Cherokee Cross Country Pictures, 2021, Page VI

Here we go . . . truly "The Bigs"

Despite the loss of one of the team's top Varsity runners, Nick Kuenkel, the philosophy, "Next Man Up," showed just how tough the team is! They won the Burlington County (Open) Championship, the Olympic Conference Championship, they looked great at the Haddonfield Sub-Varsity Invitational! They made it look routine but it isn't! At the BC Open, they beat twelve county teams; at the Conference Meet, they beat twelve teams; and at Haddonfield Sub-Varsity, they easily won two upperclass and the Freshman races! Now they are moving on to the "biggest" of "The Bigs," the NJ State Championship Meets: Sectionals, Groups and the Meet of Champions! GO CHIEFS!

~~ Chief of the Week ~~

From Coach Shaklee:

"Our Chief of the Week last week was Jameson Crozier. Jameson has been doing a great job all season as co-captain, along with Bradley Popler! He is someone we always know we can count on! He takes charge of leading the drills, strength training and stretching daily at practice. He has also done a good job of training and racing over the course of this season, thus earning a spot on the post-season squad training for Sectionals, States and the MOC! This past week he also helped organize the team food drive for Sectionals. We are recognizing Jameson for all he does for our program as an athlete and a team leader!" THANKS JAMESON! GO JAMESON!

Capt Crozier

~~ NJSIAA South Jersey Group 4 Sectional Championships ~~

On November 6, 2021, the team returned to DREAM Park for the 17-team NJSIAA South Jersey Group 4 Sectional Championships, the first of the State "BIGS," and came home Champions!

Coach Shaklee made the following remarks:

"We were pleased with the team performance at the South Jersey Group 4 Sectionals on Saturday. We knew coming in that Southern was a formidable opponent and that we would need to race well if we were to beat them, especially with Nick Kuenkel out due to injury. It played out as we expected and was a two team race! Although Cherry Hill East ran much better than they had at the Olympic Conference Meet to get third, it came down to us and Southern.

"As has been the case all season, we were led by Patrick Ditmars who PR'ed on the course by 12 seconds to finish second overall! While that was an expected outcome, Conor Jacob's outstanding race was a nice surprise! Conor came in with a 5K PR of 16:31 and ran 15:53 to finish right behind Patrick in 3rd place! Southern put their top 3 in before our third man - Bradley Popler, who set another 5K PR at 16:22, and a 4th in before our 4th, Bobby Poplau, who PR'ed by 10 seconds at 16:28! It all came down to our 5th man, senior, Joe Natoli! Joe wasn't 100% and was struggling over the last mile of the course. To his credit, however, he toughed it out to finish 26th, nine in front of Southern's 5th man to secure the win! For good measure, our 6th and 7th runners, Tommy Bromley and Andrew Free, both finished in front of Southern's 6th man!

"It was Cherokee's 11th Sectional title and our 3rd straight! Patrick and Conor are now the second and third fastest Cherokee runners in school history at Dream Park and both return next year!

"We are now focused on running an even better race at the Group 4 State Meet up-state at Holmdel this Saturday!"

Special thanks to the Parents and Alums who showed-up to cheer the team and who set-up the food/drink table to feed Cherokee's newest Sectional Champions! Much appreciated!

Reuben Frank reported on Cherokee's performance in his blog, SJ Track Blog: From the Backstretch and wrote, "Patrick Ditmars, Conor Jacob lead Cherokee to 3rd straight SJ-4 title, Kingsway's Kyle Rakitis individual winner!!!". The article is copied on our server at Frank's Blog.

Race details at: NJ.MileSplit.

Below are a few pictures from the meet. Check out District's Google.

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"Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego?" . . . you ask but we ask, "Where, in the last 200m of the race, is Andrew Free?

Rosie Ruiz? Ever hear of her? Look it up, youngsters!

At DREAM Park, our photographer shot everyone as they passed 200m from the finish line but he doesn't have Andrew! How did he miss him?!

We've decided that, from now on, Andrew will be called "Smoke" to explain why he wasn't seen at 200m! "Smoke Free!"


