After a barrage of team photos that had them staring directly into a bright, late-afternoon October sun were over, Cherry Hill East’s cross country girls scattered.
Junior Mary Kate McCurdy, one of five Cougars to finish in the top 17 runners, had tears in her eyes. But it didn’t have anything to do with looking into the unforgiving sunshine.
“It’s so emotional,” said McCurdy, who placed fourth in the conference meet. “We work really hard. I guarantee you we wouldn’t have done as well as we did today without each other’s support. We run together every day. Even if it’s a hard day, we never let ourselves run slow and encourage each other to do more. Today was such a big day for us, we’ve been working since the summer. To win two years in a row shows that hard work comes through.”
Cherry Hill East’s girls and Cherokee’s boys teams were crowned champs again last week at the 2019 Olympic Conference Championships at DREAM Park in Logan Township.
McCurdy (19:04.88), senior Aliza Kotzen, and underclassmen Madison McNiff, Alexis Tepper and Isabel Slimm helped fuel the Cougars to their second straight title. For Cherokee’s boys team, senior Ethan Wechsler collected his second straight conference championship (in record time) and saw teammates Chase Miller, Nico Grilli and Tyler Jackson finish third through fifth, respectively, while Michael Gavio and Brett Shea were also among the top 10 to help lead the team to its fifth straight conference crown.
“I love the talent level and the work ethic of this senior class, they’ve been a really awesome class since they were freshman,” Cherokee coach Steve Shaklee said. “Their freshman year they were winning every freshman meet everywhere we went. You lose a couple as you go, you pick up a couple, and we had three juniors in the top seven. So it’s a mix of seniors and juniors and that senior class has really made their mark.
“What they can do over the next few weeks remains to be seen, but certainly we’re optimistic with just about any race we go into: sectionals, states, Meet of Champions.”
Wechsler emerged as one of the state’s top runners a year ago and may be kicking it into a new gear for his senior season. His time of 15:12.65 was a PR, a course record, more than 40 seconds faster than the second-place finisher and nearly 30 seconds faster than his championship performance at the same meet a year ago.
“I was expecting a PR, but this was above my expectations,” Wechsler said. “I think it’s just a whole year of more training. With another year, you get more accustomed to it.”
On the girls side, fellow Chiefs senior Kate Rathman was also a repeat winner. A University of Delaware commit, Rathman (18:26.45) is also gaining momentum as the postseason nears: she won the South Jersey Open this month, running the second fastest time in school history.
“I’m in prime shape right now,” said Rathman, whose Cherokee team placed second behind Cherry Hill East. “We’re getting ready for sectionals and our team has been really hyped up these past few weeks, getting really close to each other and working on minimizing that gap in races. We won the Burlington County Open last week and that was really exciting for the team. We’re really hyped for sectionals.”