Kevin Antczak will get off to a slow start this high school cross country season.

That’s by design.

The Mainland Regional senior is one of the state’s top returning runners. He wants to be at his best in November, when the championship meets are held.

“He’s doing as much as ever,” Mainland coach Dan Heyman said. “But we’re dialing it back a little bit early, so he won’t be worn out by the end. It’s a cliche, but you have to pace yourself.”

Antczak will be one of the top cross country stories to follow this fall. The Ocean City and Mainland Regional girls teams are among the South Jersey Group III favorites. The Ocean City boys will try to defend their S.J. Group III title.

But Antczak has a chance to make history. No Press-area boy has ever won the cross country Meet of Champions.

“I’m really excited and motivated for this season,” Antczak said. “I think I have a shot to win the MOC title. There (are) a couple of guys up there that also have a shot. My goal is to hopefully come out on top.”

Antczak emerged as one of the state’s top runners toward the end of last season. He won the Atlantic County, Cape-Atlantic League and S.J. Group III championships. He finished 12th at the state Group III championship at Holmdel Park (Monmouth County). He rebounded from that effort to finish eighth at the Meet of the Champions at Holmdel a week later.

Antczak’s personal-best at Holmdel of 16 minutes, 1 seconds is the fifth fastest ever by a Press-area male runner. Only Louis Corgliano of Hammonton (15:35 in 2014), Greg Hughes of Mainland (15:39 in 2004), Brett Johnson of Ocean City (15:41 in 2008) and Miles Schoedler of Ocean City (15:44 in 2010) have run faster at the hilly course.

“I always compare myself to Greg and his times,” Antczak said. “I never caught any times of his yet, but I’ve come really close.”

Antczak began to run while a pupil at Northfield Community School. His father, Steve, is a runner, and his older brother Kyle also ran for Mainland. But Antczak was not an immediate high school success.

“He was the last guy on our team,” Heyman said with a laugh. “He seemed like he could do a lot more.”

Antczak kept running because he enjoyed being part of the team and had fun at practice no matter where he finished. Heyman noticed a change in Antczak over the final few races of his freshman season.

“He started competing,” the coach said. “He started to realize, ‘Hey, I can do something here.’”

Antczak dropped some weight and began eating and sleeping better.

“I just really like the challenge of trying to be the fastest I can be,” Antczak said. “I really like the adrenaline and the feeling after finishing a race.”

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