Cherokee Cross Country Pictures, 2023, Page III

"The Bigs!"

Cherokee is looking good this early in the season with only two demanding races under their belts but late-September/early-October mark the beginning of "The Bigs:" Shore Coaches, the South Jersey Open and the County Open! Now is the time to "step up!" GO CHIEFS!

Last year we made several points that we repeat here and hope you'll consider --

~~ When Does the Race Actually Begin? ~~

That's an odd question! It seems obvious . . . when the official fires the gun!

BANG! . . . and off you go . . . eager, optimistic, excited and, yes, filled with strength and adrenaline! You feel like you're flying and could easily rocket away from the pack!

But that's not where the race begins . . . not even close!

It really begins in that last half of the race, or maybe the last mile, when everything is hurting! Oh Mama! Your arms and legs ache, your chest heaves . . . your will is breaking! You tell yourself you can't go on, you feel like slowing down, even walking, you dream of a quick release, like maybe a tree falling on your head and ending it all? . . .

It's an internal battle between you and your body and spirit! You fight to continue, to even win, but your body tells you it's hurting badly and your spirit begs you to quit!

It's so easy to listen to those internal voices begging you to quit but you're a CHAMPION! You've developed an unbreakable mentality deep within your body that says, "I'm not quitting!" every time those other voices say otherwise!

GO! . . . GO! . . . GO!

That night after the race, look in that mirror again . . . There's a real CHAMPION!


~~ The Fifth Man ~~

In 2013, Patrick Bendzick first published a short article on the importance of the 5th man on the team and, since then, it has been repeatedly re-printed and continues to be admired and debated by Cross Country runners and coaches. Check it out and see what you think!

Patrick Bendzick, I Am the Most Important Person on Your Team.

It's an interesting perspective and praiseworthy but it's somewhat "static." It assumes the 5th man will always be "the 5th Man," and the 1st man will always be 1st, the 2nd man will always be 2nd, etc. In fact, the roles change frequently. Often, one of the top guys has a bad day and falls off the pace, maybe the 3rd man. That's when the traditionally 4th man steps up and passes him, and the others do the same! The 5th man is now 4th and, by the end of the race, he may be 3rd and the 7th man may be 5th!

Here's a perspective to take into race day! You're not the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th or 7th man! You are RACING, and you are a CHAMPION! Plan on having a great day and plan on beating everyone in front of you! Yeah, it's unlikely but it's a bad thing to think you're doing OK when you see the expectant "Number whatever" guy in front of you! Some athletes see the appropriate-numbered guy in front of them and they pace themselves off of him instead of RACING, instead of working to beat him and the guys around him! Don't just "cover the course" satisfied you're in "your right place" . . . RACE LIKE A CHAMPION!


~~ Batch Meet # 2 ~~

On September 19th, 2023, the team traveled to DREAM Park for both racing in Batch Meet # 2 and for training. A small part of the team raced in the meet and the other larger group used the time for distance training.

As explained earlier, the Batch Meets are low pressure events, largely for inexperienced runners or those who need a tad more "speed work" in their training. No bands playing, no medals awarded, no cheerleaders . . . just hoped-for solid race training.

We spoke to Coach Shaklee the day after the race and he made the following general comments:

"While, as a rule, we de-emphasize batch meets, we did make an exception on Tuesday at Dream Park when we had eight individuals racing.

"Several of those individuals raced well! Liam Deimler led the way, setting a new 5K PR while taking 6th in a field of 96 runners; and Rory Carroll also finished in the top 10 with his 9th place showing! Finally, Sam Wright knocked another seven seconds off of his previous best to place 26th (and we hope our photographer found him this time)!"

Details at: NJ.MileSplit.

Here are a few pictures from Batch Meet #2 and they and the rest are available at the District's Google site! Please thank our photographer if he magically prevented you from looking like a dork! ; < )

Batch 2 Batch 2 Batch 2 Batch 2 Batch 2 Batch 2
Batch 2 Batch 2 Batch 2 Batch 2 Batch 2 Batch 2

~~ Shore Coaches invitational: Preview! ~~

Thoughts from last year! When he heard that several of Cherokee's athletes might have gone out too fast in their races, a former GREAT at Villanova University, an Olympian, and a friend of Cherokee, remarked "Nothing ventured, nothing gained!" He applauded the athletes, noting that Shore Coaches isn't the State Championships and was exactly THE TIME to experiment . . . the athletes learned a lot about themselves! Great experience! GO CHEROKEE!

