May 2, 2021
By LESLEY GRAHAMFor the second straight week, the Ocean City High School cross country teams raced to victory, posting the top runners on both the boys and girls sides over visiting Vineland on Tuesday.Junior Owen Ritti and senior Erin Hanlon both recorded top times for Ocean City, with Ritti coming in at 16:33 and Hanlon at 21:14, respectively, for the 5K races. Both Ocean City teams were able to complete a perfect score, winning the dual meet against Vineland, 15-50.On the boys side, there was a difference in the order of finish this week compared to last, with freshman Matt Hoffman breaking into the top five, improving from his sixth place performance the last time out.On the girls side, Hanlon once again took the top spot for the Red Raiders, dropping 30 seconds off her time from last week. Hanlon was followed by fellow Red Raiders Vanessa Karayiannis, Frankie Ritzel, Avery Jackson and Marissa Vallese.Ocean City girls head coach Trish Henry mentioned how nice it is to have a mix of returners and new faces to complete the team this season, especially with how the newcomers are responding.“We continue to be happy with all the newcomers. They may lack a lot of race experience, but they are hanging in and getting better each time out,” Henry said after the race.Ritzel, Jackson and Vallese are all racing in their first varsity season for the Red Raiders.Tyler Greene (left) and Owen Ritti surge ahead on the home course. Ritti and Greene would finish 1-2 for the Red Raiders.The typical home course in Ocean City involves a start on the Boardwalk, a transition onto the beach, road racing and a finish at the track at the turf stadium. Due to Monday’s weather and the tides Tuesday, this week’s course did not include a beach section, allowing the runners to really push the pace on the flat road course.Ocean City boys head coach Matt Purdue was happy with his team’s effort against Vineland.“Both Owen and Tyler (Greene) ran under 17 minutes for a 5K, so that’s good for us, especially this point in the season,” Purdue said.In a typical cross country season, the schedule involves a number of larger format invitational meets, where the runners face some of the best competition throughout New Jersey and the tri-state area.But with the safety protocols and precautions taken this season due to COVID-19 concerns, the Red Raiders are having to change their game plan and mental approach.“The team is pushing each other – each guy is taking the opportunity to push themselves and their teammates,” Purdue said.Henry echoed those thoughts, reiterating to her runners, although the season may look different, there are constant opportunities to improve their performance.“You are racing the clock. And more importantly, your teammates can be your competitors and your motivators, making you the best you can be,” Henry said.The girls get underway at the start of the race on the Boardwalk. From left, Ocean City’s Vanessa Karayiannis, Avery Jackson, Erin Hanlon and Frankie Ritzel push the pace.