~~ NJ High School 5K Rankings at Holmdel Park ~~

Robert Kellert, the editor at NJ.MileSplit, compulsively manipulates his data and creates multiple lists of "rankngs." This time it's the NJ High School 5K Rankings at Holmdel Park! Skimming the list the expected Varsity runners at Groups are: Patrick Ditmars at 8th at 16:38; Bradley Popler at 40th at 17:20; Conor Jacob at 46th at 17:26; Joe Natoli at 73rd at 17:54; Bobby Poplau is 74th at 17:55; Andrew "Smoke" Free at 125th at 18:22; and Tommy Bromley at 158th at 18:46. All of these times were set in early October so expect major changes this time around!

List at NJ.MileSplit.

~~ Post-Sectionals Team Ranks by NJ.MileSplit and SJTCA ~~

On November 10, 2021, both NJ.MileSplit and the SJTCA issued their team rankings after Sectionals and, for NJ.MileSplit, Cherokee remained in 7th place, with Haddonfield still the only other SJ team in the Top-10; and for the SJTCA, again for Cherokee, nothing changed, again with Haddonfield at 1st place! For details, see NJ.MileSplit's Top 20; and SJTCA Top 20.

~~ NJSIAA Group 4 Championships ~~

Last weekend, Cherokee qualified and advanced to the NJSIAA Group 4 Championships at Holmdel by winning the Sectional Championships, and this week, on November 13, 2021, they raced on the most challenging course in the state and finished 5th in the Group 4 race! The first two teams in each Group advance to the State's Meet of Champions and, fortunately, there are ten "Wild Card" qualifiers from all of the Group races that also advance. Cherokee appears to be among that group!

At the beginning of the racing today, the weather was ideal: sunny, cool and windless. By the time Cherokee raced at 1:00 PM, there was some cloudiness and wind but not enough to affect the race. Soon after that, however, the weather "broke," with heavy rain, thunder and lightening, and the last races were postponed until this Tuesday. Technically, the "Wild Card" qualifiers will not be announced until after those races.

Last Saturday, a young athlete asked our photographer how tough is it to qualify at Groups and advance to the Meet of Champions, and he replied simply, "Very, very difficult." Biblically, that would read something like, ". . . it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle . . . than to qualify for the Meet of Champions." Work out the math! There are about 612 public high schools in the state, almost all of which have Cross Country teams. They compete in the Sectional meets and only about 80 of the best teams remain in competition. Those 80 teams compete at Groups where only two teams in each Group automatically advance, along with eight "Wild Card" teams. Really, how tough is it to qualify and advance to the Meet of Champions . . .? GO CHEROKEE!

Coach Shaklee sent the following "after-action report:"

"The boys cross country team was not at full strength when they entered the State Group 4 Meet! In addition to the loss of Nick Kuenkel (out for the season with injury), fellow sophomore, Bobby Poplau, was dealing with some tendinitis in his knee which curtailed his training for the week. With a good race, we expected a 3rd place finish but felt we might contend for 2nd. However, it was not to be and we came away with a slightly disappointing 5th place finish in a field that included eight teams ranked by NJ.MileSplit among the top twenty in the state!

"Patrick Ditmars was, once again, Cherokee first finisher, placing 14th in the field of 147 runners! Patrick's time of 16:30 was an eight second PR at Holmdel and moved Patrick up to 15th on the All-Time Cherokee Holmdel List! Conor Jacob continued his excellent running with a huge 53-second Holmdel PR of 16:33, good for 2nd on the team and 16th place! His time now puts Conor at 18th on the All-Time List! Our 3rd man, Bradley Popler, PR'd by 18 seconds to place 39th and just miss dipping under the 17:00 barrier! His time of 17:02 ties Bradley for 41st on the All-Time List, with Justin Detone in 2014 and Jon Conn in 2017! After Bradley, we had a gap of 25 seconds and twenty places back to our 4th man, Bobby Poplau, who, although struggling with the knee problem, still managed to drop his Holmdel time by 28 seconds from Shore Coaches earlier this year! There was another 22 seconds and twenty places back to our 5th man, Joe Natoli, who improved his Shore Coaches' time by five seconds! Tommy Bromley was our 6th man and just missed getting on the sub-17:00 All-Time List with his time of 18:02; while sophomore, Andrew Free's time of 18:25 was unexpectedly 3-seconds slower than his PR from the Shore Coaches Meet.

