Glory Days: Roxbury High School 2004 and 2005 Girl’s Cross Country

By Steve Sears

They will forever be remembered as two of the greatest sports teams in Roxbury Gaels history.

The 2004 and 2005 Girl’s Cross Country team ran like champions and, as a result, won titles. The Morris County crown, sectional and Group IV championships, and the NJSIAA Meet of Champions in Holmdel. And finally, in 2004, they were invited to participate in the first ever Nike Invitationals, and finished 9th in the nation.

Sherry Hannay (Sikora) was the team’s young coach, herself a few years removed from a splendid Roxbury athletic career. She coached from 2003 through 2009. “There definitely was a history of successful runners at Roxbury, and I think I was just really fortunate to get in at that time and start coaching the group of girls that I did,” Hannay says.

Ali Caruana and Casey Bell (Campbell) were seniors on the 2004 squad, and Jennifer Strojny (Ennis) and Kristen Lindsey (Stevens) were juniors. “I was only 24 when they won their first state title,” Hannay says. “I do think it was helpful having just gone through high school and then running in college, and bringing that experience into coaching. I think just that mix of having older girls in there, and being around Jenn and Kristen who had come up through the ranks of junior running and had the experience, that kind of really tied it all together.”

“We knew that she (Hannay) was a successful runner, and she was young when she came on,” Strojny says. “I feel she elevated the team in a way that it made it feel more serious, that we weren’t just running to run. We had goals; she set the bar high for us. And I think getting the converts like Casey and Sarah Tencza from soccer, and then that year we also got Lauren Penney and Ashley Cromartie, who were freshmen. We were all friends, we all got along really well. I think as the season progressed, we said to ourselves, ‘Hey, I think we could do something big.”

Bell had played soccer her entire life. “I was playing soccer up until my junior year of high school, and it was just in my senior year that I decided to make the switch to cross country. That first season in 2004 was actually my first and only season running cross country in high school, so I don’t know if my lens was painted differently as to what it could be like, but obviously it was a crazy first and only experience for me.”

The 2004 team prepared well before the season’s first official practice session. “I remember a few of us started doing some weightlifting,” Lindsey says. “Over the summer, it was early in the morning. We just started, all of us, to really get into shape. Everything just kind of clicked going forward, especially for me going into my junior year, and then senior was the turning point in my running career.”

As the 2004 season went along, Hannay thought her team could win the county and group titles, and they did. “And then I thought we could win Meet of Champs, and when they actually did it, I think for me it was a sense of relief.” 

“I remember it very well,” Caruana says of the 2004 Meet of Champions. “I remember, first of all, how cold it was. I remember hearing my mom – I can just hear her voice, and she’s got a very distinctive cheer. And I remember there was so much hugging because it was just pure elation. It wasn’t an easy feat. We were going up against teams that had dominated high school cross country for decades. we finally brought it back to North Jersey and Morris County.”

Prior to the final race, Hannay was on the verge of tears because she was so nervous. “Being young and new, I wanted to do everything right and make sure that I put them in the best position they could be in. And when they won, it was just like a huge sense of joy and relief.”

Bell agrees, then adds, “Going into it, I think our team was starting to get a lot of attention just because we came out of nowhere. We were winning every single thing we did. Yes, there was a sigh of relief, but also validation to all of our hard work we had put in. It just felt great and indescribable, honestly.”

Lindsey returned next season. “We had to work for it, definitely, in 2005, which was different than 2004,” she recalls. “Definitely we worked for it in 2004, but in 2005 all the eyes were on us. We had to work even harder that season, so when we won that year, I feel like that was even more special because, as I said, all the eyes were on us. We rose to that challenge.”

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