HOLMDEL >> To say Cherokee High School senior distance runner Kate Rathman has been hitting her stride as of late would be an understatement.

Take her performance at the NJSIAA Cross Country Meet of Champions Nov. 23 at Holmdel Park for instance.

Rathman, who plans on competing for the University of Delaware next fall, completed perhaps the hardest course in the state with a lifetime personal-best time of 19:02 among the state’s top runners in the biggest meet of the season.

“Well, Kate wanted to go out with a bang and she did just that,” said Cherokee coach Mark Jarvis. “Finishing 13th in a lifetime PR of 19:02 - No. 3 all-time in school history - doesn't really put the whole race into perspective.”

The senior was jockeying for position in the field of 176 runners most of the 5,000-meter race and Jarvis was tracking her every step of the way.

“Kate was in top 30 after the first quarter mile, then moved up to 16th through 800 meters and back to 30th at the mile,” he said. “Heading down into the bowl she was 35th to then move up to 26th at the top of the bowl. She was in 24th place at the two-mile mark, and then in 19th place coming out of the woods at the finish. With a tremendous kick she managed to finish 13th overall.

Rathman’s showing was the third-fastest in school history at Holmdel behind only Megan Lacy (17:55, 1st, 2010 state Group 4 meet) and Lisa Burkholder (18:53, 9th, 2004 Meet of Champions).

Rathman was also the second-fastest finisher from South Jersey, behind only Egg Harbor Township senior Olivia Shafer (18:49, 6th place). North Hunterdon senior Chloe Gonzalez was the overall winner in 17:56.

“This was certainly a huge accomplishment for Kate since this was her first-ever Meet of Champions’ medal,” said Jarvis. “Kate knew (the pace) was going to go out fast and didn't panic. She just stuck to being consistent and knew that would give her an opportunity to do something special.”

In last year’s all-group meet, Rathman was 74th overall in 20:21. As a sophomore, she went under 20 minutes at 19:58, good for 53rd place.

Rathman followed up her impressive Meet of Champions race by placing 44th overall at the Foot Locker Northeast Regional Championships Nov. 30 at Van Cortlandt Park, N.Y. Her 19:19 time was tops among South Jersey runners and sixth-best among New Jersey finishers. It also placed her second on Cherokee’s all-time list, just three seconds behind Alison Weeks’ 19:16 when she won the 2006 junior race.

Jarvis isn’t surprised at all by the outstanding season Rathman had this fall.

“This ended a season where every time Kate stepped foot on a course she ran her course personal record in every meet except the Olympic Conference Championships,” he said.

“Kate has been the backbone of our program for the past four years and will be a hard one to replace next year. I’m excited for the next two seasons (indoor and outdoor track) to see what new heights she can reach.”

Shawnee’s Ruona 33rd in MoC

Shawnee’s Kate Ruona was one of the top finishers this year’s Meet of Champions, placing 33rd overall in 19:27.

“Kate Ruona had a phenomenal cross-country season as a freshman,” said Shawnee coach Dana Palumbo. “Coming into cross country, she had just slightly broken 20 minutes in a local 5K and in the beginning of September she made a goal of breaking 19 minutes.

“Each meet, she got faster and faster, moving from our third runner to our first runner. She broke 19 minutes at the Burlington County Open, Olympic Conference and South Jersey sectionals, where she ran a PR of 18:14. Kate had a strong end of the season at states and Meet of Champions, running 19:06 and 19:27. She is all-county, all-conference, and all South Jersey and we can't wait to see what she does in the future.”

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