"As we prepare for the State Meet of Champions, our last race of the year, we remain focused and positive that we can rebound from a sub-par state meet and beat some teams that got us this week. While our first three runners ran well this week, the key to our success lies in closing the gap from our 3rd to 5th man. At our best team race of the year, the Olympic Conference Meet, we had a 12-second gap from three to five as compared to a 47-second gap at the state meet. If we can get good races from our 4th through 7th men, we are confident that we can make some noise at the State Meet of Champions!"

Details and massive coverage at: NJ.MileSplit.

While all the pictures are available at the District Google Drive, here are some of our photographer's favorites:

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~~ Sadly, Einstein knew nothing about "stylin'!" ~~

Patrick readies for practice

~~ Foreshadowing: The State Meet of Champions ~~

Image of banshee

When "Voodoo Veronica" of Moorestown's Jamaican Lady Fortunetelling saw the picture of Patrick "dressing" for practice, she expressed a sad, quiet moan and said "not good;" but when she saw the first picture from the trip to the State's Meet of Champions, she was convinced that the banshees -- yes, she stole the name from Irish folklore -- were putting some kind of evil spell on the Cherokee team! You believe in this stuff?

Cherokee's bus, the team's dreams flowing into the gutter?! Oh Mama . . ..

Broken down bus

~~ The State Meet of Champions ~~

"If you don't treat the course at Holmdel as "sacred ground" on the day
of the Meet of Champions, you're missing the point!
It's a privilege that you earned and one that you should thoroughly
enjoy and brag about for the rest of your life!"

On November 20, 2012, Cherokee's Varsity returned, somewhat awkwardly as they piled into parents' cars after their bus broke down, to the state's championship course at Holmdel Park for the ultimate challenge at the end of the New Jersey Cross Country season, the Meet of Champions!

Yeah, the team finished 7th, 5 points behind 6th place Princeton, when only 6 teams made the podium and got medals! But, sometimes we forget when we have such a great team and a great season . . . injuries and all, THEY WERE GREAT! Do the math again: 612 public high schools in NJ; this time include the 254 private high schools in the state . . . 866 potential rivals in Cross Country, and Cherokee was one of "the surviving" 22 teams and 7 of the 190 individuals to qualify for and finish the Meet of Champions! GO CHEROKEE!

From the beginning, they aimed extremely high, they worked extremely hard, and they finished extremely well, not far from the top! Celebrate that achievement and look forward to the future!

And yeah, there are gaps that need to be filled as important Seniors graduate but there are a number of young guys moving up who seem ready to take the challenge! "Next year, Jerusalem!" . . . Ooops, I mean, "Next Year, the bus and the team make it to the Meet of Champions, and next year, the Chiefs win!" GO CHEROKEE!

BTW, be thankful to all those who supported you along the way! Honestly, you really didn't do all the work! Just putting up with you on your bad days was A LOT of work and maybe worthy of a medal! ; < )

Coach Shaklee sent the following!

"The New Jersey State Meet of Champions! While it is an honor to make it to this prestigious event, we were looking for more than just being there. The form chart had us in 8th with the 9th and 10th teams only a few points back! Our goal was to move up two spots and make the podium with a top-six finish! Things got off to an inauspicious start when our bus broke down on the way to the meet! Thanks to our awesome team parents, the boys were able to get picked-up and to the park in time to properly prepare for their race! The rest of the team, and the coach, cut it a little closer, waiting for the girls bus to come get us. We did, however, get there in time to watch the girls' fantastic race!

"Coming off of the Group 4 State Meet, we knew that the key to placing higher this week would be to tighten the gap between our 3rd and 5th runners. Our first three runners made that more difficult by running so well! Patrick Ditmars, as he has done all season, led the way for the team! He dropped 22 seconds off of his time from the Group 4 State Meet to finish 18th overall and make the podium! Patrick's time of 16:08 puts him at # 6 All-Time on the Cherokee Holmdel list, just ahead of our first state champion, Joe Halin, who ran 16:09 to win the 1999 Group 4 State Meet!

"Behind Patrick, Conor Jacob was having a great race of his own! For the third week in a row, Conor came through big-time! This week, he managed to knock 14 seconds off of his time from the Group 4 Meet to place 30th in an extremely deep field! Conors time of 16:19 moved him to # 13 All-Time on the Cherokee Holmdel list, just in front of three-time Sectional Champion, Alex Yersak, who ran 16:21 for seventh in the 2007 Group 4 State Championship race! Both Patrick and Conor were, deservedly, selected to the All-South Jersey Team voted on by the South Jersey Coaches Association members the day after the Meet of Champions!