The meet was/is always hyped-up much more than it should be -- it's way too early in the season! -- by Internet sports sites but it is interesting to see which teams have been working and are likely to be serious competition by the end-of-the-season championship meets!

Teams from the area have an advantage over those that are not, especially those of us in the southern part of the state, because they can train there! For us "flatlanders," unaccustomed to hilly terrain, just looking at the course -- the brutal uphill start, the rollercoaster, the meadow, the bowl, etc. -- can be psychologically damaging even before we tie on our racing flats! ; < )

Probably the most damaging aspect of the course is the mile-long, generally uphill start! Go out too slowly and find yourself stuck on the "rollercoaster," running in place while the leaders of the race get farther and farther away! Go out too fast and find yourself gasping for breath at the mile mark and often unable to finish the race in a timely manner! What's a guy to do?! (Talk to Nick, Bobby and others experienced on the course?)

Here, Coach Shaklee is extremely sympathetic and knowledgeable! Back in his 40's, the coach decided to enter the USATF Senior National Cross County Championships at Holmdel Park! He was in decent condition but not to race some of the best Seniors in the country at Holmdel! Still, he knew the course through his coaching and he decided he had a chance to win! That is, until he flew through the start and the rollercoaster and got to the mile mark! Ask him to discuss how he felt!

~~ Plans Get Discombulated ~~

On Saturday, September 23, Coach Shaklee planned to give the team one last "look" at Holmdel before the Shore Coaches Meet the following week. But nature had different plans for him and the team!

According to the weather "experts," Holmdel can expect 3 to 5 inches of rain on Saturday and even Coach -- "I never saw anyone melt in a little rain" -- Shaklee, changed plans!

"Ain't no sunshine . . .." Sad Sun.

Sad sun

~~ Rankings ~~

On September 20th, 2023, in their 1st poll, the South Jersey Track Coaches Association ranked Cherokee # 1 in South Jersey!

On September 21st, 2023, NJ.MileSplit ranked the top-20 teams in New Jersey for a second week! Previously, they ranked Cherokee # 5 in the state and, after the Battle at Ocean County Park, the team moved up to # 4 in the state! NJ.MileSplit.

On September 22nd, 2023, based on the pictures provided by our photographer, Coach Shaklee's mother ranked Cherokee # 1 as the "cutist boys in the state!" Not sure whether to thank Grandmom Shaklee or our magical photographer and his use of PhotoShop?!


~~ Batch Meet # 3 ~~

On September 27th, 2023, Coach Shaklee divided the team once again, sending a small group of largely inexperienced runners to Batch Meet # 3 at the Rancocas Valley Sports Center to "show the flag," while the rest of the team stayed at home to continue training for upcoming "Big Time" meets!

Alas, there were several issues from the git-go -- one athlete bailed just before the race with an injury that he rated "8 of 10 on the pain scale," and another "sat out" because he didn't have the proper shoes for warm-up and racing -- but, somehow, four athletes finished the race!

Colin Mchale led the team with a significent 5K PR! Josh Lowery followed less than 2 seconds behind, and Jack Finley and Jonathan Merkel behind him but all were off their 5K PR's.

Details at: NJ.MileSplit

Here are a few pictures from Batch Meet #3 and they and the rest are available at the District's Google site! Please thank our photographer for driving to RV to shoot only four young athletes!

Batch Team

Batch 3 Batch 3 Batch 3 Batch 3
Batch 3 Batch 3 Batch 3 Batch 3

~~ Holmdel "All Time" Performances ~~

Recently, NJ.MileSplit provided a fascinating historical, up-to-date list of Holmdel Park All-Time Team Performances - Boys. If you've been at this for a while, you'll recognize the names of past champions over the decades!

The question is, when will your name appear on one of these lists? Last year, Patrick Ditmars and Nick Kuenkel made an insane jump right to the top list so it's doable! GO CHEROKEE!

Cherokee's A Team appears as # 5 on the list, the B Team at #32, the C Team at #84, the D Team at #149, the E Team at #181, the F Team at #230, and the G Team at 254!

