Alyssa Aldridge ran her way to California on Saturday morning.
The Mainland Regional High School sophomore qualified to compete in the Foot Locker National Championships at Balboa Park in San Diego on Dec. 12.
Aldridge finished sixth Saturday in the Northeast Regional at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, New York. The top 10 finishers qualified for the national championships, which are akin to the Super Bowl of high school cross country.
“I’m so beyond excited,” said Aldridge, a Linwood resident, who has never been to California. “One of my goals for the season was to qualify.”
Aldridge, who won the Meet of Champions on Nov. 21, finished Saturday’s 3.1-mile race in 17 minutes, 47.8 seconds. Briana Gess, of Haddonfield, who finished third at the MOC, finished fifth in 17:43.2 to also qualify for nationals. Madeline Davison, of North Allegheny in Pennsylvania, won the regional in 17:39.10.
The MOC is the biggest high school cross country race in New Jersey. It can sometimes be difficult for an MOC winner to recover from the emotional high of winning that race and run well at regionals.
“I gave myself a day or two to celebrate MOC, and then I went back to thinking about regionals,” Aldridge said.
A total of 104 girls stepped to the starting line Saturday. The race featured runners from Maryland to Massachusetts.
Aldridge was among the top six throughout the race.
“I was in good position,” she said. “The start was kind of crowded. I had to fight to make sure I didn’t get cut off.”
Aldridge’s time is the fastest ever run by a Cape-Atlantic League girl at historic Van Cortlandt Park. She is the first CAL girl to qualify for the national championships since Brittany Sedberry, of Ocean City, did it in 2004.
Sedberry helps train and mentor Aldridge. They began working together when Aldridge was in sixth grade.
Foot Locker also sponsored regional races in the West, Midwest and South on Saturday. The top 10 in those regionals also qualified for nationals, making it a field of 40 that will run at Balboa Park.
“I’m really excited,” Aldridge said. “Even if I finished 40th, I’ll be happy I’m out there.”
In other races held Saturday, Mainland’s Richard Earl Heim finished third in the boys senior race in 17:17.2. Zack Csipkay won in 16:44.2
Emily Dirkes of Mainland finished third in the freshman girls race. Her time was not available.