If you are “a runner” you might know a thing or two about Cross Country running. If you didn’t compete in Cross Country in New Jersey as a High Schooler, the MOC might be a mystery to you. The Meet of Champions is the final Cross Country meet of the season where qualified teams and individuals compete for team and individual titles and accolades.
1972 was the first MOC and the race was just 2.5miles. Starting in 1976 the meet was held at Holmdel Park in Holmdel and increased to 3.0miles. 1979 was the first time that they ran the course in it’s current configuration and a full 5k. Prior to 1972, there were only State Sectional State Group Championships, (I, II, III, IV, non-public A, non-public B). Including this final meet allows the best High Schoolers from all over the state to race each other when they otherwise may not. Many states, don’t have a meet like the MOC, and so NJ is special! If you are from NJ, take a break here to pat yourself on the back for having a way better XC season than most other states (and 24-7 breakfast at diners, and pizza that is actually edible). Also, Holmdel Park is beautiful, and it has a cool historical farm!
Cross Country racing is more exciting than a track race in multiple ways! Each course is different, the terrain, inclines, declines, turns; are different everywhere you go. But the Meet of Champions has been held at the same place for more than 40 years. Although the course has been “improved” and “groomed” in more recent years; old-timers, die hards, and coaches alike can all talk with the kids about “when they ran at Holmdel’! The stories of impossibly close races are many! Incredible teams, dynasties! Amazing studs setting records, eager fanatics hoping to see someone break the record the following year! Who will ever forget Janet Smith of J.P. Stevens winning 3 MOC titles? Her course record of 17:35 stood for 27yrs! Over all the years there have been races decided by a single point that amounts to a desperate lean at the finish line. You just don’t know what incredible performances you might see!
Spectating a Cross Country race requires movement, at the very least, standing. Given the layout of Holmdel Park, spectating is a serious challenge! Some courses are more spectator-friendly than others, but the excitement of seeing who’s in the lead at the mile or two mile mark can compel one to haul ass to see what happens at the finish!
So, you ask, who are “the Champions”? From the State Sectional Championship (North I, North II, Central, and South), the top 5 teams and any individuals who finish in the top 10 of their respective races advance to the State All Groups Chamionship meet. Non public A(large schools), and B(small schools) being fewer in number don’t run a sectional championship and go straight on to the Group meet. From the Groups, the top 3 teams in each of the six races advance, along with the 2 fastest teams among 4th and 5th place teams as wild cards. The 1o fastest individuals in each group also qualify as wild cards, and finally; the top 10 individuals of all remaining runners from all group races combined that are not yet qualified. There are hundreds of teams throughout the state.
Making it through as an individual is tough! There are some very inspiring things that happen in the fall. In my day, the internet wasn’t a strong source for finding race results. People mostly relied on newspapers to know what the best kids around the state were doing throughout the season. It is just remarkable to see talented and dedicated kids gutting it out through the Championship races. Seeing all the team colors, watching them warmup in groups, seeing the smiles and hearing the laughter; it’s all good. Now, as a guy in his thirties I can tell you that seeing the boys cheer for the girls and vice versa is very cool. You stand back and remember what is was like to be there when you were young, you have to let them be the ones who are heard.
Holmdel is a special course, it rolls…a lot. The first quarter mile is a steady uphill climb that funnels suddenly from a wide open field into a narrow path that has “the roller coaster”, a series of short but steep inclines and declines, the 2nd half of the 1st mile rises slightly with a small decline just as you hit the 1st mile mark. It is roughly 3/8mile until you drop into “the bowl”. Near the midway point is this distinct feature, the bowl has a long sweeping downhill turn which flattens out just long enough for a young harrier to recover for the 120m climb up and out. The last few meters have a sharp turn left which steepens the incline even more. After that, it’s flat and downhill, so if you run a smart pace early; you can have a really fun time blazing down the trail to the finish!
Holmdel is a course that punishes a fool and rewards patience. To make it to Holmdel for the meet of Champions is a mark of true excellence, and we as runners should celebrate their ability and dedication! This year’s MOC takes place on Saturday 11/23/13, Girls start at 11am, Boys start at 11:45am, awards at 12:30pm. Parking is offsite, so follow signs and allow at least a full hour prior to race start to ensure not missing the races! Both the boys and girls of Westfield HS are qualified, go cheer them on! Bring a camera!
Enjoy the races,