The Highland Regional High School boys’ cross-country team has exceeded expectations all season, so it should come as little surprise that the Tartans did it again Saturday.
One year after graduating almost its entire varsity roster, Highland will make a return trip to the State Championships after a fifth-place finish at the Group 3 Sectional.
“We ran well,” said Highland coach Bob Wagner. “We ran as good as could be. If we didn’t get the fifth spot, so what? We ran well. Traditionally, we are starting to run well here. We come (to Delsea) and practice at least five out of the last 15 days every year. Getting that fifth spot just completes our season and sets us up for the future.”
Even with a mostly inexperienced roster, the Tartans placed second in the Tri-County Conference, going 7-1, with the lone loss to Kingsway. Highland’s top five runners typically consist of three freshmen, a sophomore and a junior.
“It’s just been an unbelievable year for us,” Wagner said, who admitted the team is ahead of where he thought it would be. “We lost six of our top seven runners from the team last year that was No. 3 in South Jersey. To lose six kids and come back with a couple of JV runners moving up and some freshmen and run so well is a pretty great season.”
Junior Steve Maine—who missed a portion of the season with a foot injury—was the top Tartans finisher, crossing the line in third in 15 minutes, 47 seconds. The time was the Maine’s best at Delsea.
The junior was left wanting more after failing to beat Toms River South’s Kyle Kroon and Hammonton’s Louis Corgliano and claim the title, but was happy to be back to full speed.
“It’s just been taking time,” Maine said. “I just wanted to get back on top. That was my goal, to finish the season on top. I just have to work on finishing stronger.”
No other Highland runner was in the top 20, but the group of Trent Thorne (27), Keith Bianchini (33), Joshua Clark (34) and Ryan Carroll (37) helped the team earn enough points to hold off sixth-place Hammonton by nine points.
With the result, the Tartans have extended their season an extra week and earned a trip to Holmdel for Saturday’s state race. Maine is looking forward to competing on the course since he spent several days training on it in the summer.
“I’m excited for that because I know that ending so well,” Maine said. “I know how it feels to go up those hills and around that bowl and I know my legs will get me there, so I’m ready for it.”
For the rest of the Tartans, competing at states will be a reward, Wagner said.
“That’s all it is,” Wagner said. “Next week is experience only.”
LOCAL FINISHERS: Dominick Munson was the top Timber Creek runner, placing 16th. The Chargers placed eighth. In Group Brandon Sweeney was the top Triton runner, finishing 99th in Group 4.
On the girls’ side, Timber Creek’s Janelle Shipotofsk earned the last automatic qualifying spot in Group 3 by placing 10th. Shipotofsk crossed the line in 19:39. Teammate Shade Lavallias (17th) also ran well as the Chargers finished in 10th.
Triton’s Melanie Derham crossed the line in 56th in Group 4.
You can see all of the results here.