The Cougars will try to earn their four straight South Jersey Group IV title this season under new head coach Chris Corey.
By JOHN HAPP
Special to the Sun
The Cherry Hill High School East boys cross country team has an opportunity to do something that has been done only once in the last 20 years. Cherry Hill East is the three-time defending South Jersey Group IV sectional champions. Cherokee is the only school that has won four consecutive sectional championships, doing so from 1997 to 2000. Cherokee is also the school that last year kept the Cougars from winning their third consecutive Olympic Conference cross country championship when the two teams tied with 44 points and had to go to the sixth runner to break the tie.
The challenge for this year’s team is who will step up and replace a quartet of very talented athletes that graduated in June, including Aaron Groff, who last year was the conference and sectional champion and is now running for the University of Pennsylvania; Cole Parsons, a three-time varsity athlete who is now competing for The College of New Jersey; Isaiah Jean-Baptiste, who made the spring track Meet of Champions in the 800m, finished as the 10th best in the entire state and will be running for Rider this fall; and Ryan Federline, who finished 25th in South Jersey last year and will now be running for Rowan.
The loss of runners to graduation is significant, however Cherry Hill East returns a number of strong seasoned runners that will still have them as the team to beat in the Olympic Conference and South Jersey. The Cougars are led by a strong senior class that includes Tyler Parsons, who ran cross country competitively for the first time last year and made the all-Olympic Conference American Division second team, Marc Meltzer, who has been running varsity for three years and is the only freshman in the last 20 years to run for Cherry Hill East in the MOC; Josh Dillon, who missed all of his junior season due to injury and was first team all-Olympic Conference as a sophomore; and Noah Preihs, who ran in all the state meets last year including MOC. Also competing for one of the seven varsity slots will be seniors Sam Berman, Michael Onu, Zach Sell, Andrew Warkala, Omri Bar, Nick Santoro and Kevin Murphy, junior Jeremy Helfand and sophomore Drew Parent. All of those runners helped Cherry Hill East win the Camden County Championship last year at Big Timber Creek Park.
Another change this year is in the coaching staff. Matt Cieslik, who led the team for 15 years and was the New Jersey Boys Cross Country Coach of the Year recipient last year, has retired from coaching. Chris Corey, who was the assistant coach for the last two years including on the 2014 State Championship team, is the Cougars’ new head coach. Joining him this year is new assistant coach Christine Mason, a marathon runner herself and a U.S. history teacher at Cherry Hill East.
The team goals for the upcoming season are to defend all of their 2015 Camden County and South Jersey Group IV Sectional titles, win the overall Olympic Conference Championship, and qualify for the MOC by finishing in the top three in the state Group IV finals for the fourth consecutive year. Cherry Hill East will once again face a strong challenge from Cherokee who last year finished right behind the Cougars in second place at sectionals and in third place at states. Cherry Hill East will also be challenged by Southern Regional High School. Southern, like Cherry Hill East, has qualified for the state finals for the last eight years, the longest active streak in Group IV.
Again, Cherry Hill East has a roster stocked with seasoned veterans. They know what it takes to both win at the highest level and defend when everyone is targeting them, so they are up to the challenges that await them in the upcoming season.