"Third man, Bradley Popler, also ran an outstanding race, knocking 19 seconds off of his time from last week to finish 63rd overall in 16:43! That time moved Bradley up to # 25 All-Time on the Cherokee Holmdel List, just ahead of last year's team leader, Nico Grilli, who ran 16:44 at the Shore Coaches Invitational two years ago! (We did not run at Holmdel last year due to COVID.)

"With a 3rd runner at 16:43, we were looking pretty good! However, we were not able to close the gap from three to five despite solid efforts from Bobby Poplau, running injured, and Tommy Bromley, dipping under 18:00 for the first time! Despite his knee problem, Bobby still set a new Holmdel PR, thirteen seconds faster than his time from last week! Tommy knocked seventeen seconds off of his previous best to earn a spot on the Cherokee Holmdel Sub-18:00 List!

"While Joe Natoli and Matteo Evola both struggled a bit this time, they are to be commended for their efforts over the course of the season! Both improved tremendously from where they were last year!

"When the scores were finally announced, we ended up in 7th place, higher than the form chart predicted but still slightly disappointing. However, just missing the podium and watching the girls team pull off an incredible upset win may be just what we need to light the fire for next year! We return a strong group of runners and we plan to make a run at the first Meet of Champions Title in the history of the program!

"Congratulations to all of our team members on a great season! Now . . . on to track!"

Coach Shaklee's detailed spreadsheets on each meet this season are available at: Google, Shaklee Spreadsheets. Use the tabs at the bottom of the page to select which meet to view.

Details at: NJ.MileSplit.

Again, here are some pictures from the meet. These and others are at the District Google Site, including several edited pictures taken by MileSplit photographer, Mae Kellert.


~~ Chief of the Week ~~

This week, the coaches selected Bradley Popler as the Chief of the Week!"

"Bradley has done a terrific job as co-captain along with Jameson Crozier! He has taken charge of organizing the strength training and the stretching at the end of practice all season. When the coaches need something done or information disseminated, Bradley is someone to whom they can always turn. In addition, Bradley has done a great job all season long with training and racing. He has been the most consistent member of the Varsity team and he finished the year with a flourish - running a very quick 16:43 at Holmdel in the Meet of Champions! THANKS BRADLEY! GO BRADLEY!

Capt Popler

~~ SJTCA All-South Jersey Team and Other In-House Awards ~~

On November 21, 2021, the coaches/members of the South Jersey Track Coaches Association met and selected the 2021 All-South Jersey Team. Two of Cherokee's best were named: Patrick Ditmars and Conor Jacob! CONGRATULATIONS GUYS!

Also selected were three from Haddonfield -- George Andrus, Seth Clevenger, Tobias Janssen; Woodbury's Peyton Shute; Triton's Dennis Fortuna; Camden Catholic's Billy Clewell; Haddon Heights' Jack Bolling; Delsea's Andrew Littlehales; Kingsway's Kyle Rakitis; and Washington Township's Chris Colavita. Haddonfield's Seth Clevenger was named "Runner of the Year." CONGRATULATIONS TO ALL!

There are several Cherokee In-House Awards that appear to be a lock for Patrick Ditmars! Though there was only a strand separating Patrick from teammate Nick Kuenkel for the "Hair of Hercules Award," recently Nick arrived at school with a new haircut! Conspiracy theorists have suggested that Mrs. Kuenkel, who clearly favored shorter hair on her son, cut his hair while he slept but there is no evidence of that! The tally for a second honor, the "He Dresses in the Dark Award," is incomplete but unofficial reports put Patrick in the lead. More on this later!

