2021 Cherokee girls XC team, courtesy @LadyChiefsTribe.

Senior Nicole Clifford placed 3rd, sophomore Olivia Parkinson 12th and junior Kelsey Niglio 18th and edged the No. 1-ranked team in New Jersey Saturday to win the state Group 4 cross country championship, the first in the program’s history.

No more than five points separated each Cherokee and Ridgewood runner, but the biggest margin among the five scorers belonged t0 the 4th-place runners, where Cherokee sophomore Kerry O’Day finished five spots ahead of Ridgewood’s No. 4 runner.

Those points were crucial, essentially delivering the team title to the Chiefs.

Both teams averaged 20:01 over the 5,000-meter course at Holmdel County Park, and Cherokee finished with an 81-84 triumph.

Clifford ran 19:17 for 3rd place, Parkinson 19:44 for 12th and Niglio 20:08 for 18th. After three runners, Ridgewood led 27-28. But O’Day ran 20:17, giving Cherokee a four-point lead with the 5th runners yet to cross. And freshman Megan Niglio ran 20:41 for 37th place, finishing just one place and two seconds behind Ridgewood’s fifth runner to clinch the team title for the Chiefs.

For team scoring purposes, Parkinson scored 10, Kelsey Niglio 15, O’Day 22 and Megan Niglio 31. Sophomore Alaina Bromley ran 21:51 and senior Noelle Falzone 22:30 for the Chiefs.

Here’s how the scoring shaped up:
Cherokee: 3-10-15-22-31-(63-80)
Ridgewood: 6-9-12-27-30-(40-67)

Cherokee’s previous best finish was 5th place in 2003, a team led by Lisa Burkholder, and 2010, when Megan Lacy won the first of her two state individual titles.

The 3-point margin of victory is the smallest in Group 4 since 2014, when Hillsborough edged Ridge 90-91.

Cherokee became the first South Jersey school to win the state Group 4 title in 19 years, since Shawnee won its eighth title in 2003. The only other South Jersey school to ever win NJ-4 was Paul VI in 1986, during a period when there were no parochial meets.

Other South Jersey runners in the top 20 were Kingsway junior Aubrey Pierontoni [13th in 19:54] and Cherry Hill East teammates Alexis Tepper, a junior [19th in 20:09], and senior Madison McNiff [20th in 20:10].


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