Barnegat High School's Matt Nelson will defend his Group II title and Lacey Township's Danielle Leavitt will look to improve on last year's impressive performance at today's state group cross country championships at 10 a.m. at Holmdel Park in Monmouth County.

Nelson won last year's Group II boys race in 16 minutes, 19 seconds. Leavitt finished fourth (19:07) in the Group III girls race.

Both are top contenders in their respective races again this year.

The top three teams in each group race, plus two wild card teams, will advance to the Meet of Champions on Wednesday at Holmdel.

The top 10 individual finishers in each group race and 10 wild-card runners will advance as well.

The Ocean City girls are a favorite in Group III. The Red Raiders are led by standout runners Bridget Flynn and MaryKate Brelsford.

Brelsford and Egg Harbor Township's Abby Shafer each earned a wild-card spot to qualify individually for last year's MOC.

The Pleasantville boys are a contender again this year in Group II.

Lou Corgliano of Hammonton is another individual favorite, having finished ninth in Group III last year.

The Ocean City boys, led by senior Kevin Scott, could have a shot at the top three in Group III.

Scott and Pleasantville's Isaac Clark also received MOC berths as wild cards last season.

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