FRANKLINVILLE >> The Cherokee High School boys cross country team presented its coach with a special birthday gift in the form of capturing the Group 4 title at the NJSIAA South Sectional Championships Nov. 9 at Delsea Regional High School here.

Competing on Coach Stephen Shaklee’s 64th birthday, the Chiefs won the team title with 42 points on the strength of three top 10 finishers. Cherry Hill East and Kingsway were second and third place, respectively, with both teams at 80 points.

The title is the first for Cherokee since 2016 and ninth in school history.

“Going in, we knew that both Cherry Hill East and Kingsway would be tough. But we also knew that, if we raced well, we would win. While it was not perfect, it was a good race for us. Three of the guys set new 5K PRs – senior Chase Miller (4th; 16:01), senior Mike Gavio (14th; 16:21) and junior Brett Shea (16th; 16:23). Brett managed that although he is still building back from an early season injury followed by illness, both of which curtailed his training,” said Shaklee.

“While not running their fastest, the other four guys all came through with good races. Ethan Wechsler (2nd – 15:19) improved on his winning time from last year by 27 seconds and is now the fourth-fastest ever on the Delsea course. Senior Tyler Jackson (6th; 16:12) continued his impressive season with another strong effort, 34 seconds faster than what he ran last year. Junior Nico Grilli (20th; 16:32) did a great job considering he has been hampered by a hip injury that caused him to miss a lot of training since the conference meet. And, although he had a stomach virus that weakened him, Danny Boria (36th; 17:04) still managed to run his second-fastest 5K of the year.”

Wechsler finished behind Southern Regional junior Jackson Braddock, who was victorious in 15:15.

“The individual race between Ethan and Jackson was a good one,” said Shaklee. “Ethan took it out and led most of the race but could not lose Braddock who had the better finish. They’ll go at it again on Saturday (Nov. 16) at Holmdel Park in the Group 4 state meet. I expect it will be another close one and that both runners will run considerably under 16:00.”

Shaklee is looking forward to an exciting state championship race this weekend.

“Team-wise, going into this Saturday, we feel that we have a good opportunity to win if we run what we are capable of, although it will not be easy,” said Shaklee. “The Group 4 field is loaded! It includes six of the top 10 ranked teams in the state (according to milesplit), along with three others who received votes for the top 10. To win, we will need good races from all seven runners. This has been one of our big goals since the start of the year and we will be ready when we take the line on Saturday.”

The Cherokee and Shawnee girls were second and fourth, respectively, in Group 4 as well and have advanced to the state championships this weekend, along with the Seneca girls, who were third in Group 3.

Shawnee senior William Pellegrino qualified as an individual with his ninth-place time of 16:17 in the Group 4 race.

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