HAMMONTON – Alyssa Aldridge has dominated the Atlantic County cross country landscape over the last four years like no other girl before.
So it was no surprise to see the sensational Mainland Regional High School senior finish well ahead of the pack in 17 minutes, 19 seconds, to capture her fourth straight county championship Thursday at Hammonton Lake Park.
But this victory was different. Aldridge was coming off a heel bone injury that had limited her this fall to just one meet prior to Thursday.
“I thought I had faced challenges in my previous seasons, but nothing’s been even close to what I’ve had to go through this season,” Aldridge said. “Apart from how hard the racing was, I had to see how tough I was as a person and see if I could persevere through this.”
Aldridge is the first girl to ever win the county championship four straight years. Another difference this year is that her Mainland teammate and running sidekick, Emily Dirkes, did not run because of her own leg injury.
“It’s pretty surreal to have won this four times in a row,” Aldridge said “Going into my freshman year my goal was to just win it once. I remember coming up here in middle school and watching and thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, these girls are so good.’ To be here now is absolutely incredible, and I didn’t even think I was going to be racing here this year, so it just makes it all the more better.”
Mainland's Mikin Patel (15:08) and Nick Berenotto (15:12) finished one-two in the boys race, passing Egg Harbor Township’s Gobi Thurairajah (15:17) in the final 800 yards. Kevin Antczak (fourth) and Tiger Carey (fifth) also had strong runs for Mainland, helping the Mustangs win their second straight team scoring title with 23 points, 21 ahead of second-place EHT.
“The goal was to come out here and do back to back,” said Berenotto, a senior. “EHT has their stud runner (Thurairajah) who was our pacer for most of the race until we got ahead of him. We float back and forth a lot for first and second place, so we know what we’ve got to do to push each other.”
“As soon as we entered the woods I knew that I had to get in front of him because the woods are pretty narrow,” said Patel, a junior. “I started to make a gap towards the end when we came around, and that’s when I started pulling away. I always had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to break 15 (minutes). I was close enough. The place was more important.”
Patel and Berenotto finished behind winner Daniel Do of Absegami in last year’s county race. The goal for the Mustangs was to capture the team scoring title and use it as a springboard for big upcoming meets such as the Cape-Atlantic League championships and the South Jersey Group IV sectionals.
“We don’t take any meet this time of the year ahead of any other,” said coach Dan Heyman. “The county meet is a great meet, and those guys personally wanted to try to finish up there and give it a shot. They were so close last year. They really wanted to move up and they had the opportunity to do that this year, and I’m really excited for them.”
Holy Spirit’s Angela Bannan and Paige Sofield finished second and third, respectively, in the girls race.
Egg Harbor Township put five girls in the top 10 to win the team scoring title with 30 points, well ahead of Mainland (62) and Hammonton (101). EHT’s Madelyn Shick, Gianna Scarangelli, Rachel Roesch, Olivia Shafer and Mikki Pomatto finished fourth through eighth, respectively.
“Every year we set out with the same goals, to win the counties, the (Cape-Atlantic League) and then qualify at the sectionals for the state level,” Shick said. “We just checked off one of those goals today, and we’ll continue with this.”
Sofield, of Holy Spirit, finished third despite “wiping out” coming out of the wooded portion of the three-mile race, badly scraping her leg and elbow. “I was so mad. I did like a full 360 and rolled back up. I knew there was somebody right behind me so I started running as fast as I could.”
Bannan, also a junior, improved on her sixth-place finish a year ago. “I wanted to keep a pace and not go out really fast, and it’s a shorter course,” she said. “This year I wanted to improve a lot, so that was good. It’s a tough course, there’s so many sharp turns.’
Aldridge has committed to Georgetown University on a cross country and track and field scholarship. She will attempt to win her third straight New Jersey Meet of Champions later this fall.
“Getting back out here today, I was really pleased with where I was at,” she said. “I’ve only been back running since early September … so to even be here racing is something that we weren’t expecting. I’m just kind of taking everything in stride and using it as baby steps to keep moving forward.”
1. Mikin Patel M 15:08; 2. Nick Berenott M 15:13; 3. Gobi Thurairajah E 15:17; 4. Kevin Antczak M 15:18; 5. Tiger Carey M 15:21; 6. Mike Liberty O 15:25; 7. Brian Catania E 15:34; 8. Jordan Callahan E 15:35; 9. Keishaun Joga A 15:39; 10. Justin Winkler E 15:43; 11. Lennon Morgan M 15:48; 12. Kyle Antczak M 15:50; 13. Shawn DiBona H 15:52; 14. Arthur Menezes M 15:57; 15. Christian McClam B 16:04.
1. Mainland Regional 23; 2. Egg Harbor Township 44; 3. Absegami 119.
1. Alyssa Aldridge M 17:19; 2. Angela Bannan HS 17:32; 3. Paige Sofield HS 18:06; 4. Madelyn Shick E 18:17; 5. Gianna Scarangelli E 18:21; 6. Rachel Roesch E 18:42; 7. Olivia Shafer E 18:56; 8. Mikki Pomatto E 19:03; 9. Ariana Ramirez ACIT 19:17; 10. Diane Hoffman H 19:40; 11. Alana Sasdelli B 19:44; 12. Hailey Carano B 19:58. 13. Grace Kennedy M 20:02; 14. Jenna Bradberry HS 20:07; 15. Angie Stefanowicz M 20:14.
1. Egg Harbor Township 30; 2. Mainland 62; 3. Hammonton 101.