Union Catholic Cross-Country Teams Sweep Titles, Girls Defeat Defending National Champions
By Jim Lambert
The Union Catholic girls have felt since the preseason that they had the firepower to be one of the top teams in the country this season.
After what the Vikings did on Saturday, there shouldn’t be any doubt about that anymore as the Vikings, ranked No. 1 in NJ and unranked nationally (not for long), took down defending national champion and U.S. No. 7 Saratoga Springs of N.Y. at the Ocean State Invitational at Goddard Park.
The Union Catholic boys, ranked NJ No. 2 / US No. 9, also won the championship race to complete a very impressive team sweep. More on the boys race shortly.
For now, let’s dig into the remarkable performance by the UC girls, who knocked off perennial national powerhouse Saratoga Springs, 32-45.
UC went 2-5-6-13-23 overall and averaged 18:20.2 on the 3.1-mile layout. Saratoga Springs countered with a 1-7-9-23-25 finish and averaged 18:33.5.
Both Union Catholic, who finished 22nd at the Nike Nationals last year, and reigning national champ Saratoga Springs, return four of their top seven and three of their top five from a year ago.
But the big difference on Saturday was the infusion of UC’s talented freshmen who have joined the lineup, Paige Sheppard and Cayleigh Kaiser. Sheppard was second in 17:36 (three seconds behind Emily Bush of Saratoga), and Kaiser was 13th in 18:36. They combined with returning seniors Peyton Hollis, fifth in 18:02, Courtney Kaiser, sixth in 18:08, and sophomore Ella Solorzano, 23rd in 19:18, to form a pack that could turn out to be the best in NJ history and a possible contender for the Nike National Championship.
Looking at past results at Goddard Park, it seems that roughly 25-30 seconds is a fair conversion to NJ’s Holmdel Park, so based on its 18:20 average at Goddard, this UC team will likely shatter the Holmdel Park course record average of 19:01.2 set by Voorhees at the 2007 Meet of Champions.
In the other half of Union Catholic’s daily double, the Vikings averaged 15:58 on the way to a 100-123 victory over runner-up Newton South of Massachusetts in the boys championships race.
In the first race of the season for its top guns, UC went 2-13-25-43-44 overall.
Senior Jimmy Wischusen, running his first race since May, looked very sharp in leading the way for UC with a runner-up finish in 15:12, six seconds behind the winner, Paul Bergeron of Westford Academy in Massachusetts. Bergeron, a Stanford commit, finished third in the Champs Northeast Regional last year and was 15th at the Champs National Championships.
Joining Wischusen as scorers for UC were senior Sean Wilson, 13th in 15:51, senior Alex Saldana, 25th in 16:02, senior Alessandro Alvarez-Tullo, 43rd in 16:22, and junior Evan Weber, 44th in 16:22.
UC coach Mike McCabe was obviously very pleased with how his team raced against great competition.
“Our plan was to travel as a team and race different competition,” said McCabe. “And that’s what we saw. It was a very well run meet and we are happy with our performances. The girls ran a terrific race against a very strong field! I am extremely proud of their effort. The boys ran strong for season opener, and we are excited to continue to develop.”