The forecast was not pretty, but that didn’t stop the 8,000 or so high school cross country runners from taking the course at Van Cortlandt Park for the Manhattan College Invitational. For the top performers, the rain may have been the extra refreshment they needed to rapidly navigate the 2.5-mile course. The lasting memories of the 51st annual event were all in all good.
Zariel Macchia of William Floyd High School in Mastic Beach won the Girls Eastern States Championship, the penultimate race, by a whopping 18 seconds. Macchia posted a time of 14:10.30, and the next best was 14:28.70 run by Abby Downin of the Tatnall School in Delaware. The Tatnall girls were a wrecking crew in the Eastern States. Outside of Downin, Tatnall also took home third place with Katie Payne, and then the fifth, eighth and 13th spots, too.
“This course has so much history,” Macchia said, according to MileSplit NY. “It’s an amazing place and really special to me.”
Macchia knows a thing or two about running Van Cortlandt Park, including the agony of defeat at the marquee venue.
At last year’s meet, Macchia earned second place while Karrie Baloga of Cornwall Central High School in New Windsor paced the pack by a near-29 second margin. In 2021, Baloga and Macchia finished in first and second as well, respectively.
Now, Macchia does not have to hide in the shadows anymore, and neither does she have to make the same joke which had become a reality this time of year.
“My favorite joke is when I finish second because that seems to be what I always do here,” Macchia said. “I’m really happy to win one of my favorite races.”
All but the youth race, which was the first of its kind at the meet, were run in the rain. It made for cooler conditions at Vannie. However, the larger obstacle was the mud it caused around the course. That made it feel especially rigid, or “like a rollercoaster,” according to Macchia.
”A challenging course is the best course and it was muddy out there today which added to that even more,” Macchia said. “Me and my coaches like to say it’s like a roller coaster because you go up and down.”
On the boys side, it was business as usual for Christian Brothers Academy, an all-boys Catholic school located in Lincroft. They took first place as a team, marking the 19th time they have done so at the meet. This time around CBA placed five runners in the top 20 of the Boys Eastern States Championship with ownership of first, 12th, 14th, 17th and 19th.
Junior Joe Barrett won the prestigious race with a time of 12:13.6 in his 2.5-mile hustle to the finish line. He outlasted Peyton Shute of Co-op Gateway/Woodbury in New Jersey by just under five seconds.
“We know how good he is,” CBA head coach Sean McCafferty said of Barrett. “Joe running that fast and doing that well on this course will hopefully open a lot of doors for him.”
CBA is always fast, but the record books indicate an even more potent display this year. The school walked away with school and New Jersey state records on the basis of their five-minute mile pace as a team. The course record — 12:32 — is still held by the boys program from Fayetteville-Manlius High School in Manlius.
There is excitement each year for this meet, according to McCafferty. In these parts, the Manhattan College Invitational is the rare occasion in which excellence in every department collides.
“In the Northeast there aren’t as many big meets,” McCafferty said. “But Manhattan is the one meet that has that massive history and usually brings some good competition.”
CBA has a tradition of going to Vannie three days before the actual race to get the lay of the land and evaluate the conditions. The day of practice wraps up with a trip to Lloyd’s Carrot Cake on Broadway across the street from the park.
The local food staple was also front and center at the finish line when Macchia smiled for pictures while indulging in a carrot cake from Lloyd’s.
“The kids love getting carrot cake from Lloyd’s,” McCafferty said.
The second annual Van Cortlandt Park Cross Country Hall of Fame class was honored over the weekend. Christine Curtin, Denis Fikes, Paul Limmer, and Walt Murphy, were inducted as part of this year’s class and each received a plaque for their contributions to the park’s long history with the sport.
Curtin, who made the trip from the Bay Area, was able to experience the atmosphere at the Manhattan Invitational for the first time since winning the Girls Eastern States Championship in 1981. She competed for Wellington C. Mepham High School in Bellmore, which was regarded as a powerhouse girls cross country program in Curtin’s heyday. She parlayed her success at Mepham into a cross country scholarship at Stanford University.
Winning it all at Vannie is hard to beat, but the nostalgia of returning to the meet over 40 years later was special, too, Curtin says.
“It was really beautiful,” Curtin said. “The feel of the environment hadn’t really changed very much.”
At Stanford, she became a national champion, then traded the east coast for the west coast for good by settling down in the Bay Area. She works as a psychologist and has long had an interest in the mental aspects of sports which confront athletes.
That phenomenon was embodied with the young runners at the Manhattan College Invitational.
“It’s really great being around young people who are working hard at doing great things in their life,” Curtin said.
One of the stories Curtin naturally connected to was that of Macchia. The two posed for a picture after Macchia’s victory and created a moment of past and present cross country royalty.
“It was great to meet such a wonderful young athlete,” Curtin said.
Perhaps the top memory of all was getting honored alongside Limmer, the former boys and girls cross country coach at Mepham for 35 years. In 1979, Limmer started the Lepham girl’s program, which flexed its might most in 1982 with a New York State XC Title. Curtin was a junior on that team in the same year she became a legend at Vannie.
“He wasn’t able to be there but on Sunday I drove out to visit him and I presented him with a plaque and we spent the afternoon together,” Curtin said of her coach. “For Manhattan College to offer what they did to me as an individual and then together with my coach was really beautiful.”