UC’s Wischusen And Sheppard Named NJ’s Gatorade XC Runners of the Year
By Jim Lambert
Jimmy Wischusen and Paige Sheppard pulled off an extremely rare double this week when the dynamic distance running duo gave Union Catholic a sweep of the Gatorade New Jersey Boys and Girls Cross-Country Runner of the Year awards.
Wischusen, a senior, and Sheppard, a freshman, are the first two runners from Union Catholic to be chosen for this prestigious honor.
The Gatorade award, is in its 39th year, celebrates the nation’s top high school athletes for excellence on the field, in the classroom and in the community. The program annually recognizes one winner in the District of Columbia and each of the 50 states that sanction high school football, girls volleyball, boys and girls cross country, boys and girls basketball, boys and girls soccer, baseball, softball, and boys and girls track & field, and awards one National Player of the Year in each sport.
The selection process is administered by the Gatorade Player of the Year Selection Committee, which leverages experts including coaches, scouts, media and others as sources to help evaluate and determine the state winners in each sport.
Wischusen and Sheppard each put together remarkable seasons on the trails.
The University of Virginia-bound Wischusen, who overcame injuries and adversity during the season, capped off his memorable high school XC career by delivering a sensational performance when he earned All-American honors by placing seventh at the Nike Cross-Country Nationals Championships in December in 15:25.5, the third fastest time ever run by a NJ runner on the Glendoveer Golf Course in Portland, Oregon.
Wischusen finished in the top two in every race he completed, including the Nike Northeast Regional Championships where he finished second in 15:49.9, the seventh fastest time ever run by a NJ athlete at Bowdoin Park in Wappingers Falls, N.Y.
Wischusen also destroyed the course record at Warinanco Park in Elizabeth when he won the Union County Championship in a sizzling15:12!
Off the course, Wischusen has volunteered locally at Theater To All, which conducts summertime shows and A Christmas Carol each year to raise funds for a chosen charity. He has also served as a volunteer youth coach for the Speed Skills Track Club, and he has maintained a B average in the classroom.
Wischusen joins recent Gatorade New Jersey Boys Cross Country Runners of the Year Micah Lawson (2022-23, Rahway High School), Marco Langon (2021-22, Bridgewater-Raritan High School), Vidhur Polam (2020-21, South Brunswick High School) and Liam Murphy (2019-20, Allentown High School), among the state’s list of former award winners.
Sheppard produced one of the greatest seasons ever for a freshman.
She smashed the course record at Oak Ridge Park in Clark by running 17:41 at the Union County Conference Championships. Then she won the Non-Public A state title with a time of 18:09.0, leading the Vikings to the team title.
Sheppard followed that up by running 17:54, No. 3 all-time for a freshman at Holmdel Park, when she placed second at the Meet of Champions to ignite UC to its second straight title and a course record average of 18:37.
Two weeks later, Sheppard won the Nike Cross Northeast Regional individual championship, crossing the line in 18:12.29 to help Union Catholic finish first and qualify for the Nike Cross Nationals Championships for the second year.
At the Nike Nationals, the Vikings placed 10th and finished the season ranked No. 1 in N.J. for the second straight year and No. 6 in the nation.
An accomplished artist whose work has been selected for display at various art shows, Sheppard has volunteered locally with the Student Movement Against Cancer at UC, which prepares holiday cards for cancer patients. She was also a recent recipient of the Paul Robeson Youth Achievement Award, which honors high-achieving African American students in a variety of disciplines. Sheppard has maintained a 4.16 GPA in the classroom.
Sheppard joins recent Gatorade New Jersey Girls Cross Country Players of the Year Emma Zawatski (2022-23, Freehold Township High School), Angelina Perez (2021-22, Lakeland Regional High School) and Charlotte Bednar (2020-21 & 2019-20, The Lawrenceville School), among the state’s list of recent award winners.