NJSIAA Group Cross-Country Championships

Southern’s Braddock Becomes Boys Cross-Country Program’s First Group IV Champion

By DAVID BIGGY | Nov 19, 2019
Photo by: David Biggy Southern's Jackson Braddock outraces Cherokee's Ethan Wechsler to the finish line to capture the NJSIAA Group IV championship at Holmdel Park on Nov. 16.

Southern Ocean County — At this time last year, Jackson Braddock could barely walk, never mind run. Six months ago, he was still wondering if he should continue running.

“I was at a low point, kind of starting over again, and I really had to think about whether I’d keep running,” said the Southern Regional junior, who on Nov. 16 became the boys cross-country program’s first NJSIAA Group IV champion. “I had a pinched nerve in my back and it really messed up my ability to run for a while. But I had the support of my family, and Coach (Scott) Baker was there with me through it all. I decided I really wanted to get back to it for the team.”

Even though Braddock was running as part of the team in the group meet, after the Rams qualified as a group in the previous week’s South Jersey sectional meet, he mainly was competing for an individual crown, with Cherokee senior Ethan Wechsler – who Braddock edged for the sectional title – the guy most figured would be on his heels.

At several points during the 3.1-mile race at Holmdel Park, Wechsler had the lead on Braddock, who had zipped to the front of the field during the first mile.

“We were back and forth for a while. I took the lead and twice he came back to take the lead from me,” Braddock said. “We came down near the tennis courts and he took the lead again, then I started working the downhills to get by him. I was kind of throwing myself down the hills, trying to keep my form as much possible. Thankfully, I didn’t tumble, and I passed him later in the woods.”

When Braddock and Wechsler, the defending Group IV champ, exited the woods and raced into the clearing about 300 meters from the finish line, Braddock was out front by a few strides, but Wechsler began sprinting up behind him. Braddock kicked into the next gear and maintained a two-stride gap the rest of the way, crossing the line in 15 minutes, 49 seconds, two seconds ahead of Wechsler.

“Ethan’s a great runner and it was tougher to beat him this time,” Braddock said. “Coming out of the woods, I really couldn’t tell where he was. I could hear his steps behind me, but I didn’t know how close he was. I was just running with everything I had left at that point. I knew he was going to try to catch me and I wasn’t going to underestimate him for a second.”

Braddock joined Danielle Tauro and Jillian Smith as the only Rams to ever win Group IV championships. Tauro did it in 2005 and 2006, before Smith did it in 2007. Whether Braddock can become Southern’s first male state champ will be answered on Saturday, Nov. 23, during the Meet of Champions, also at Holmdel Park.

The competition is going to be fierce, for sure. In Saturday’s other group championships, several runners registered faster times on the Holmdel course. In Group III, Mendham’s Jack Jennings won with a time of 15:19, while second-place finisher Liam Murphy of Allentown was right behind in 15:21. Cinnaminson’s Austin Gabay won the Group II title in 15:48. Christian Brothers Academy’s Shaw Powell, who Braddock beat to win the Shore Conference crown several weeks ago, won the Non-Public A title in 16:00.

“I feel confident going into the Meet of Champions, but I don’t know who else is out there from another group who might be at the front,” Braddock said. “I’m definitely not going to underestimate anybody. I’m just going to run my race and do my best to win.”

For Southern, Tim Sincavage finished 33rd overall with a time of 16:56, while Michael Chanda came through the finishing chute in 86th at 17:39, Keoni Leiter ended up 104th in 17:58, and Jayant Jani finished 120th in 18:14, as the Rams placed 13th as a team.

Prior to the boys’ race, the Southern girls took on the cold and windy conditions and placed 17th as a squad. Senior Jaelyn D’Amelio ended her cross-country career by leading the Rams, crossing the line in 82nd place with a time of 20:58.

“After the first hill, I felt good, so I just went for it,” D’Amelio said. “Basically, we just wanted to give it everything we had because it was either going to end this week or next so we just had to put it out there.”

Freshman Mia Mastrogiovanni was second to the finish for Southern, coming in 89th place with a time of 21:12, and sophomore Rachel Short was close behind in 91st at 21:16. Senior Emily Furlong capped her career with a time of 21:44, good enough for 103rd place.

“The first half of the race was pretty bad, but the second half I got a little stronger and was able to pick up my pace a bit,” Furlong said. “It was tough with the wind and the cold. The idea today was to run as fast as you can and as hard as you can, but it was really hard in these conditions.”

Sophomore Olivia Horton was the fifth Ram to finish, crossing the line in 113th place with a time of 21:57.

As for the Pinelands Regional girls, coach Holly Egan’s Wildcats finished in 16th as a team in Group II, as senior Jolie Zaccaria led the way in the final race of her career.

“It was nice to be with my teammates for my last race,” said Zaccaria, who finished 59th overall in 21:41. “We were happy to be here as a team because this is a tough race to qualify for as a team. It’s a privilege to be able to run in this race, but it was a tough course and it’s windy and cold, so I’m happy to be done with it. I was running today for fun.”

Freshmen Amy Dillinger and Skye Newsome turned in a pair of solid races – Dillinger crossing the line in 109th at 22:58 and Newsome coming through the chute in 123rd at 24:08 – as they now take the reins from Zaccaria and lead the Wildcats toward next season.

“This is a tough race because the course is really hard,” Dillinger said. “But it’s really cool to be here and run against the best girls in the state. This should give us some confidence going into our next season. We just need to keep working hard together to keep getting better.”

Sophomores Jessica Cheney and Nadya Sturies were Pinelands’ fourth and fifth scorers, finishing in 130th and 131st with respective times of 24:50 and 25:03.

“This is a big step for our program, especially because we have such a young group of girls,” Egan said. “This is the third year in a row we’ve been here for this race, but with such a young team I’m planning to have some more great years ahead with a lot of them.

“This was the endgame for us. The fact we’re the last ones from our school standing this season is a great accomplishment and I’m proud of our girls for that.”


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