coach Thompson was incredulous and scoured the results sheet for errors, as the following picture suggests:

Coach Thompson checks score

When selecting the Runner of the Meet, the coaches were again torn. Both agreed that the performances of Brendan Falzone and Joe Falk were outstanding! Brendan dropped 23 seconds from his previous best 5K and came back strong over the last 400m to win the race; while Joe ran 71 seconds faster than just last week at the Olympic Conference Championships and came within 2 seconds of capturing the win with his big move over the last half-mile! No chance of separating these guys: RUNNERS of the Meet: Brendan Falzone and Joe Falk! GO BRENDAN! GO JOE!

All in all, an excellent day for Cherokee's runners, whether they were on Shak's or Thomp's team! Others on the Shak team included: Tyler Ortiz, 12th; Mike Algara, 13th; Tyler Jackson, 15th; Matt Powell, 17th; Matt Campbell, 20th; and Naledge Brown, 21st. Besides the scorers, Joe Falk, 2nd; Chase Miller, 3rd; and Matt Smith, 4th. The Thomp team included: Ethan Wechler, 9th; Bobby Hackney, 10th; Matt Morgan, 11th; Pat Mahoney, 14th; Mtt Zeitz, 16th; Aatish Gupta, 18th; Chris Monteleone, 19th and Ben Rosenberg, 22nd.

In addition, the meet provided another lesson for Coach Thompson as he remains at ONE victory against Coach Shaklee's ELEVEN! GO SHAKS! GO SHAKLEE!

Details at: NJ. MileSplit.

Our photographer was unable to attend because he was covering another golf tourney but several pictures were forwarded. If you have anything from the meet, please pass it along!

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The Fifth Man

NJ.MileSplit must have read our earlier remarks on "the 5th man" and decided to make their own comment! Patrick Bendzick wrote some telling observations on our sport when he identified the guy in the back as getting too little respect! Considering the extraordinary efforts of about a half-dozen runners on our team to fill this position, the following sentence may be the most interesting and worthy of discussion: "But their time is not now, because the role of the 5th man is too important to thrust upon a freshman who does not respect its importance." Check out the context at: NJ.MileSplit or at Bendzick on 5th man.

And the Winner Will Be . . .

Halloween is over but are you superstitious? Jim Lambert of NJ.Com said Cherokee will be the SJ Group IV Sectional Champions and Jack Shea will be the SJ Group IV Sectional Individual Champion! Fortunately, Lambert has never been wrong before . . ..

According to Lambert, in the team race, Cherokee will be followed by Kingsway, Cherry Hill East, Southern and Tom River North. In the individual scoring, Jack will be followed by Joe Grandizo of Kingsway, Tyler Parsons and Marc Meltzer of C.H. East, and Evan Adanatzan of Southern. Not Nick Falk?! . . . Not Justin Kelly?! . . . both of whom beat Parsons AND Meltzer recently at Conference . . . Not Brandon Marks?! . . . who also beat Meltzer at Conference . . .. What crystal ball is he using?

OK, let's cut Lambert a break because he's the only reporter in NJ who covers Cross Country seriously, and the only one who tries to cover it throughout the entire state . . . we're very lucky to have him, even if some of his SJ Group IV predictions are a tad questionable! Check out his selections for all the Sectional Champions/Championships at:

Olympic Conference JV Championships

On November 1, 2016, Cherokee's sub-varsity runners traveled to the main campus of Rowan University for the Olympic Conference JV Championships. There they set a difficult standard to follow, beating the rest of the conference by a score of 17 - 44! There were a number of notable individual performances. Chris Monteleone ran his fastest cross country 5K time in his last high school cross country race! Freshman, Tyler Jackson, dropped under 19 for the first time, improving his time from the Haddonfield race by 10 seconds! Mike Gavio came back from a minor injury, which caused him to miss the Haddonfield meet, to drop almost 50 seconds off of his previous best 5K, dipping under 18 (now giving us five freshmen under 18)! Bobby Hackney and Ethan Wechsler both established new PR's, improving on the fast times they had already recorded at Haddonfield! Jon Conn set a new 5K PR and had his highest team finish as Cherokee's 3rd man; and Chase Miller and Matt Smith both continued their consistently good seasons with yet another fine effort to finish 2nd and 4th!

