No South Jersey girl had won a state Group 1 title in nearly two decades.
When Annika Merkh finally ended that 18-year drought, she did it in overwhelming fashion.
Merkh, a senior at Haddon Township, won the state Group 1 cross country title Saturday by nearly 90 meters, becoming the first South Jersey girl since 1998 to win the state Group 1 championship.
She’s also the first Haddon Township girl ever to win a state cross country title.
Merkh ran 20:08, with Buena freshman Alana Sasdelli taking second in 20:29. Curiously, no South Jersey girl had finished first or second in the state Group 1 race since 1998, so the two best performances in nearly 20 years both came on Saturday.
The last South Jersey girl to finish first or second at Group 1 states was Olympian Erin Donohue of Haddonfield, who won the 1997 and 1998 races on the same hilly 5,000-meter course at Holmdel County Park.
Since the state girls meet was broken up into groups in 1976, the only other South Jersey girls to win the Group 1 title are Ruth Lockbaum of Glamssboro in 1985, Cheryl Keating of Sacred Heart in 1989, Janet Rue of Pitman in 1990 and 1991, Jen Rafferty of Riverside in 1993.
Merkh reached the XC Meet of Champions for the first time in cross country. She was 12th at states last year, just missing. She’s been to the M-of-C three times outdoors in the 1,600.
Her previous PR at Holmdel was 21:10 at last year’s state meet, so she trimmed more than a minute off that time.
The highest previous finish by a Haddon Township girl was third place, and that happened three times.
Sharon Crow was third in the 1997 race in 21:05, Holly Gallagher was third in the 2007 race in 20:20, leading Township to its only state team title, and Nora Grimm was third last year.