Seniors Ryan Rafferty led the way for the boys team and Caitlin O’Brien sparked the girls team as Jackson Memorial High School’s cross-country squads advanced into the Group IV championships Nov. 14 at Holmdel Park. It’s the first advance by the boys into the Group IV championships since 2007.
Rafferty clocked a time of 15:36.75 on the Delsea Regional High School course for second place in South Jersey Group IV. State elite runner Aaron Groff of Cherry Hill High School East was the winner in 15:25.29, opening up a 10-second lead after the first mile and then pulling away to a comfortable cushion. Rafferty’s familiar rival, Scott Flavin of Toms River High School North, was eight seconds back in third place.
“It’s an awesome thing [advancing to the group meet], and it’s awesome to be a part of something that hasn’t been done since 2007,” said Rafferty, who is looking to return to the NJSIAA Meet of Champions (MOC) for a second straight year — he also qualified for the indoor and outdoor MOC in the 1,600 meters the past two years. “To have it being a team effort is indescribable. It’s great because most of the time your teammates find a way to make you feel better and to feel comfortable for many races.
“I told the guys you can be excited for so long and then you have to figure out what you have to do by the middle of the week. I want to see them all have their heads screwed on straight for this.”
Sophomore Clayton Engle, the No. 2 runner for the Jaguars throughout the season, finished 22nd in 16:39.98 in the sectionals, and junior Dan Claudeo was 28th in 16:47.95. The Jaguars finished third in the team standings.
The top five teams advance into the group meet. Jeff Stewart reinforced the advance, finishing 31st in 16:49.87, and junior Joe Giglio was 43rd in 17:09.14.
“This is the icing on the cake. We were hoping for maybe a fifth-place finish for the final spot going to groups behind Cherry Hill East and Cherokee and behind Toms River North and Southern from the Shore Conference, and to finish third is super,” Jackson Memorial boys coach Steve Theobald said. “Four of our seven guys ran personal bests. This has been our goal coming off last year when we had only one senior.”
Rafferty has done his part all season, winning the Ocean County meet ahead of Flavin in 15:24 at Ocean County Park and finishing third in the Shore Conference meet behind Flavin and Christian Brothers Academy’s Brian Dengler.
“It’s kind of a rivalry with Flavin, but we work off each other,” said Rafferty, who looks to get under 16 minutes at Holmdel Park. “If I don’t, it will be just an OK year. But this is a pretty good time to run in groups. I felt under control in sectionals and had more left in the tank at the end. Now I have to be up for the big guys. I’m not much of a hills guy, like at Holmdel, but I’m really working on it. We’ll see what happens.”
Rafferty has made official visits to the University of Maryland, Rutgers University and Monmouth University, and he expects to make his college decision soon. He has qualified for the Foot Locker Nationals later this month at Van Cortlandt Park.
Theobald said that to be one of the three teams advancing out of the Group IV meet to the MOC is tough considering half of the 20 teams in that group are among the top 20 ranked teams in the state. Theobald said his team is just off that elite group.
But he’s seen his regular runners rise to the occasion along with Giglio, who had a quality effort at sectionals, sophomore Dan Sharo, who has improved greatly the past year, and senior Justin Carlton.
“I credit coach Theo, who gets into everybody’s heads, and [assistant] coach [Kevin] Schickling, who works the numbers and how we’re going to do it with the training,” Rafferty said.
As for the girls, O’Brien finished third in 18:38.66 as Jackson Memorial’s girls nailed down the fifth and final spot to qualify for the group meet.
Kennedy Gerrat also ran strongly in 18:50.78 for seventh place. Paige Hurle also picked up a lot of points, as she was timed in 20:00.57 for 25th place. Kaitlin Sauickie (41st, 20:42.01), Kayley Wilson (53rd, 21:08.35) and Claudia Besse (54th, 21:10.19) bolstered the Jaguars.
Jackson Liberty High School’s team ended its season quietly at Thompson Park in Jamesburg. Dan Duffy led the boys in Central Jersey Group III with a time of 17:26.47 for 16th place. Chris Raimondi was the next Jackson Liberty finisher in 18:42.60 for 59th, and Matt Vargas was two places back in 18:44.12. Matt Hickman placed 70th in 19:07.54.
Freshman Samantha Corallo was the top finisher for Jackson Liberty’s girls, clocked 23:26.79 for 53rd place. Paige Donegan was 77th in 26:24.98.
New Egypt High School’s boys finished short of advancing out of Central Jersey Group I with an eighth-place finish, led by Griffin Hinrichsen in 17:56.70 for 15th place. Austin Hornert (19:06.85) and Sean Callaghan (19:12.23) finished 31st and 34th, respectively. James Sonday crossed the finish line in 20:02.26 for 58th, and Zack Young was right behind in 59th in 20:02.86.
Tiffany Bautista was the top finisher for New Egypt’s girls team in 24:01.01 for 31st. Danielle Sibart was 49th in 25:49.51.