MOUNT HOLLY >> The Cherokee High School boys cross country team continued its reign in the county - evident by its individual and team titles - at the Burlington County Open championships Oct. 31 here.
Senior captain Nico Grilli led the field of 66 finishers with a winning time of 16:28 for his first Open crown at the Rancocas Valley Sports Complex.
Senior captain Brett Shea was in second place 13 seconds later at 16:41 to help the Chiefs to their seventh consecutive county team title with 35 points.
Cherokee has won the county championships 20 times in the last 26 years and 22 times in school history.
Grilli’s win marks the 10th time since 1995 that Cherokee has had an individual county champion, joining Tim Haggerty (1995), Marc Pelerin (2001), Keith Krieger (2002), Alex Yersak (2006, 2007), Shawn Wilson (2012), Nick Falk (2014, 2015) and Justin Kelly (2017).
And for the first time since 2000 when it was at Freedom Park in Medford, the Open was held somewhere other than the famed Mill Creek Park “hill” course in Willingboro.
“It was weird to compete for the county championship at a course other than Mill Creek,” said Cherokee coach Jeff Thompson, whose school also hosted the open from 1994 to 1988. “However, in a year that continually reminds us that we aren’t in control, we’re grateful for every opportunity we are given to compete, and Saturday was no exception. From what we have seen, the Rancocas Valley course runs fairly fast, but the wet conditions leading up to the race - and the sub-32 temperatures the night before - made for a slower course.”
Finishing behind Grilli and Shea for the Chiefs were: senior Dylan Odud (7th; 17:03), sophomore Patrick Ditmars (12th; 17:18), sophomore Conor Jacob (13th; 17:24) and junior Tyler Popler (17th; 17:32).
“We came in (to the open) liking our chances to win the meet, but with the other talented runners in Burlington County, we were careful not to take anything for granted,” said Thompson, whose team a week earlier finished second to Cherry Hill East in the Olympic Conference championships. “Nico and Brett ran smart races, finishing in first and second place, helping us achieve our team goal.”
Shawnee placed second at the Burlington County Open with 80 points, 45 behind Lenape district-rival and team champion Cherokee.
Senior John Ruona finished third overall in 16:48 behind Cherokee’s Nico Grilli (16:28, 1st) and Brett Shea (16:41, 2nd).
Other finishers for the Renegades were: senior Robert Birdsall (14th; 17:29), junior Alex Campagna (18th; 17:38), senior Dylan Hansen (21st; 18:04), sophomore Ryan Czechowski (24th; 18:14), freshman Ryan Kaczur (29th; 18:26) and sophomore Elijah Nix (41st; 19:30).
Lenape placed fourth at the county championships with 99 points, eight behind third-place Moorestown.
Junior Jake Buniva (17:15), sophomore Colin Hermack (17:15) and junior John Reilly (17:17) were the first finishers for the Indians in ninth through 11th place, respectively.
Other Lenape finishers were: senior Brett Boyle (32nd; 18:44), junior Nick Volpe (37th; 19:07), sophomore Andrew Dove (45th; 19:46) and junior Tyler Walters (57th; 20:20).
“The boys ran well in these cold conditions,” said Lenape coach Gerald Richardson. The only PR was John Reilly, I believe he can go even faster on a warmer day. My guys did say they liked the course, but it had too many turns. The layout of the course was easy to navigate for the most part. Not running at Mill Creek is a little disappointing, but I am just happy everyone had the opportunity to run this season.”
Senior Kenny Stout (38th; 19:08) was Seneca’s top finisher in the Burlington County Open as the Golden Eagles were 10th in team standings with 271 points.
Also finishing for Seneca were: senior Jimmy Demetrios (51st; 20:11), freshman Reindell Bailey (59th; 20:25), sophomore Justin Schmied (61st; 20:32), sophomore Matt Kerchofer (62nd; 21:31), junior Colby Welusz (63rd; 21:42) and sophomore Kyle Kerchofer (65th; 23:16).