Northern Highlands’ Hebner wins girls Meet of Champions crown by Bob Schwalb special to The Record
HOLMDEL – When it comes to running, Monica and Isabel Hebner are thrilled to have each other as “built-in training partners.” That doesn’t mean the Northern Highlands twins haven’t had their differences over the years.
“It’s always the dumbest things,” Isabel said with a laugh. “Like, I elbowed her one too many times or I kicked her heel, or she ran into me or splashed me with a puddle. Stupid stuff like that.”
All was certainly forgotten after Saturday’s NJSIAA cross country Meet of Champions at Holmdel Park. Put simply, the Hebner sisters stole the show.
Monica Hebner won the state crown, crossing in 18:13, while Isabel took fourth in 18:28. Monica edged rival Alyssa Aldridge of Mainland by two seconds to become the fifth North Jersey girl to win the prized trophy and the first since Hawthorne Christian’s Lindsay Van Alstine did it in 2001.
“I’m so happy,” Monica Hebner said. “My expectations going into this race were just to have fun. I knew it was my last Holmdel [race] so I just wanted to give it everything I had. Whatever time or place came with it came with it.”
After getting “stuck in the pack” at the start, Hebner caught Aldridge and Randolph’s Abby Loveys at the bottom of the bowl – roughly the midway point – and passed them at the top. Hebner led the rest of the way, but was understandably nervous on the final downhill straightaway.
“I heard people cheering, but I didn’t know if it was for me or for [Aldridge],” Hebner said. “I just gave it everything I had. When I saw it was just me near the finish line, I was so excited. My heart was going crazy.
“I always wait at the finish line to give [Isabel] a hug, no matter where she finishes,” Hebner added. “When I saw she was coming in fourth I was like, ‘Go Isabel!’”
Isabel Hebner called her own stretch run “really cool but also terrifying.” On the one hand, she had no idea who was chasing her down or who the crowd was cheering for. On the other hand, she had a scenic view of her sister’s championship finish.
“It’s crazy,” Isabel Hebner said. “Being able to watch her go into first and then stay there the rest of the way. It was just so cool.”
On Saturday, the Hebners also helped Northern Highlands to a ninth-place finish. Indian Hills was North Jersey’s top team, finishing one spot ahead of the Highlanders.
The Braves were led by sophomore Corinne Barney, who crossed 12th in 18:54. While Barney was disappointed with her finish, it wasn’t bad considering she was battling a severe cold.
“I woke up on Thursday and could barely breathe out of my nose,” Barney said. “I was really nervous because I didn’t know how I’d be able to run today.”
Barney said she took maximum doses of Sudafed and DayQuil since getting sick. She went to bed on Friday hoping she’d feel better in the morning, but it didn’t happen.
“I wish I’d done better but I gave it everything I had,” Barney said. “I’m just glad I was able to run.”
North Jersey’s other medalist was Park Ridge/Emerson junior Samantha Green, who took 17th in 19:08. After failing to reach the last two state finales because of injuries, Green was a tad cautious after qualifying for this year’s race by winning the prior week’s Group 1 crown.
“Getting hurt again was in the back of my mind all week,” Green said half-jokingly. “But I tried to stay positive. I was really careful running in the woods and stuff.”
Green said her pre-race goal was a top-25 finish and was thrilled about exceeding it, especially since the top 20 finishers received medals.
On Saturday, North Jersey’s top boy finisher was Passaic junior Luis Peralta, who took 24th in 16:23.