Boys' Runner of the Year:
As Jon Vitez kept running faster and faster, his sights kept rising higher and higher.
Like most top competitors, Vitez never got to his personal finish line. The Haddonfield senior still was South Jersey's best cross-country runner, by a wide margin.
"If you had told me at the beginning of the year what I would run at the end, I would have been like, 'Oh, man, that's great,' " Vitez said. "But as the season progressed, my goals moved up. It was definitely a good season, but I felt like I could have done better."
Vitez never lost a race to a South Jersey runner. He won his third consecutive Group 2 state title Nov. 14 at Holmdel in 15 minutes, 57 seconds.
Vitez also won the Bowdoin Park Cross County Classic on Sept. 26 in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., in 15:41.5 and the 2.5-mile Eastern States Championship at the Manhattan Invitational on Oct. 10 in VanCortlandt Park in the Bronx in 12:25.6.
Those performances in regional competitions raised Vitez's expectations for the remainder of the season.
"I was really happy with how I was running in the middle of the season," Vitez said.
Vitez decided to run with twins Joe Rosa and Jim Rosa of West Windsor-Plainsboro at the Nov. 21 Meet of Champions. Joe Rosa won in a meet-record time of 14:56, while Jim Rosa was second in 15:15. Vitez was fifth in 15:42.
"I was undefeated and I decided to go out with them," Vitez said. "I ended up paying for it in the last half-mile, but it was a matter of trying to finish first instead of trying to finish third. I wanted to go for it."
At the Nov. 28 Nike Northeast Regionals in Bowdoin Park, Vitez finished sixth in 16:11. He would have qualified for the Dec. 5 nationals in Portland, Ore., by finishing fifth.
"That probably was my worst race of the year," said Vitez, who has narrowed his college choices to North Carolina, Georgetown and Princeton. "I had run 15:41 on that course in late September. That was disappointing."
With those victories in Poughkeepsie and the Bronx in early fall, as well as his third consecutive Group 2 state title, Vitez still put together a senior season to remember. He wasn't satisfied but that's more a tribute to his competitiveness than anything else.
"I always think I can do better," Vitez said. "But looking back, I have to admit it was pretty successful."