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Jan 05, 2022

Middletown South Girls Capture Cross Country State Sectional Title

By Les Pierce

The Middletown South girls’ cross country team shows off their Sectional Championship plaque. From left: Skylar O’Keefe, Lauren Hutson, Rosemary Shay, Lexi Dean, Lucy Afanasewicz, Emma Buthorn and Gwen Afanasewicz

In 2020, the Middletown High School South girls’ cross country team ran off with the Monmouth County Championship for the second consecutive year. The squad was poised to pursue further success in the upcoming state meets but was prohibited from continuing on due to the school’s COVID-19 policy.

The Eagles were relegated to sitting out the states and watching Princeton grab the sectional title with Montgomery Township a close second.  

This season, the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group 4 State Sectional meet contested on Nov. 6 offered a hotbed of competition and an opportunity for the squad to demonstrate their mettle. Going into the race, no less than five teams were ranked in the top 20 statewide by  

Rosemary Shay led South with a fourth place finish, and senior Lexi Dean came across seventh overall. Montgomery runners took first and second place and initially appeared to have the championship in hand. However, Middletown would prove on this day that cross country is indeed a team endeavor. In this sport, the first five runners from each squad contribute to the scoring. South’s third, fourth and fifth finishers each placed ahead of their Montgomery counterparts, ultimately the key to victory.

Lucy Afanasewicz placed 18th to pick up three points on her Montgomery counterpart, and Lauren Hutson came across in 20th to gain two more points. However, the deciding scoring came when Gwen Afanasewicz crossed the line in the 23rd spot to outpoint the No. 5 Montgomery runner by 19 points.

South claimed the title with a low score of 72 points. Completing the top five squads were Montgomery (88), Princeton (97), South Brunswick (111) and Freehold Township (142).  

The Eagles confirmed they were a force to be reckoned with earlier in the season when they claimed a title at the Manhattan College Invitational contested at New York’s Van Cortlandt Park on Oct. 9.  

South’s Shay claimed the individual crown with a 15:36.90 clocking, nearly nine seconds ahead of St. Joseph Hill Academy’s Ava Gumb, timed at 15:45.30. Middletown bested a field of primarily New York teams with a score of 52 points. In close pursuit were North Rockland (71), Bay Shore (109), Walt Whitman (119) and West Babylon (161).  

All five of the scoring Eagles finished in the top 20. Carrying South colors across the finish line were Afanasewicz (seventh), Dean (eighth), Hutson (17th) and Afanasewicz (19th).

Locally, the squad captured their eighth consecutive A North Division Championship and have posted undefeated dual meet records over those eight years.  

Afanasewicz will join the Lehigh University squad in the fall. Dean has been recruited by Tufts but has not yet committed.  

“The team has remained amazingly consistent and has been ranked in the top 10 in New Jersey the entire season,” stated Head Coach Bill Clifton. “The tough goal for any team is to peak at the championship phase of the season. It took determination, confidence, sacrifice and team unity to accomplish that goal with their most shinning performance of the season at the Meet of Champs. They ran the fourth fastest team average in school history on that day. It made for a satisfying celebration with coaches and athletes.”

Head Coach Bill Clifton is in his 20th year at the helm and is assisted by his wife, Kathleen.