by Andrew Garda
The Montclair High School cross-country teams had title-winning outings last week at the Super Essex Conference Cross-Country Championships, with both the girls and boys teams taking home first place for the American division at Branch Brook Park.
On Tuesday, while everyone else was racing to the polls, the boys were racing to a championship as they scored a 51, five points ahead of Columbia, who with 56 finished six points ahead of third-place Newark Academy.
Then the girls took home the trophy on Wednesday with a 39-point effort, five points ahead of second-place Millburn and 62 points ahead of third-place Mount St. Dominic.
The boys’ win also contained another, more historic, victory as senior Oscar Counsell’s first place finish was the first individual title for a boys team member in over 20 years. Counsell’s finishing time of 16:47.90 ranks in the top 50 best times ever run on the Branch Brook course.
He was not alone in performing at a high level. The team averaged a time of 17:32, and all seven runners finished in the top 30. They were junior Charles Ehlis, who finished in 8th with a time of 17:33.60, followed by three senior Mounties in a row in the form of Charles Hymowitz (13th, 17:43.30), Lucas Dia (14th, 17:44.50) and Kona Michaud (15th, 17:54.50). Junior Oliversage Heuschkel finished 22nd with a time of 18:21.40, and senior Joseph Gawler capped the effort in 29th with a time of 18:48.50.
Finishing with that many runners in the top 30 is an amazing result, and one that is often the difference between first and any other place. Counsell’s win undoubtedly helped a lot, but if nobody else had finished in the top 30, the Mounties would not have fared as well as a team.
Having seven runners in the top 30 — with five in the top 15 — made it very tough for any team to beat Montclair and was the reason MHS had five points fewer than Columbia.
The girls provided another tremendous example of that the next day, with all seven runners finishing not just in the top 30, but in the top 20.
Violet Ross came in second, 11 seconds behind individual champion Kirah Tianga of Columbia. Ross finished with a time of 20:27.40.
Montclair then placed six runners between 9th place and 17th.
As with the boys, that made a huge difference, and gave the girls the edge over Millburn, which had only five runners finish in the top 20, with their final two landing 22nd and 26th.
Behind Ross, Meghan O’Brien finished in 9th with a time of 21:09.80, with Lily Johnston right behind her in 10th with a time of 21:11.90.
The three seniors were followed by a freshman, Maya Kim, who finished 13th with a time of 21:26.90. Next to Kim in 11th was senior Ella McAdams with a time of 21:39.60.
Senior Krisantha Spencer finished 16th with a time of 22:00.60, and freshman Madeline Duncan came in 17th with a time of 22:20.80.
The girls averaged a time of 21:11 on the day.
Head coach Daryl Washington couldn’t have been more proud of his team this season.
“I’m proud of the entire team — freshman through varsity — for their endurance,” he said. “Not just on the course, but in general. Showing up every day, putting in the work with everything that’s going on, is a true testament to who these young men and women are on and off the course.”
Washington said overcoming adversity is baked into cross-country running, and it helped his team stay focused throughout the season.
“When the season started, the main thing was not about getting to the top of the mountain but facing it every day and moving forward one step at a time,” he said.
Now the Mounties will get set for the NJSIAA North 1 sectionals, which will take place at Woodland Park on Saturday.