~~ 6th Annual Marlton 5K Turkey Trot, Medford Lakes Colony Turkey Trot 5K, and the Haddon Township Turkey Trot 5K ~~

On November 25, 2021, several members of the team raced the 6th Annual 5K Marlton Turkey Trot or the Haddon Township Turkey Trot 5K to show-off their beards and spurs! At Marlton, Tommy Bromley, took 2nd behind Alum Ethan Wechler in the race, clocking 16:18! Also in the race were Luke Reistle, 9th in 19:06; Enzo Corona, 13th in 20:26; Myron Paes, 28th in 21:51; and Tyler Newton, 33rd in 22:30. Details at: Marlton 5K. At Medford Lakes, Liam Tindall finished in 16th, clocking 18:28. Details at: Medford Lakes Colony. At Haddon Township, Andrew "Smoke" Free took 11th in the race, clocking 17:35! Details, including a poor video weakened by a chubby official blocking the shot and doing nothing, at: Haddon Twp. Our photographer was at neither race and, apparently, there are no pictures from Marlton, but here is the only pic of Smoke as he beats an ersatz Santa to the finish! Again, the race photographer missed his passing . . . S! (Videos available from all races!)

Smoke Free

~~ NJ.MileSplit: Cross Country All-State Teams ~~

On December 3, 2021, NJ.MileSplit selected their Cross Country All-State Teams, three teams of seven athletes chosen in their order of importance/performance throughout the season. Cherokee's top performer this season, Patrick Ditmars, was named to the Third Team, Cross Country All-State Team! CONGRATULATIONS, PATRICK! YOU GO, DUDE!

Details at: NJ.MileSplit.

~~ Burlington County Track Coaches Association All-Star Team ~~

On December 6, 2021, the Burlington County Track Coaches Association seelected their All-Star Team and Cherokee was mentioned prominently! Patrick Ditmars led the team as the Runner of the Year, and Colin Jacob, Bobby Poplau and Bradley Popler completed the Cherokee contingent! CONGRATULATIONS GUYS!

Details at: Burlcotrack.

~~ New Jersey Cross Country Track and Field Coaches Association (NJXCTFCA) All-County Teams ~~

On December 8, 2021, The New Jersey Cross Country Track and Field Coaches Association (NJXCTFCA) selected the All-County Teams from all the counties in the state. The Burlington County Team includes Patrick Ditmars, Colin Jacob, Bobby Poplau and Bradley Popler; and identifies Patrick as the County Runner of the Year! CONGRATULATIONS, GUYS!

Details at: NJXCTFCA. Use the tabs at the bottom of the page to select which county to view

~~ All-State and All-Group Teams ~~

On December 10, 2021, selected the All-State Team and Patrick Ditmars was selected to Third Team, All-State! Details at:, All-State. Also, they named Cherokee as the 7th team in the State (behind Haddonfield, the only other SJ team)! Details at, Top 20 Teams. Finally, they named Patrick Ditmars to the First Team, All-Group 4, and Conor Jacob to the Third Team, All-Group 4! Details at: All-Group 4. CONGRATULATIONS, GUYS!

~~ Picture Warning ~~

Heads Up! The routine "shelf life" of an Internet page is brief, unless supported by a major corporation. Look back on this site and see how many links (even those supported by major corporations!) have disappeared over the years.

That said, there is no reason to believe the pictures on this site or the District's Google site will survive for any significant amount of time. If you want to keep pictures from this season, save what you want from the District's Google site. The pictures on our site ( are especially low-resolution but those on the Google site are larger (generally 1 MG). If you want an even larger version than that -- you know, that poster-size version for the living room -- email with detailed information on the picture(s) you want and he will gladly provide the largest he has.

~~ Cross Country Team Banquet ~~

For more than 20 years, the parents, families, coaches and friends returned to school at the end of the season to share a meal (generously supplied by the parents), review the accomplishments of the season, and name the "special awards" individuals. Last year, of course, there was no "team banquet" because of the pandemic but this year the tradition returned and went well!

As usual, the evening began with welcoming remarks from the coach and then everyone enjoyed the camaraderie and the meal.

Soon after, the coaches said a few words about the successes of the season, introduced each athlete by grade, and then introduced and presented the award recipients: All-County; All-Conference and All-South Jersey. Following that, the coaches introduced the Super Chief award winners (those who earned a Varsity letter and had a minimum GPA of 3.65 for the 1st Marking Period! Finally, the coaches introduced their "In House" Awards: Most Improved, Unsung Hero and MVP award winners.

Most Improved . . . So many deserving candidates!

Danny Hassall

"When we talked to Danny at the end of last XC season, he said he wanted to really work at this and see how much he could improve. Talk is cheap but Danny lived up to it! He trained consistently for a year and came out this season in the best shape of his life!

