ALLENTOWN: Murphy excited about MOC berth

By Justin Feil, The Packet Group
   There was the briefest moment of disappointment when Conor Murphy crossed the finish line in 11th place at the Group III state cross country meet Saturday at Holmdel Park.
   The Allentown High School junior had missed an automatic entry to the Meet of Champions by one place and only four seconds.
   ”I wanted top 10,” Murphy said. “Especially in Group III, it’s the hardest group for all the races. I was bummed out at first, but I ran a good time. Coach (Brian) Harshman did a good job of cheering me up and telling me he thought I had gotten in. He was right.”
   It wasn’t the first time that Harshman has been right with Murphy. Harshman saw talent in Murphy, who ran spring track in his freshman year after playing soccer.
   ”It wasn’t speed, it was always endurance which was something I had,” Murphy said. “I guess it paid off.”
   The next fall, the one-time midfielder gave up soccer for cross country.
   ”It was difficult,” Murphy said. “I’ve been playing soccer my entire life. When I did spring track, when I met Coach Harshman — I think that was his first year coaching here — I really liked spring track. He said I have a talent and should come out for cross country. I listened to him and I’m glad I did.”
   Murphy’s 16:20 clocking at Holmdel on Saturday earned him the first wild card entry into the Meet of Champions. He is the first Allentown male to reach the MOC.
   ”It feels really good,” said Murphy, who will race at 11:45 a.m. at Holmdel this Saturday. “I’m really excited.”
   The berth in the MOC caps what has been a breakout year for Murphy. He had run in promising fashion as a sophomore in his first year of cross country.
   ”By the end of cross country season sophomore year, he was our No. 1 guy,” Harshman said. “This year as a junior, he kept getting better and better and better. I think that now he really believes he belongs. It’s kind of neat to watch his progress. Every time we’ve raised the bar, he’s met or exceeded our expectations. It’s really been a lot of fun.”
   Murphy has been pleased with his progress. He’s gotten more comfortable with what he can do and the MOC berth is the icing on the cake.
   ”I had a really good season,” Murphy said. “I really didn’t think it would happen a couple weeks ago.”
   He has finished well over the final championship races. He was fifth at the Mercer County Championships, and it was an eye-opening 16:11 that gave him confidence.
   ”I was really happy with that,” Murphy said. “The week before I ran the same exact time at Veterans Park. I was definitely really happy with that.”
   Murphy followed up the county meet by running to fourth at the Central Jersey Group III race to advance to the group race as an individual.
   ”They really have built on each other,” Harshman said. “His fifth-place finish at counties, he ran 16:16 at Washington’s Crossing which is a real good time at Washington Crossing, and looking at that, I knew he had a good shot of making it through sectionals to groups.
   ”We had hoped to make it as a team. Then he come back and runs 16:11 at Thompson Park and he’s fourth at sectionals, and one of the guys he gets beat by was the Meet of Champs champions. I was looking at the results from our section, Central Jersey Group III, and we’re stacked, not just with teams, but with individuals.”
   While the Allentown team wasn’t in the race this week, they have helped to make Murphy a better runner. His team experience has been so positive that it has encouraged him to continue his training as he represents the Redbirds.
   ”We’re definitely working harder this year,” Murphy said. “Last year was my first year, everything was new to me. This year I’m more serious, more competitive, the same with all my teammates. It’s coming along better this year.”
   He credits his team with helping him continue to grow as a runner. They helped to push him to a MOC qualifying time.
   ”From Coach Harshman and my teammates, they motivated me this week,” Murphy said. “I was really excited going into it.”
   The MOC berth is big for his running resume. It’s something that he didn’t necessarily expect this year. When he steps back to look at how far he has come, he is surprised.
   ”I think I’m ahead of it,” Murphy said of his expectation. “Last year, my best time for the season was at sectionals, 17:18. I didn’t think I’d be running a minute faster from then. I think I exceeded my expectations.”
   Murphy is hopeful that he can go even faster this week. It will be his final race of the cross country season against the state’s top runners, the perfect formula for a personal record.
   ”There’s going to be a lot of really fast kids,” Murphy said. “I’m going to use that to push me to run a faster time. I haven’t thought about place wise. I ran 16:20 and I’m hoping to run faster at Meet of Champs, and there will be enough fast guys to help me do that.”
   Murphy is still fairly new to running the high level races. This is only his third race at the famed Holmdel course. He also ran the Shore Coaches Invitational there last year and this year, and the group meet last week.
   ”It’s definitely the most challenging course, there’s no doubt about that,” Murphy said. “Harshman gave me a couple race strategies, how to approach it, especially for this race. It’s been a month and a half since I ran there at Shore Coaches. I’ve definitely improved a lot. I guess with experience, I’m getting better at this course.”
   He is also getting better as a runner as he gets more time at it. Last year was the first time that he had gone continuously for a year, from cross country to indoor track to outdoor track.
   ”I have a lot more experience now,” Murphy said. “I’m really happy I have Coach Harshman and all my teammates supporting me. I’ve come through individually for groups and Meet of Champs. I’ve had a lot of support and it’s given me confidence the last couple of races.”
   At the group meet, Murphy kept his season going strong. His race came together to put him in position for a wild card.
   ”He ran a fantastic race there,” Harshman said. “We believed he could be in the top 10 at groups. He put himself right in the race. He ran a perfect race. He was under control through the first 800 or so, right within the top 12 to 13 (runners) at the mile. He made a real nice move over the last mile. He was just out of the top 10. He ran really, really well. He ran smart.
   ”He finishes races and he has big smile on his face. He’s having a good time. It’s fun to watch.”
   Harshman is looking forward to seeing Murphy’s finish Saturday, and looking forward to seeing what Murphy will do with another full season of cross country next year.
   ”We always talk about that they have to dream big,” Harshman said. “He looks around and sees other kids he can run with and starts to believe he can compete with about anybody. That’s the kind of attitude it takes to be successful. I really don’t know. I’m sure he’ll keep surprising us.”
   Conor Murphy has already come quite a ways since he started running cross country last year, and he’s intent on keeping the momentum going through this Saturday and beyond after coming so far so soon.
   ”I guess I’m just rolling with things now before I look back,” Murphy said. “I really am having a great time.”