On November 11, 2016, the day before Groups, the Varsity squad plus several alternates traveled to Holmdel to check out the course, eat what has become their traditional pre-race meal at Olive Garden -- sorry, David Jackson -- celebrate Flannel Friday (really?!), stay overnight at a local hotel, and awaken rested for the challenge that faced them: the NJ State Group IV Championships! But, for a team that worked so well and so hard, and planned to win the event, the news was both good and not so good!
Judging from the times, it was an off day for many on the team. Still, they were able to finish 2nd in the meet, Cherokee's best finish since 2008 when the team also took 2nd! (The last Group Championship came in 2007.) Junior Justin Kelly led the way with a strong run that saw him finish in 8th with a new Holmdel PR of 16:12! Justin's time moved him to #6 on the All-Time Cherokee Holmdel Park list, and for this, he earned Runner of the Meet honors! Seniors Jack Shea and Nick Falk had sub-par days but still managed to finish 12th and 13th, while Junior Brandon Marks improved his Holmdel Park best by 8 seconds from last year! His 16:55 made him the 28th Cherokee runner to break 17 minutes on the state championship course and it moved him to #25 on the Cherokee list! Cherokee's biggest problem continued to be at the 5th man spot from where 83 of the team's total of 135 points came! The question remained, who will step up next week to close this gap?
Teams qualified for the upcoming Meet of Champions by finishing in the top three in their Group races. Counting the four public school Groups, two Non-Public school "Groups," and three "wild card" teams, Cherokee will face twenty-one other exceptional teams in their last chance "to reach stardom" in state competition! Their goal will be to make the podium by placing 6th or better! GO CHEROKEE!
FIGHT TO THE END! . . . FINISH ON EMPTY! It may be the longest 16 or 17 minutes of your young lives but you will remember it -- and, hopefully, brag about it -- for the rest of your lives! Ask anyone who has done it! GO CHEROKEE!
Details at: NJ.MileSplit.
By the way, did you ever dream of getting hit by a truck to put an end to a very bad race? At the same time Cherokee was competing at Holmdel, Alum Kaleb Burch, '13 of Messiah College, was competing at DeSales University in the NCAA DIV III Mideast Regionals. Kaleb raced a PR and finished 2nd on his team but one runner had an especially bad race when deer, spooked by passing runners, fled through the race and one hammered him! Short video at: US.MileSplit.
On November 18, 2016, the team again traveled to Holmdel for the 44th Annual New Jersey State XC Meet of Champions, and generally followed the traditions of the past: relaxing run at a park after the drive up, a team dinner, some quiet fun at the hotel, and then up early for the big race!
The Meet of Champions was introduced in 1972 and, for a few years, rotated from north to south until the NJCSIAA decided to make Holmdel Park the state's championship course in 1976. Between 1976 and 1979, the race was run backwards (no, not the runners!) and then the current course was established. Over the years, great performances and park improvements, including grading and establishing a firm path throughout the course, helped make it the region's premier cross country course! In the old days, when former cross country runners met and talked about their experiences, they always asked, "What'd ya run at Vanny?" or "What'd ya run at Belmont?" (referring to two great courses, Van Cortlant in New York City, and Fairmont Park in Philadelphia) but now the question is, "What'd ya run at Holmdel?!"
Just as the park improved, so did the performances of Cherokee's cross country teams! While only one Cherokee athlete, Marc Pelerin, in 2001, actually won the Meet of Champions, many teams and individuals qualified for Groups and the MOC over the years! (In 2012, Shawn Wilson won Groups and was strongly favored to win the MOC but a hurricane-adjusted schedule forced him to skip the MOC in favor of the Footlocker Regionals, where he qualified for Nationals.) Over the past 23 years -- including 2016 -- Cherokee teams qualified for Groups in all but one year - 2012 - and for the MOC in 14 of those years! Think about that: there are over 500 cross country teams in New Jersey and fewer than 1/5th of those teams qualify for the Group Championships, and of those, only about a 1/5th qualify for the Meet of Champions. That, boys and girls, is a quality program!
As for this year's race, unfortunately, the peak they planned for didn't materialize and the boys were flat going into the State All-Group Championship, AKA, the Meet of Champions. The desire was there, the physical readiness was lacking. Despite that, Jack Shea fought hard from start to finish and was able to rebound from his Group IV State Championship Meet race to place 6th overall, dipping under 16:00 on a warm day when the times for the entire field were off. He was the top finisher from South Jersey by 19 seconds! The other six runners struggled with only 5th man, Joe Falk, equaling his time from Groups, while everyone else ran slower. As a result, the team finished 7th -- the best showing for a South Jersey team -- only 3 points from 6th and a place on the podium! Sadness in Mudville!