The proof: last cross country season, his fastest 5K was 20:44. This year his fastest 5k was 17:40!

He transformed himself into a varsity caliber runner and he is a great example of what is possible if you devote yourself to it, stay focused and work hard day in and day out! He is now at a level that he can legitimately contend next year for a spot in the Varsity 7, which is saying something on a team this good!"

Unsung Hero . . . Again, so many deserving candidates!

Bradley Popler

"Bradley is deserving of this for so many reasons! His contributions to the team are immeasurable! He led as captain, along with Jameson. And he also led through his example. He constantly did everything he could to be the best leader and runner he could be!

"On most other teams, Bradley would have been a number 1 runner. On a team as good as this, he probably got overlooked at times. There are at least 100 teams in South Jersey with a cross country program. At the State Meet of Champions, Bradley was the 16th SJ runner across the line!

"He made it into our Varsity 7 last year on a team that won the SJ Group 4 Championship! This year, he upped his game! His best time as a junior was 17:19. He PR'ed this year at 16:22! He also ran 16:43 at Holmdel which makes him the 25th fastest ever from Cherokee! Bradley is planning to run in college, and we expect that he will do so with great success!"

MVP . . . An award for someone who is not only a good runner but has a great attitude!

Patrick Ditmars

"Talking to Patrick before one of our championship races, he said - "I can't wait! I don't get nervous, I just get excited!" That is Patrick in a nutshell! He gets excited. He loves running and truly wants to be the best! We all want to be good, but Patrick is willing to dedicate himself to it and do everything he can to make it happen!


-- Won the junior race at the Cherokee Challenge.

-- Won the junior race at the Battle of Ocean County Park.

-- Held on for 6th in the A race at the Shore Coaches Invitational (after going out too aggressively).

-- He was the Burlington County Champion.

-- He finished 2nd in the Olympic Conference Championship, leading the team to victory.

-- He finished 2nd in the SJ Group 4 Championship, leading the team to victory.

-- He finished 14th in a very competitive Group 4 State Meet, running 16:30 at Holmdel to move to number 16 on the All-ime Cherokee list.

-- He finished 18th at the State Meet of Champions, running 16:08 to move even further up the All-time list to 6th.

-- He is the 6th fastest returning runner from the Meet of Champions.

-- 1st team All-County, All-Conference and All-South Jersey.

-- 3rd team All-State.

-- Hair of Hercules Award Winner!

Congratulations and thanks to all three of our Award winners!

After the presentations, the Seniors said a few words and presented (gag) gifts to the coaches. Coach Thompson received a highly-appropriate T-shirt with an inscription that combined two of his favorite interests: Star Wars and Physics! Coach Shaklee received a megaphone! Again, highly-appropriate! It seems that every time the Coach tried to talk to the team, he was interrupted, either by music from the stadium, another team passing by and making noise or, on the occasions when the team was inside, something coming over the intercom! The megaphone will allow the Coach to talk over these interruptions! (We have a feeling the team will regret that gift next year when they hear the coach's dulcet tones wafting across various cross country courses in New Jersey! "Hey, anyone see Smoke?")

Our photographer was unavailable but, knowing there would be as many as 75 Smart Phones in the audience, he asked that parents take over his duties and send the pictures to him. Unfortunately, he received only six pictures from two parents . . . geeze . . ..

Thompson's shirt Shaklee's megaphone
Banquet Banquet Banquet
Banquet Banquet Banquet

Congratulations to everyone and thanks to some very special people who supported the team along the way. Thanks to Coach Shaklee and Coach Thompson for their dedication and expertise! Thanks to Cherokee's Athletic Director, Mr. Scott Agnew, who works especially hard for our sport! Thanks to the parents who gave so much to the program and supported their sons in many personal and practical ways, including vocal support at meets, endless transportation duties throughout the year (not just the season); suffering with them when their races don't go as desired; catering the banquet . . . !

Finally, best wishes to all our athletes! We sincerely thank our graduating seniors for their work, leadership and performances, and we hope to see them next Fall on our Alums page, competing at the next level! Also, we look forward to seeing our undergraduates return even stronger next year to continue the exceptional history of Cherokee Cross Country!


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