LAKEWOOD – In the long and venerable history of Shore Conference cross country, only two runners have captured three straight gold medals.
Joe Barrett cracked that door open Thursday.
The Christian Brothers Academy sophomore captured his first major title in scintillating fashion, outkicking Manalapan junior Stephen Kyvelos at Ocean County Park. Barrett covered the flat 3.1-mile course in a swift time of 14:59.
Kyvelos, who won the Monmouth County meet last week, finished two strides back in 14:50.
“Great race by Stephen; he was next to me the entire time,” Barrett said. “I have trouble finishing hard, so that was a really good race for me.”
A Spring Lake resident who began running in sixth grade, Barrett turned in a sensational freshman campaign, clocking 16:24 at Holmdel Park and 9:18 in the 3200 meters outdoors. At powerhouse CBA, though, he blended in with the pack. Now he’s starting to assert himself as a lead dog.
“My teammates are the biggest part of my training,” he said. “Without them, I wouldn’t be where I am today. It really helps having people who push you every day.”
Those teammates cleaned up Thursday. After winning Monmouth County with mostly junior varsity runners, the Colts let it rip. Nick Sullivan (third place, 15:13), Jack Falkowski (fourth, 15:25), Alex Kemp (seventh, 15:42) and Zach Shroba (ninth, 15:47) rounded out the scoring for CBA, which tallied 23 points and a 15:25 average. Southern finished second with 65 points.
“So exciting,” Barrett said. “Shows we’re getting better and it’s going to be a great end to the season.”
Barrett clocked 15:49 in this race last fall, placing ninth. His precipitous drop at such a young age suggests big things ahead. For the record, the only two Shore Conference three-peaters were Colts Neck’s Craig Forys from 2004-06 and CBA’s John Coyle from 1986-88.
He’s also the 10th CBA runner to win this race and the first since future collegiate All-American Blaise Ferro in 2014. Suffice it to say Barrett has entered some good company.
“That makes me happy,” he said. “Not too many people can say they’ve been in this position.”
Zawatski leads Freehold Township to history
The girls’ race also contained historical echoes as Freehold Township captured its first-ever Shore Conference title on the trails. Junior Emma Zawatski led the way with a gold-medal performance, clocking 17:09 to best rival Cate DeSousa of Red Bank Catholic by six seconds.
“It’s really, really cool,” Zawatski said of the team triumph. “Maybe we were seen as underdogs in other years and this is something we’ve never done before, so it’s cool to set the precedent for upcoming generations of Freehold Township, but we have way bigger goals coming.”
This wasn’t an ordinary victory, either. The Patriots edged Rumson-Fair Haven by six points thanks in part to a gutsy effort by fifth runner Sophia Briggs.
“She lost a shoe in the first 200 meters of the race and still finished,” Zawatski said. “She was discouraged (about her showing), and I was like ,’Do you realize you just ran three miles with one shoe?’”
Briggs finished 45th in 20:10 and rounded out the Patriots’ scoring. Also contributing to the win were Ava Biemuller (13th place, 19:06), Heather Feinstein (19th, 19:20) and Leah Rutledge (21st, 19:24). Freehold Township scored 94 points and averaged 19:02.
As they crossed the finish line, Zawatski was there to greet them. Her own race was quite an improvement over her fifth-place finish in 17:59 from a year ago and came within two seconds of the meet record set last fall by Colts Neck’s Lilly Shapiro. It helps to be pushed by DeSousa, who beat her at last week’s Monmouth County meet.
“It’s awesome to have the rivalry, because were also really great friends,” Zawatski said.
After winning the Meet of Champions 1600 meters last spring, Zawatski is showing the kind of superstar range that made Shapiro so formidable.
“The fact that I won Shore Conference hasn’t really set in yet,” she said. “But I definitely have bigger goals. This isn’t the greatest thing that’s ever happening to me. I’m definitely not settling.”
Top boys teams: 1. Christian Brothers 23; 2. Southern 65; 3. Colts Neck 123; 4. Howell 177; 5. Manalapan 207.
Top boys individuals: 1. Joe Barrett (CBA) 14:59; 2. Stephen Kyvelos (Manalapan) 15:00; 3. Nick Sullivan (CBA) 15:13; 4. Jack Falkowski (CBA) 15:25; 5. Fabian Ramales (Southern) 15:27; 6. Alex Kemp (CBA) 15:42; 7. Andrew Bowker (CBA) 15:42; 8. Santino D’Amelio (Southern) 15:46; 9. Zach Shroba (CBA) 15:47; 10. Nicholas Loffredo (Manchester) 15:50.
Top girls teams: 1. Freehold Township 94; 2. Rumson-Fair Haven 100; 3. Red Bank Catholic 140; 4. Middletown South 147; 5. Shore 190.
Top girls individuals: 1. Emma Zawatski (Freehold Township) 17:09; 2. Cate DeSousa (Red Bank Catholic) 17:15; 3. Lily Oliver (Toms River South) 17:32; 4. Tilly O’Connor (St. Rose) 17:54; 5. Julia Shanes (Rumson-Fair Haven) 18:17; 6. Megan Donlevie (Shore) 18:19; 7. Jessica Abbott (Toms River North) 18:23; 8. Rhiannon Hill (Red Bank Catholic) 18:48; 9. Emma Luo (Marlboro) 18:49; 10. Ivy Slavinski (Point Pleasant Borough) 18:57.
Jerry Carino has covered the New Jersey sports scene since 1996. Contact him at [email protected].