By JOHN HAPP
Special to the Sun
On a rainy Saturday in early November, the Cherry Hill East boys cross country team won their third consecutive South Jersey Group IV Sectional Championship at Delsea High School in Franklinville. It was the Cougars’ seventh sectional championship. They are the first Group IV school to win three consecutive titles since Cherokee won four in a row from 1997 to 2000. Senior Aaron Groff won the sectional with the best time of the day for all groups when he completed the 5,000 meter race in a time of 15:25.3. It is the fourth fastest winning time since sectionals moved to Delsea in 2002. Groff is only the third Cherry Hill East male runner to win a sectional title and the first since 1983 when Bill Stewart did it. The other sectional title winner was Bruce Miller in 1981. Finishing 28 points behind East was Olympic Conference rival Cherokee. The rest of the top five in order, which all advanced to the state finals, was Jackson, Southern Regional and Kingsway.
Cherry Hill East had another strong year putting their first six finishers all in the top 25. Finishing second for the Cougars was senior Isaiah Jean-Baptiste who finished tenth in a time of 16:26.6. He was followed by senior Cole Parsons who was twelfth and who took almost 20 seconds off his 2014 sectional time. Next was a pair of juniors with Marc Meltzer (14th) at 16:31.6 and Tyler Parsons (17th) in a time of 16:33.0. Tyler Parsons just joined the cross country team this year after having played soccer his first two years at East. Senior Ryan Federline was 25th in a time of 16:43.8, and junior Noah Preihs finished 56th.
In the Group IV state finals held at the iconic Holmdel course the first five runners for Cherry Hill East all broke 17 minutes and finished in the top 36 in the field of 147. This was slightly better than their championship last year when the first five runners were in the top 38 of the field. Unfortunately also competing in Group IV was Central champion Old Bridge High School, which finished the day with the best team time for all groups. East score of 83 was only eight points higher than their championship score in 2014. Old Bridge’s score of 54 ties Mainland (2003) as the record for the best winning score in the last 20 years. East had the fourth best times of the day of the 117 schools that qualified for the state finals. Their team times would have been good enough to win four of the other group finals.
For the second year in a row, Groff finished second in the group in a time of 15:37, which was an 18 second improvement from 2014. Groff also had the second fastest time of the 857 male runners. It was also third fastest time ever by a Camden County runner at Holmdel, which has been the site of the state finals since 1979, and the fastest time run by a Camden County runner in the last 27 years when Jason DiJoseph of Paul VI ran a 15:16 in 1988. Jean-Baptiste (19th) was second for Cherry Hill East with his time of 16:39, which was a 17 second improvement from 2014 and the 8th best time ever for an East runner in the state finals. Third for East was Meltzer (22nd) at 16:43, a 25 second improvement and the 9th best time ever. Fourth was Tyler Parsons (26th) with a time of 16:49. He was followed by his brother Cole Parsons (36th) at 16:54, which was a team best 40-second improvement. Federline came in at 17:29 and Preihs at 17:46.
By finishing second in the state finals, Cherry Hill East qualified for the Meet Of Champions for the third year in a row. Only the top three teams from each group qualify for the MOC. The third team qualifying from Group IV was Olympic Conference rival Cherokee. In the elite twenty-team field East finished eighth overall and had the third best time for a team from South Jersey behind Haddonfield and Cherokee. Groff, who has committed to the University of Pennsylvania for next year, finished third in the entire state.