The Cherokee boys ended a championship drought with a victory at the NJSIAA State Group 4 Cross Country Championships Nov. 16 at Holmdel Park.
The Chiefs won its first state title since 2007 with 95 points, finishing ahead of Ridge (123), North Hunterdon (124), Cherry Hill East (124) and West Windsor-Plainsboro South (175) in second through fifth place, respectively.
Senior Ethan Wechsler, the defending state Group 4 champion, finished second to Southern Regional junior Jackson Braddock (15:49) for the second week in a row with an impressive time of 15:51. The duo finished the same a week earlier at the South Jersey Group 4 race at Delsea Regional High School.
“As has been the case all year, Ethan led the way (for us),” said Cherokee coach Stephen Shaklee. “Although he was a little disappointed with his runner-up finish, he did set a new Holmdel course personal record, beating his time from last year’s Meet of Champions by five seconds.”
Senior Chase Miller was Cherokee’s second finisher at 13th place (16:33), followed closely by classmate Tyler Jackson in 15th at 16:34.
“Tyler has shown tremendous improvement,” said Shaklee. “He was 53 seconds faster this year than he was at this meet last year.”
Cherokee’s next finisher at the state meet was junior Brett Shea, who was 28th overall in 16:48.
“Brett is continuing to get better each week after his return from injury and illness. He was a strong 4th man for us, running a seven-second Holmdel PR,” said Shaklee.
Senior Michael Gavio was the final scorer for the Chiefs, placing 54th in 17:05.
“Mike had a bit of an off day but, to his credit, he pushed through and ran well enough as our fifth man to give us the win,” said Shaklee.
Rounding out Cherokee’s showing was junior Daniel Boria (62nd; 17:12) and junior Nico Grilli (77th; 17:27).
“Danny Boria, our sixth man, was the fastest sixth man in the field and Nico Grilli, who was running through a back injury, was the top seventh man in the field. It may not have been our best race, but I give these guys a lot of credit for getting it done. It can be hard to come in as the favorite and they didn’t let the pressure get to them,” said Shaklee.
“It was nice to finally get another state title,” said Shaklee. “It’s been 12 years since our last in 2007. This was our sixth overall with the other four coming consecutively in 1997, 1998, 1999 and 2000. Group 4 is so tough!”
Cherokee will return to Holmdel Park on Saturday, Nov. 23 for the season finale NJSIAA Meet of Champions and face the top teams in the state.
“Our goal for next week is to run a little bit better and contend for a spot in the top 3.”