Alyssa Aldridge dreamed of cross country success before her freshman year at Mainland Regional High School.
Now a junior, she has exceeded her expectations.
Aldridge this fall established herself as one of the best runners in New Jersey high school cross country history.
“Alyssa runs in rarified air,” Mainland coach Brian Smith said.
Aldridge became just the ninth girl to win consecutive Meet of Champions titles. She won the Foot Locker Northeast Regional and finished 13th in the Foot Locker Cross Country National Championships in San Diego on Saturday to earn third-team all-American status. Aldridge also defended her Atlantic County, Cape-Atlantic League and South Jersey and state Group III titles.
She is The Press Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year.
“I remember thinking my eighth grade year maybe I could win (the county championship) or maybe even the CAL,” she said.
As an eighth-grader in 2013, Aldridge watched on a computer as Briana Gess of Haddonfield finished 13th in the national race.
“I was like, ‘Wow, that’s amazing,’” Aldridge said. “I don’t know if I ever thought I could get (to that race), but I definitely knew I wanted to get there.”
Aldridge has moved so fast this fall she hasn’t had a chance to fully appreciate the history she made.
“I haven’t had a time to sit back and reflect,” she said. “I’ve always been looking at the next race coming up. I think after the season is done I can sit back and take a deep breath and kind of realize what
Team of the Year
The Mainland Regional girls cross country team began the season with a 27-28 win over rival Ocean City. It was the Mustangs’ first win over Ocean City since 1998.
Mainland’s success continued throughout the fall.
The Mustangs won the South Jersey Group III championship for their first sectional title since 1981.
The Mustangs finished eighth in the final Press Elite 11, the top team from Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland and southern Ocean counties.
Mainland is The Press Team of the Year.
“The Ocean City win was a huge victory, not only from the athletic standpoint but also from the viewpoint of just getting over that hump,” coach Brian Smith said. “It got the girls to believe this is a team that can win championship.”
Smith gave credit to the senior captains Emily Forester, Kelly Glenn and Aida Berger for keeping the team focused.
“The girls took pride in the fact they wanted to surround Alyssa with a championship team,” Smith said.
“That was a huge motivation for us. Having Alyssa set the stage and then the rest of the girls saw the work that gets put in. They saw the acclaim they comes with winning championships. To their credit, they wanted to be a part of that too.”
Coach of the Year
Brian Smith became the Mustangs’ coach four seasons ago.
Mainland is 30-4 since he took over. Smith is The Press Coach of the Year.
“We started at the end of June this year,” Smith said. “We increased the mileage the girls ran from last year to this year. The girls believed they could handle the mileage. They kept going and felt they had the fitness and the speed. These girls saw themselves improve week to week. They saw their hard work paying off.”