Any of these guys could lay claim to the Runner of the Meet honor! However, the award goes to sophomore, David Jackson, who worked his way back from injury to become the race champion and the course record holder at The Farm! David stayed very focused and really pushed himself to hold off Chase Miller over the later stages of the race! GO DAVID!

Details at: NJ.MileSplit.

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Jack Shea Makes College Choice!

On November 2, 2016, Senior Jack Shea, Cherokee's # 1 runner, announced his college choice and made a committment to to Northern Arizona University, the # 1 ranked Cross Country program in the country! Congratulations to Jack and to NAU on this decision! GO JACK! . . . GO NAU!

Check out Northern Arizona University's XC website: NAU XC.

USTFCCCA National Coaches' Poll (November 1, 2016) at USTFCCCA.

Jack Shea signs NAU

South Jersey Group IV Sectional Championships

On November 5, 2016, the Chiefs traveled to Delsea High School for the SJ Group IV Sectional Championships and returned as champions! All season the coaches were concerned about their "5th man" and their decisions on whom that might be changed frequently! In this race, the need for a strong "5th man" became all the more important! Simply put, Cherokee's close victory was based on the strength of their first four runners and the determination of their fifth!

Jack Shea, the race champion, had a comfortable win while still running the fastest time of the day out of all the races at Delsea. He took the lead after the mile and opened a gap that eventually grew to 10 seconds at the finish! Both Nick Falk and Justin Kelly ran well to take the 3rd and 4th spots, which gave Cherokee a very low score through 3!

The view at the finish line -- the last 400m -- was telling! Jack reached the track by himself and flew through the final 400m and finish line with no nearby threats! Nick and Justin, however, were challenged throughout the distance but maintained their determination and calm. Nick was nipped at the line by a Kingsway runner and forced to take 3rd but Justin appeared to "drop a gear" and move away from his challenger to take 4th!

Although Brandon Marks did not have his best day, he never quits and still ran a tough race to finish 12th, one place in front of Kingsway's 2nd man! Kingsway made it interesting, however, as their 5th man finished 20 places in front of Cherokee's 5th man! Joe Falk, Cherokee's 7th man going into the meet, came through in the end, passed several runners in the last 400m to finish as Cherokee's 5th man and give the team a close (60 - 66) victory over Kingsway, the Chiefs first Sectional win since 2011!

Phew . . .! One goal accomplished! . . . but an even tougher challenge awaits!

The Group IV State Championship at Holmdel looms in the distance! Cherokee's top four know their assignment -- just run the best races of your lives -- but who will step-up in a big way to close the gap between 4th and 5th?! Individually, Jack has a good chance to become Cherokee's first State Champion since Shawn Wilson in 2012. As expected, he improved every meet in October/November and, although the field will be loaded (including his own teammates!), he should be ready to take a run at the championship!

The coaches had their hands full again but selected Nick Falk as the Runner of the Meet! Saturday was Nick's best race all season and a great sign for what's to come at Groups! Check out his pictures as he worked the last 100m of the race! Calm, confident, fast! None of those "scrunched-up, muscleeee, oh mama, I'm gonna lose" faces you see on lesser runners! Yeah, he lost by a second but he didn't panic . . . he raced to the line! GO NICK!


Reuben Frank, formerly of the BCT and now with Comcast and the SJTCA Website, frequently writes articles loaded with SJ running history! Here are his comments on Cherokee's close victory at Sectionals: Reuben Frank on sjtcaweb. To follow his blog, go to: SJTCA blog.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported on Jack and the team's victory at: Inquirer.

Details at: NJ.MileSplit.

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