Check out the entire list at: NJ.MileSplit.

5 Cherokee A 78:25 Average 15:41.0
Patrick Ditmars 15:39 MOC 2022
Shawn Wilson 15:40 Group 4 2012
Ethan Wechsler 15:41 MOC 2019
Nick Kuenkel 15:41 MOC 2022
Marc Pelerin 15:44 MOC 2001

32 Cherokee B 80:06 Average 16:01.2
Keith Krieger 15:46 Group 4 2002
Jack Shea 15:46 MOC 2015
Joe Halin 16:09 Group 4 1999
Justin Kelly 16:12 Group 4 2016
Tom Yersak 16:13 MOC 2004

84 Cherokee C 81:31 Average 16:18.2
Greg Malloy 16:14 MOC 2010
Chase Miller 16:18 MOC 2019
Greg Bredeck 16:19 MOC 2005
Conor Jacob 16:19 MOC 2021
Alex Yersak 16:21 Group 4 2007

149 Cherokee D 82:30 Average 16:30.0
Matt Mueller 16:27 MOC 2000
Nick Falk 16:27 MOC 2014
Ben Werbos 16:31 Shore Coaches 1998
Josh Joseph 16:31 Shore Coaches 2000
Sean McLaughlin 16:34 MOC 2003

181 Cherokee E 83:02 Average 16:36.4
Tyler Jackson 16:34 Group 4 2019
Kevin Schickling 16:35 Group 4 2007
Christopher Spisak 16:36 Group 4 2017
Aaron Boucher 16:38 MOC 1998
Robert Poplau 16:39 MOC 2022

230 Cherokee F 83:44 Average 16:44.8
Steven Burkholder 16:43 Shore Coaches 2009
Bradley Popler 16:43 MOC 2021
Nico Grilli 16:44 Shore Coaches 2019
Chris Applegate 16:47 MOC 2006
Kaleb Burch 16:47 Group 4 2013

254 Cherokee G 84:17 Average 16:51.4
Rich Nelson 16:48 MOC 2005
Brett Shea 16:49 MOC 2019
Aiden Lynch 16:50 Group 4 2011
Brandon Marks 16:55 Group 4 2016
Vinny Marziano 16:55 MOC 2004

~~ Rankings ~~

On September 27th, 2023, the SJTCA posted their Coaches' Poll # 2 and again listed Cherokee as #1 in South Jersey!

On September 28th, 2023, NJ.MileSplit posted their Week 3 Rankings and Cherokee remained # 4 behind CBA, Westfield and Union Catholic! The rankings for Week 4 will be strongly affected by the team's performance at Shore Coaches, which MileSplit calls "the unofficial mid-term report!" Full list at NJ.MileSplit.

GO CHEROKEE! Be proud to be a contributor to a top team in New Jersey!

~~ Shore Coaches Invitational ~~


YIKES! On September 30th, members of Cherokee's crack Cross Country team were attacked and disabled by a number of unidentified monsters while warming-up at Holmdel Park! Witnesses described them as flying, fire-breathing and blood-sucking preternatural creatures! Coach Shaklee called them "Bloodsucking demons from Hell" before he fainted! A former high school wrestler only identified as "Reds," pummeled one of the monsters to death and provided the bloody remains to Rutgers Anthropological Department for examination!

But did they affect Cherokee's performance?

When he was released from the hospital, Coach Shaklee bravely ignored the possible impact of "the monsters" when he spoke to our reporter.

"We had some good and some not so good results at the Shore Coaches Meet on Saturday, September 30th.

"The meet started out well for us with Ben Realley winning the freshman championship with a new course record time of 11:04! In winning, Ben also got some revenge on the 2nd place CBA runner who beat him at the Battle of Ocean County Park! Sean Sooy was next for us in 6th place with a fast time and a well-run race! Also finishing in the medals was Gavin Danielewicz in 29th place! In addition, Colin McHale ran faster on this (much harder) course than what he ran at Ocean County Park! As a team, we finished 7th in a field of 21 teams despite missing our #3 runner, Leo Vyvyan.

