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The Journal magazines are the premier publications for high-quality, hyperlocal news and advertising in Monmouth County, New Jersey

Oct 13, 2021

No Shortage of Talent on Colts Neck Boys’ Cross Country Team

By Tim Morris

In becoming an established cross country power, the Colts Neck High School boys have given the state some of its most notable individual champions over the years. From Craig Forys to last year’s steeplechase national champion Matt Bogdan, the Cougars always had someone in the race for an individual championship and the low point total it brings to the team. It has helped the Cougars dominate the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III section, winning five of the last seven titles including 2020 and the Group III state championship in 2016.

This fall, the Cougars won’t be relying on star power to lead the way. Head Coach Jim Schlentz has numbers this fall.

“We have depth down to potentially to No. 10,” said Schlentz, who has led the Cougars to eight state sectional titles. He believes there could be as little as 20 to 30 seconds separating his third through seventh runners. That is critical for a team seeking championships.

While depth is what stands out in 2021, the Cougars aren’t lacking talent at the front of the pack.

They return a trio of runners who were instrumental in the Cougars winning the state sectional in 2020 and finishing the season ranked No. 5 in the state. Seniors Christian Mariner, Ryan Johnson and Joe Allegro finished third, fourth and ninth at last year’s CJ III championships. They bring big meet experience as well as talent to the team. Mariner and Johnson could be among the top harriers in the conference and Central Jersey. Last fall, Mariner was 10th in the county and Johnson, 15th. At the season-ending Holmdel Invitation, which served as the state championships, Johnson finished 20th.

Mariner had a 5K cross country personal best of 16:17 and an outdoor track 3,200 pb of 9:51.97. Johnson’s harrier 5K best was 16:32, but he had a big outdoor track season with a 4:20.81 mile pb and 9:36.83 two-mile pb. Allegro posted a 17:05 cross country pb in 2020.

Another senior, Connor Horan, was a key member of the CJ III championship effort as the team’s fourth runner. He has closed the gap between himself and the team’s top three, making the squad even more formidable up front.

Bringing the depth is three sophomores who displayed plenty of potential when they moved up and ran varsity races for Colts Neck. Jacob McNamara, Lucas Saginari and Andrew Krok could fill the five through seven spots this season.

In addition to the sectional title in the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign, the Cougars were 7-0 in dual meets, winning the Shore Conference B North Division title. They will again be the team beat in 2021.

With things returning to as normal as can be, State Group and Meet of Champions will return. The Central Jersey Championships are Saturday, Nov. 6 at Thompson Park in Jamesburg. The State Group championships are Saturday, Nov. 13 at Holmdel Park and the NJSIAA MOC is the following week, Nov. 20 back at Holmdel.

Schlentz expects the Cougars to be title contenders again in Central Jersey and in Group III as well. He believes by season’s end, they could be one of the state’s 10 best at the Meet of Champions.

Another key date is Thursday, Oct. 21 and the Monmouth County meet. There, the Cougars will race against the state’s No. 1 team, Christian Brothers Academy.