Nike Cross Nationals next stop for Christian Brothers’ harriers

By TIM MORRIS
Staff Writer

Tom Heath said his Christian Brothers Academy (CBA) cross-country team is ready.

The Colts, undefeated during another record-shattering season, defended their Nike Cross Nationals Northeast Regional championship on Nov. 30 and heads to Portland, Ore., for the Nike Cross Nationals, where their goal is to regain the national title they won in 2011.

Running as the Brothers XC Club, CBA finished 29 points ahead of runner-up Warrior Track Club (Pennsylvania), 85-114, in securing an automatic berth in the national championship. The regional was held at Bowdoin Park in Wappingers Falls, N.Y.

Leading the way — as he has all year — was senior Mike McClemens. The newly crowned state champion took third (15:49) behind Tony Russell from the Warrior Track Club (15:47) and Middletown High School North’s Tom O’Neill (15:48), whom Mc- Clemens had dethroned as NJSIAA Meet of Champions (MOC) winner the week before.

As the Colts’ leader, McClemens said his goal was to be in the top 20 after 1,000 meters and then work from there.

Tom Rooney (16:11) and Blaise Ferro (16:11) were 11th and 12th in team scoring for the Colts, with Mike Cassidy (16:33) and Nick Trigani (16:33) completing the scoring in 29th and 30th. Greg Paugh (16:34) and Aiden Durney (16:34) finished in 31st and 32nd.

Heath said the game plan at the regional was to “run hard for the first mile and put it in cruise control” for the rest of the race. The goal was to expend as little energy as possible in winning the race. McClemens said the regional was a “dress rehearsal” for the nationals.

“There were a lot of good teams,” he said.

From a CBA standpoint, the race went just as planned, and now they go after the national championship on Dec. 7.

McClemens said the Colts are taking the approach that the Nike race is “just another day at the office.” McClemens is the lone Colts harrier who ran on the 2011 championship team, and he believes this team can win it as well.

“This is the best team I’ve been a part of,” he said.

For his part, McClemens has emerged as one of the program’s best runners.

“He just rounded another gear all of the sudden,” Heath said of his top runner.

Having been a member of the 2011 team and becoming just the second Colts runner to win the MOC, helping CBA win a second national title would cement his legacy in the program. The Colts headed to Portland are McClemens, Ferro, Rooney, Fran Bogan, Cassidy, Trigani and Paugh.

In workouts leading up the regional, Heath had his harriers doing speed work to make them faster and better able to handle the muddy conditions they are likely to face at the national championships. Bowdoin Park gave the Colts a good preview, as it was muddy from the midweek rains.

Twenty teams will compete at the championships. There were eight qualifying regionals, and the top two teams qualified. Four at-large selections round out the field. Also, the top five individuals from nonqualifying teams qualify for the individual championship. O’Neill is one of those individual qualifiers.

The Nike Cross Nationals course in a manmade layout inside the Portland Meadows horse racetrack. Among the highlights, or lowlights, is leaping over bails of hay that are placed around the course. When CBA won the title in 2011, it scored 91 points.

Twenty teams will compete at the championships. There were eight qualifying regionals, and the top two teams qualified. Four at-large selections round out the field. Also, the top five individuals from nonqualifying teams qualify for the individual championship. O’Neill is one of those individual qualifiers.