Sophomore Brandon Mazzarella had been battling a runner from Rowan University throughout the course of the race. The opponent cut him off and elbowed him whenever Mazzarella passed him.
“I told myself there is no way I’m going to let him beat me,” Mazzarella said.
With 600 meters to go, Mazzarella broke into a sprint, overtaking the Profs runner and two other runners to swipe a third place spot at the annual New Jersey Athletic Conference Cross Country Championship. The move earned the College men’s and women’s teams first place titles, with this year being the men’s 21st consecutive NJAC win.
This was no easy task considering the wind and rain, which freshman Allison Fournier said can cause runners’ muscles to tighten. In order to combat the cold, the runners made sure to warm up a bit more than usual before the race.
“It was 45 degrees, windy and pouring,” junior Carly Martz said. “The trails were totally submerged, and the puddles were ankle-deep, which made the race really challenging. But we didn’t let the conditions bother us.”
“By the first mile my entire body was completely drenched, and my shoes were filled with water,” Mazzarella said.
Mazzarella’s 26:27.16 finish “was an important one, that put us into the lead,” senior Jeremy Garrell said. Beforehand, the College only had a two-point lead on second place Rowan.
They did not win solely because of that move, however. Teamwork was essential: when Mazzarella started to lose focus and fall behind in the middle of the race, Garrell and junior Scott Savage encouraged him to keep moving.
Garrell finished seventh with a time of 26:36.59 while Savage finished 10th with a time of 26:45.64.
Garrell, Savage and Mazzarella formed a mini-pack and quickly began to pick up other Lions as the race went on. Sophomore Andrew Tedeschi was the first. He finished ninth with a time of 26:44.14. Junior Tyler Grimm also joined up, earning 11th with a time of 26:49.80. Just behind Grimm, junior Roberto Guiducci finished with a time of 26:55.90.
Pack running is a big part of the Lions cross country team’s strategy.
“During races, we usually end up grouping together in different packs in order to work with each other and push the pack to maintain pace,” senior Megan Stack said.
Stack took third with a time of 22:55.80 and was closely followed by senior Jillian Manzo in fourth with a time of 23:09.85 and freshman Allison Fournier in fifth with a time of 23:12.25.
Stack and Manzo – like Mazzarella, Garrell and Savage – worked well together throughout the race. When Stack started to lose focus in the middle of the race like Mazzarella, it helped that her friend and teammate was by her side.
Behind Fournier, Martz took seventh with a time of 23:31.95. Sophomore Laura Straub took 11th with a time of 23:34.95, and senior Liz Johnson took 12th with a time of 23:50.32.
Despite the obstacles provided by the weather, both teams are happy with the results.
“Twenty-one years is an absurd amount of years to win consecutive titles,” Garrell said.
Likewise, Martz was pleased.
“It’s great to win the NJAC title and see everyone’s hard work pay off,” she said.