By JOHN HAPP
Special to the Sun
The season came to an end for the Cherry Hill East girls’ cross country team at the South Jersey Group IV sectionals at Delsea High School in Franklin Township. The team had hoped to return to the state finals again after missing it last year. At the start of the season, the team was optimistic as it returned three all-conference runners. Unfortunately, junior Greer Field, who last year was first team all-conference, was lost due to injury before the season started. Then just before the championship competitions, junior Carrie Baeckstrom, another all-conference runner, and senior Jill Ranes saw their season end prematurely due to injury. Although these were big loses it was also an opportunity for other runners to establish themselves.
Two rookie runners that made an impact this year were freshman Dani Lazarus and sophomore Jill Westman. Both runners finished the year strong and were named to the all-Olympic Conference teams. Lazarus had considered playing soccer before committing to cross-country. Lazarus won the freshmen races at Holy Cross in late September and the Haddonfield Invitational in late October. Over the summer Westman moved to Cherry Hill from Texas and joined the cross-country team, which had already started summer workouts. In the Olympic Conference Championship Westman took almost two minutes off her personal record and broke 22 minutes for the first time.
This year’s team was led by their senior captains. Ranes and Soverno Chen kept varsity strong in spite of the injuries and Marissa Meyers had a strong year after losing all of her junior year to injury. Ranes was the only East runner to set a course PR on a cold and rainy Saturday at Holmdel Park, which is the tough and challenging course that hosts the state finals each November. Chen had her best run of the year at the Haddonfield Invitational when she broke 23 minutes with a time of 22:26. Meyers also had her best run of the year at the Haddonfield Invitational at Pennypacker Park in late October. Others setting PRs at the Haddonfield Invitational were juniors Rachel Allen and Abigail Roncace and sophomore Maddy Levin.
For the team to advance to the State Group IV finals they needed to finish in the top five of the South Jersey sectionals. Unfortunately for Cherry Hill East, the South Jersey Group IV Sectional may have been the toughest group sectional in the state as it features four schools ranked in the top twelve of the entire state. Kingsway, ranked fifth in the state, finished first; Shawnee, ranked sixth and Olympic Conference Champions, finished second; Southern Regional, ranked 11th finished third; and Clearview, ranked 12th, finished fourth.
Cherry Hill East was led by Lazarus, who finished 44th in a time of 20:47 and who is only the second freshman to be the top East finisher in the last nineteen years. Next was a pair of juniors: Taegan Field (47th), who also broke 21 minutes, and Alexa Happ (70th). Freshman Erin Krassan was fourth and had her best run of the year when she broke 23 minutes for the first time. The other varsity runners for East were Chen, Allen and Roncace.
In Olympic Conference action the girls finished third in the American Division behind Washington Township and Cherokee, and finished eighth overall in the Conference Championship behind Shawnee, which won the conference title for the third year in a row. Seneca also finished second for the third straight year. This year, four Cherry Hill East runners were selected to the all-conference teams. Junior Taegan Field was named first Team All-Conference, and Lazarus, Happ and Westman were named second Team All-Conference. This was the third consecutive year that Field was named to an All-Conference team. Cherry Hill East ran three freshmen in the conference championship and all set personal records for the year. Krassan took over two minutes off her previous PR and broke 24 minutes for the first time. Sarah Brown also took almost two minutes off her best time and broke 25 minutes for the first time in competition.
In the Camden County Championship held for the first time in Timber Creek Park in Gloucester Township, the Cougars finished third behind Paul VI and Bishop Eustace.