Details at: NJ.MileSplit.
Sidebar material by Jon Falk
Stuff by our regular, much younger, less experienced photographer! ;< )
On November 25, 2016, the Varsity squad, plus, headed north again to compete at Bowdoin Park in Wappingers Falls, NY in the Nike Cross Nationals: Northeast Regionals. The following morning, race day, should have been a harbinger of good things to come because the weather copied what they might expect in Oregon if they qualified: dark, rainy and cold! Unfortunately, once again, the season was a week (or several weeks) too long! The team energy going in was low and it showed in the poor performances right down the line in the championship race! The bright spot of the meet came from junior, Jon Conn, in the Open Race. Jon ran 17:53 to finish 31st, 33 seconds faster than our 5th man in the championship race! For that effort, Jon earned Runner of the Meet honors! GO JON!
Although the season didn't end as the coaches and team anticipated, overall, it was a very successful year with County, Division, Conference and Sectional championships, and the # 1 ranking in South Jersey for the first time since 2005! GO CHEROKEE!
Meet details are available at: MileSplit.USA and Runner's Pace.
Our photographer was scheduled elsewhere but he downloaded and edited as best he could some low-resolution pictures posted on the MileSplit.USA website by TJ Morales and K. Braleil, and the official meet website by Tringoli. Alas, not all our athletes were found.
Waiting for banquets and such, we checked back to see who "stayed the course" . . . wait, that's a nautical metaphor but you get the idea . . . stayed the course over four years of Cross Country competition, and we found only three: Nick Falk, Pat Mahoney, and Jack Shea! Compare/contrast these "old" pictures with those from this year, and check out the rest of the 2013 pictures on this site! Who has changed the most over the years?!
On December 6, 2016, Cherokee attended the 37th Annual SJTCA Cross Country Awards Banquet at Auletto's Ballroom.
Cherokee has many "fashion superstars" on the team but one in particular always stands out, perfectly presented! Everything matches, hair's perfect, smile found only in toothpaste commercials . . . yeah, after seeing Jack in his GQ layout, you're probably leaning that way but another team superstar made a startling fashion statement at the banquet . . . yeah, you're probably remembering Jack's unique hairstyle and leaning farther that way . . . so we're just going to the picture . . . who is this trend-setter?
Which team member has the "fashion-forward" character to wear Under Armour running socks with dress shoes and suit?! You decide!
At the banquet, many on Cherokee's team attended to cheer for themselves and bask in the glory of their accomplishments -- one glaring absence was Brandon Marks who, at last check, is still at CHOP with an unknown and worrying illness! GET WELL, BRANDON!
As expected, the team was recognized as the Team of the Year, and Jack Shea, Nick Falk and Justin Kelly were named to the All-South Jersey Team." Unexpected, Coach Shaklee was named "Coach of the Year!"
Here are some pics from the banquet by Jon "Pop" Falk and our regular photographer:
On December 15, 2016, the Cherokee Cross Country and Track and Field Boosters -- OK, it was the parents of the distance guys! -- and the coaches sponsored the Annual Cross Country Awards and Recognition Banquet at the school. The team, parents, coaches and others enjoyed a meal provided by the parents, reviewed what was accomplished by the team throughout the season, and bid farewell to the graduating seniors. As usual, the highlight of the evening was the Coaches' Awards, including the Most Improved, Most Valuable, and the Unsung Hero.
Coach Shaklee's remarks are at: Coach's Message.
Throughout the evening, reference was made to the impressive number of Team Championships and other Team Accomplishments, to the achievements of the Junior Varsity and Freshman Teams, and to the honors won by several individuals on the team. All of that is summarized on the attached document: Accomplishments and Awards.
In addition to the recognition made above to both team and individuals, the following Coaches' Awards were announced by Coaches Shaklee and Thompson:
-- Once again, the team cleverly invited Jon Falk, grandfather of Nick and Joe and serious photographer to the banquet! Here's some of his work from the occasion! You GO MR. FALK!
~ ~ Congratulations to everyone for a great season, and thanks for all your efforts! ~ ~