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XC: Cusack, Aldridge win first CAL titles; Ocean City dominant in taking boys, girls league championships

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By DAVE O’SULLIVAN Publisher MILLVILLE — Ocean City senior soccer player Tommy Cusack has enjoyed a lot of accolades during his career with the Red Raiders. He’s helped his team win two straight South Jersey Group 3 titles. On Thursday at New Jersey Motorsports Park, twin brother, Patrick, added a championship of his own to the mantle — a Cape-Atlantic League cross country title. Cusack used a strong push in the final 400 meters to pass up teammate Evan Schmeizer and Mainland Regional’s Rich Heim and clock in at 17:02.19 to capture his first league championship. Mainland’s Alyssa Aldridge, one of the top sophomores in the country, breezed to a first-place finish in the girls race, besting Ocean City’s Alexa Weber by nearly two minutes. The Red Raiders, however, had four of the top seven finishes to claim the overall team title in the girls race, and the Ocean City boys put five runners in the top seven to win the boys team championship. “Last year, we were disappointed because we lost out by two points to Middle, so we were definitely focused on winning the title,” Cusack said. “It’s really nice. We all worked really hard this year, so I’m happy it ended well for us. Our coaches really know what they are doing. They just tell us to follow what they say, and we do, and we end up winning at the end.” Schmeizer had the lead throughout much of the race, but Cusack was able to get a nice kick coming down off the bridge that serves as an overpass to one of the exits at the park, and was able to hold off Schmeizer and Heim down the final 100-yard straightaway. “Last year, I hauled (down the bridge) and passed about three people. This year, I could hear (Rich) Heim right behind me. I went past Evan and said, ‘Evan, sorry man.’ He worked the whole time and was in front the whole time, but I didn’t want to slow down and lose time,” Cusack said. “I wasn’t out of breath, but I was definitely feeling it. But I knew I could do it, because Heim and Harrison Mayo from Vineland, they are both very fast. Mayo is a very good 800 (meters) runner, so you can’t leave the end for him.” Schmeizer clocked in at 17:06.46, with Heim in third at 17:10.95. Daniel Do of Absegami took fourth and Ocean City swept the next three places with Jesse Schmeizer in fifth, Brett Johnson sixth and David Millar seventh. Jordan Calahan of EHT, Mark Nelson of Lower Cape May Regional and EHT’s Aditya Joshi rounded out the top 10. Evan Schmeizer said he didn’t feel at his best, but knew he had to gut it out for his team. Ocean City's Evan Schmeizer finished second at the Cape-Atlantic League cross country championships on Thursday to help the Red Raiders take home the team title. (Glory Days Magazine photos/Dave O'Sullivan) Ocean City’s Evan Schmeizer finished second at the Cape-Atlantic League cross country championships on Thursday to help the Red Raiders take home the team title. (Glory Days Magazine photos/Dave O’Sullivan) “I can’t really say I ever feel great running a cross country race. There are times when I will feel strong, but it always seems like a near-death experience when I run. At the Shore Coaches Invitational there was a time where I couldn’t move for a while, they had to get an ambulance for me. Our coaches are unbelievable. It’s no secret why we have been so successful for so long, they give me the inner strength to keep going, even when I’m not feeling great,” Schmeizer said. “I didn’t really feel that great during the race, but (my coaches) really wanted it and I was able to push through. I don’t really care that Pat ended up beating me. We’re good friends and we train exactly the same way. We talked about how at counties and here we’d love to go 1-2 and we don’t really care who beats who. I’m happy for him and I know he’s happy for me. He did apologize at the end. He knew they were coming and that I was wearing down a little. But it’s all about place, time doesn’t matter in cross country. Every course is different.” Cusack said at this time of year, every cross country race is a grind, both physically and mentally. “I was trying to take it out easier at the beginning because the wind was heavy. Around the two-mile mark is where I picked it up and tried to catch up to Evan,” Cusack said. “People don’t realize, it’s really mental. I was nervous all day in school, and so was everyone else. You have to stay so focused right up to the start of the race, and throughout the race you have to be thinking what to do, when to do it, how to move. You have to try to get around people on turns. There are so many things to do besides just running.” Schmeizer said he wasn’t surprised he and Cusack were battling it out for the top spot. He said the two buddies each wanted to win the title badly. “During most of the dual-meet season where we were able to drop everybody from the other teams, we didn’t care who won. We made it clear that in counties, here, during the championship season that we were going to go at each other,” Schmeizer said. “We had a pretty good idea that as long as we both ran well, we would win.” On the girls side, Aldridge was untouchable, but Ocean City placed four runners in the top seven to capture the team title. Mainland had three runners in the top eight, as the rivals collected seven of the top eight spots. The only non-Mainland or Ocean City runner to score a top-8 finish was Absegami’s Marielle Indyg, who took sixth overall. Mainland Regional sophomore Alyssa Aldridge nearly broke the 18-minute mark to easily take first in the girls race. Mainland Regional sophomore Alyssa Aldridge nearly broke the 18-minute mark to easily take first in the girls race. Aldridge clocked an 18:07.70 with Weber of Ocean City in second at 19:49.89. Mainland freshman Emily Dirkes took third with a 20:00.17. Ocean City took the next two spots in the top five, with Emma Bergman taking fourth and Michaela Baker fifth. After Indyg, Jenna Monaghan of Ocean City was seventh and Emily Forester of Mainland eighth. Lower Cape May’s Christina Adams took ninth and EHT’s Alina Roell rounded out the top 10. “I thought I ran pretty well. I just wanted to come out here and run hard today, push my other teammates and just try our best together,” Aldridge said. “I think we did really well today and I’m happy for everybody. I’m really excited to be able to win this. It’s my first time, and I’m really excited about it.” Aldridge said that despite having a sizable lead, she wasn’t about to let up, not at the league championship. “At any point in the race, anything can happen. I know there are a lot of girls out here who are very good and everyone in the field is so talented. You just have to keep on your toes the whole time because you never know what can happen,” she said. “She is the most unbelievable person I’ve ever seen in my life when it comes to running. She is just the best influence. She pushes me. I want to be like her, every single race,” Dirkes said of Aldridge. “Sometimes she will give me better tips on strategy. She tells me when to surge, and helps me in any way.” Dirkes said she was thrilled to score a top-three finish in her first experience on the big stage. “It’s such a great experience. It’s beyond anything I could have imagined,” Dirkes said. Contact Dave O’Sullivan: sully@acglorydays.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays [adsense]  

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