The Lady Chiefs Tribe cross country team placed fifth overall at the Holmdel Invitational Nov. 25 at Holmdel Park.

A non-sanctioned New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) competition, the Holmdel Invite was put together to allow teams the opportunity to race at Holmdel – the site of the state group championships, as well as the Meet of Champions - against the top competition in the state running as clubs.

The NJSIAA canceled this year’s group championships and all-group meet due to the COVID-19 pandemic

“It was truly an honor to have the girls compete with the nine teams that were invited along with the top individuals that were also invited,” said Cherokee coach Mark Jarvis. “The girls new going into the race that this wasn't going to be easy. The stage was certainly set with higher competition than they had seen all season. We welcomed the challenge, and more importantly I wanted the girls the opportunity to race at Holmdel, which for many of them was their first time ever.”

Despite missing freshman Kerry O'Day, who was Cherokee’s top finisher (2nd; 19:56) at the NJSIAA South Sectional Championships Nov. 14, the team finished fifth with 144 points, four better than sixth-place Meadowridge Harriers Club and five ahead of fifth-place Lancer Strong.

“The depth of our team was on true display,” said Jarvis.

Sophomore Kelsey Niglio was the top finisher for the Lady Chiefs Tribe, running a Holmdel personal record 20:32 time for 39th place.

Niglio was followed closely by freshman Olivia Parkinson (40th; 20:34), junior Nikki Clifford (41st; 20:41), freshman Alaina Bromley (42nd; 20:42), junior Noelle Falzone (57th; 21:34), freshman Allison Rathman (58th; 21:45) and freshman Emma Parkinson (66th; 22:17).

Parkinson's time breaks Cherokee freshman record at Holmdel, which was set by Niglio (20:46, 70th place) in last year’s state Group 4 championships.

Lawrenceville School junior Charlotte Bednar was the overall winner in a course-record time of 17:21, which was 15 seconds ahead of runner-up, Wayne Hills junior Angelina Perez (17:36, 2nd).

“It was certainly an exciting race when you saw Bednar and Perez battling up front for most of the race and then to see Bednar post the second-fastest time ever run by a high school female was just insane,” said Jarvis.

“If you had asked me in the middle of the summer whether I thought, we would be running at Holmdel at the end of the season I would have said no. Mainly because we didn't even know what kind of season we were going to have at that point.”

Jarvis was happy his South Jersey Group 4 sectional championship team got an invite to compete with the best in the state.

“The one thing that sticks out most to me is that these girls got the opportunity to reach the highest stage in the state,” said Jarvis. “That is a goal that has been on all of their minds since the start of the season. To take four freshmen up to Holmdel to race is pretty exciting.”

South Brunswick senior Vidhur Polam won the boys race in 15:32, finishing eight seconds ahead of runner-up, Colts Neck senior Matt Bogdan (15:40).

Haddonfield Running Club (52) and Brothers Track Club (48) were girls and boys team champions, respectively.

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