"The Varsity squad was next and the results were not what we had expected or hoped for. While there were some good performances, most notably Nick Kuenkel - 3rd in 15:49 and Liam Tindall - 24th in 16:53, overall, we ran a sub-par team race to finish 4th behind CBA, Westfield and Cherry Hill East. It was a learning experience for some our guys who are new to varsity level competition. We fully expect to race much better when we return for the state meet!

"The JV squad was led by Dom Pileri and Silas Matteson in 12th and 14th respectively. Both athletes are showing great improvement from last year - Dom running over 2 minutes faster than his previous Holmdel PR and Silas running a couple minutes faster than his lone 5K from last fall (which he ran at Pennypacker Park)! Overall, we once again finished in 4th place, behind CBA, Westfield and CH East.

"Liam Tindall was selected as Athlete of the Meet for his aggressive, foucused and determined racing. Breaking 17:00 at Holmdel is an accomplishment and should be recognized!"

Our photographer survived "the monster" and the weather and didn't need hospitalization! Below he posted a small number of his pictures and they and the rest are available on the District's Google site. Note: he also "cut and pasted" many pictures from friends of Cherokee at NJ.MileSplit, photographers Tom Smith and Mae Kellert! Thanks to both of them!

Best Wishes to Senior Luke Reistle and Junior Tate Midora who are recovering from this year's version of COVID!

Details at: NJ.MileSplit.

Shore Shore Shore Shore Shore
Shore Shore Shore Shore Shore
Shore Shore Shore Shore Shore

~~ South Jersey Track Coaches Association Open ~~

On October 7th, 2023, Cherokee took most of the team to DREAM Park for the South Jersey Track Coaches Association Open. Coach Shaklee sent the following report!

"Running without the team's top 4 runners -- Kuenkel, Poplau, Tindall, Weiner -- and also missing Silas Matteson (SAT's), it was clear we were going in at a disadvantage. However, this team showed up to race and did a good job of it!

"The Freshmen started things off in great fashion by absolutely beating up on the rest of the field! Ben Realley, Sean Sooy, Leo Vyvyan and Gavin Danielewicz took the first 4 spots and Bruce Novoa, running his first race, came through with an 18th place finish to complete the scoring for the team!

"The JV race was next and the team placed second, led by two PR performances up front. Rory Carroll had a breakthrough performance, knocking almost a full minute off of his previous PR to drop under 18:00 and take 4th place overall! Behind him, Liam Deimler kept moving up steadily throughout the race and set a new PR with his 6th place finish! Luke Reistle (7th), Myron Paes (8th) and Nimai Kumar (15th) completed the scoring for the team with both Myron and Nimai very close to their personal bests!Josh Lowery and Charlie Wasserott were also very close to their PR's in 33rd and 43rd place!

"The Varsity squad ran very well to finish second to a very strong CH East squad. Logan Bromley bounced back nicely from an off-day at Shore Coaches last week, He closed very well to finish 8th, just 9 seconds off of his best time from Ocean County Park! Anthony DiBatista broke out of his mini-slump with a new PR to place 12th! Enzo Corona was a second off of his PR in 14th, while Dom Pileri and Andrew Free both set new PR's, finishing 16th and 18th! Tate Midora, coming off of an illness-related absence last week, still managed to tie his PR with a strong finish, placing 22nd!

"The coaches named Sophomore Rory Carroll the Runner of the Meet" after he dropped almost a minute of his 5K PR! In addition, he was our top finisher in the JV race, placing 4th overall! Rory ran a very smart, tough race which led to his nice performance!" GO RORY!


"Next up, the team will look to claim its 10th consecutive Burlington County Championship on Friday, October 13th at Millcreek Park!"

Thankfully, he did not comment on our photographer's performance!

Details at: NJ.MIleSplit.


After shooting more than a thousand pictures at the meet, and in the middle of the penultimate race, our photographer's camera suffered a very unusual glitch. He responded rapidly, following the standard procedures for fixing a glitch, and he inadvertantly erased or misplaced all of his previous pictures . . . including those of our Cherokee athletes!

The bad news: no one has accepted the generous offer to replace our photographer: 3 X his present salary, camera and travel expenses! Coach Shaklee will also throw in the services of Matteo Evola who, we're told, can lift 190 pounds of equipment!

The good news: Just in case, our present photographer will practice the never-before-used routine for fixing a glitch under pressure, and continue to study how those pictures could be lost! Stay tuned!

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