Junior Nick Kuenkel was the overall winner and seniors Patrick Ditmars and Conor Jacob also finished in the top-10 and Cherokee upset New Jersey’s No. 2-ranked team to win its first Shore Coaches Invitational team title in 19 years.
Racing in cold and wet conditions, Kuenkel ran 15:56 and became the seventh Cherokee runner to break 16 minutes on the 5,000-meter course at historic Holmdel County Park, edging Westfield’s Avery Keith, a 9:12 two-miler, by three seconds. He’s Cherokee’s first individual winner at Shore Coaches in 20 years.
Ditmars ran 16:05 for 5th place, and Jacob placed 8th in 16:22. Junior Robert Poplau and sophomore Liam Tindall clinched the win, placing 31st and 35th in 17:19 and 17:24.
Cherokee, ranked 10th in the state, defeated Westfield 80-89 to win the Group A team title. Westfield went 2-9-21-23-34, so the big difference was with each team’s 3rd runner, Jacob gaining 13 places and 28 seconds ahead of Westfield’s.
Cherokee averaged 16:37, which is 2nd-fastest ever by a South Jersey school at Shore Coaches. Cherokee averaged 16:35 in 2019.
The team title is Cherokee’s first at Shore Coaches since 2003, when the Chiefs outscored 2nd-place Hunterdon Central 65-96 with Sean McLaughlin, Greg Bredeck, Tom Yersak and James Maneval placing in the top 20. Cherokee also won Group A in 2000.
Kuenkel is Cherokee’s first individual champ at Shore Coaches since Keith Krieger won the 2002 Group A title in 16:15. A year earlier, Marc Pelerin ran 16:00 to win Group A.
His 15:56 matches the fastest Holmdel time by a South Jersey junior since 2015, when Cherokee’s Jack Shea ran 15:46 at the Meet of Champions.
Here’s a look at the 10-fastest Cherokee runners at Holmdel:
15:40 … Shawn Wilson, 2012
15:41 … Ethan Wechsler, 2019
15:43 … Marc Pelerin, 2001
15:45 … Keith Krieger, 2002
15:45 … Shawn Wilson, 2011
15:46 … Jack Shea, 2015
15:56 … Nick Kuenkel, 2022
16:05 … Patrick Ditmars, 2022
16:09 … Joe Halin, 1999
16:12 … Justin Kelly, 2016