Before this year, the lone state championship in Kingsway boys cross country history came during the 2012-13 season. Led by all state runners Ryan Magnus and Noah Culbreath, this unheralded group became the standard for Kingsway’s future teams, and it appeared that standard would remain for quite a while.
Little did anyone know that the 2017-18 team, however, made plans long ago to raise that standard years before, shortly after Noah Culbreath graduated.
This commitment to being the greatest team in school history manifested itself in the program’s second state group championship, upending defending champion Princeton in the process.
Along the way, the team also won the Tri-County Royal Division title, the Tri-County Conference overall title, the Gloucester County title, the Shore Coaches Invitational title, and the South Jersey Group 4 championship. They also won the South Jersey Cup, indicative of the top team in South Jersey, and they were ranked in the top 20 nationally.
So how did this all begin?
“It grew out of disappointment during our sophomore year,” said senior Jon Connor. “We had graduated the greatest class in school history, and it was our turn to step up and carry this team. We then finished fifth at the South Jersey Championships, one of the worst finishes in team history. It was unacceptable for this program.”
After that performance, the team met and created a long-term script, in terms of physical training and mental preparation, that would make things right.
“In order to accomplish our goals, new guys had to grow and step up,” said senior Brian Mangiaracina. “Guys like Noah Culbreath, Kyle Evernham, and Myles Boerlin carried the load for us when we were freshman, teaching us how to get it done, and it was time for us to make those lessons count. We had to be men.”
Going into this season, the boys had put up spring track two-mile times that indicated the potential was there for a state title. This promise fueled this team all summer and throughout the fall.
After defeating South Jersey rival Cherokee in a long awaited battle, Kingsway faced Princeton, who was favored to repeat as champions. Not only did the Dragons upend the Little Tigers, they ran the fastest team average in State Group 4 history, with a five-man average of 16:23 at the difficult state championship course, Holmdel Park.
Quite simply, they threw down one of the best races in New Jersey cross country history.
A rarity in cross country, the Kingsway runners and everyone in attendance
knew immediately that this race was over. There was no need to wait for the scores to be counted. There was no need to wait for an announcement. The looks on the faces of Dragons in the finish chute said it all.
“It’s pretty incredible how years of work can boil down to minutes and seconds,” said senior star Joe Grandizio. “We simply refused to let this opportunity pass us by. It was our time, and, now, the memory that time created is ours forever.”
— By Christian Lynch