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Falcon Takeover: Cross Country GMC Champions

Monroe runners after winning the GMC Championships with Coach Puleio. (Oct. 22nd, 2022)

The Journey of MTHS Cross Country

Long summer training sessions in the blistering heat is the price that the MTHS Cross Country team is willing to pay for success. Over the last 20 years, the Falcons have fought to put their name on the map as a Cross Country powerhouse.

On the boys side, a handful of remarkably talented runners have been brought through the program such as Khari Bowen (Class of 2011) and Evan Pron (Class of 2016). In the midst of Covid-19, a fresh batch of Freshman rolled into the high school. Coach Nicholas Puleio gave his opening remarks during the first official practice of the 2020 Cross Country season, echoing inspiration that would get the ball rolling for a long journey ahead.

“I don’t want Covid-19 getting in the way of the special opportunity that we have before us. I have no doubt that we can win the county race in the next couple of years given the amount of talent and hard workers that we have, but it is up to each and everyone of you to hold each other accountable. I don’t care what training you’ve had up until this point. The journey as a team starts right now.”

With those words of encouragement, the Freshman Class of 2024 began to dream big. Day in and day out, the dedicated group of young men gained the confidence and fitness necessary to build a strong foundation for the Monroe Township Cross Country program. After a promising 2021 Cross Country season, questions loomed as to whether or not the Falcons could be as successful with the departure of captains Bryce Addeo and Joe Carella. While their speed on the course would certainly be missed from an analytical standpoint, their impressive leadership abilities were potentially the bigger loss to the team.

A Surge in Talent and Leadership

The indoor and outdoor track seasons of 2022 would lead to a surge in leadership and talent from the Sophomores and Juniors, along with several dark horses galloping in the shadows of the top Monroe runners.

With Maan Patel and Matthew Lucas leading the charge, Jaden Enis threw down some blistering times in the 800 meter event, cracking down on the 1 minute and 55 second barrier at New Balance Outdoor Nationals. Taking a closer look at the Patel vs. Lucas rivalry, the two fierce competitors battled it out day in and day out. Their friendly competition both on and off the track would lead to high-ranking times of 9:26 and 9:49 respectively in the 3200 meter event. While all 3 of these athletes led the way for the Falcons, it is important to note the sub-5 minute mile performances of Stephen Barbera, Anish Deshpande, Gabe Kelmanskiy, and Harrison Wolk that contributed to the strong indoor and outdoor track seasons.

MTHS Varsity XC athlete (Jaden Enis, Senior) kicks down the home straight away in the GMC Championship race.

2022 Cross Country Preparations

As the Falcons came together over the summer, new faces of Ryan Daunais and Arhan Shukul appeared in the mix of competitive athletes. By incorporating a variety of workouts including tempo runs, progression runs, and other “cookie cutter” workouts, the group of runners pushed one another with the goal of reaping “fall smiles from their summer miles.”

While early season performances in the 2022 cross country season shattered school records and showcased elite level talent, the previously unranked Falcons edged their way into being ranked as a top-10 team in the state by NJMilesplit, the hub for all track and cross country statistics. Leading into the GMC’s, questions loomed as to whether the injured Matthew Lucas would be ready for race day. Additionally, a second place team finish at the Divisional meet the week prior led to high levels of doubt as to how dominant the purple and gold Falcons truly were.

GMC Champions!

However, the Monroe boys came to race, absolutely obliterating the competition and cementing the first Cross Country GMC title in school history. Maan Patel led the charge for the sea of purple and gold, stopping the clock in a time of 16:09 to secure 2nd place overall. Shortly after, Matthew Lucas, Stephen Barbera, Jaden Enis and Arhan Shukul crossed the finish line to secure the victory for the Monroe squad.

With an average team 5k time of 16 minutes and 52 seconds, the top 5 Monroe runners all managed to place within the 25 finishing placements of this championship race. This combined effort of strong coaching and pure hard work ultimately led to a first place team title by a margin of 24 points!

Maan Patel (Junior) comes through mile 1.5 of the Thompson Park 5k course.

Looking Ahead

While the Falcons prepare for the Winter Track season, Coach Howroyd looks ahead towards crafting training plans and getting the boys into shape for the season ahead. Although celebration might seem justifiable after these accomplishments, the Falcons are hungry for more. Stomping forwards with more motivation and ferocity than ever, the Monroe Falcons still have #SUM2PROVE!

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