The best cross-country teams are more than a loose collection of good distance runners who wear the same uniforms. They have the kind of bond that binds the boys from Haddonfield High School.
"The power of the 'Dawgs' is the pack," Haddonfield senior John Greenberg said in perfect summation of both this season's squad and the history of one of South Jersey's most successful programs in any sport.
Haddonfield on Wednesday won its 162d consecutive dual meet. The Bulldogs have not lost a dual meet since the first event of the 1997 season.
The victory in a batch meet at Haddonfield's Pennypacker Park that included Sterling, Haddon Heights and Haddon Township - the Bulldogs' toughest current Colonial Conference competitor - was typical in a lot of ways.
Haddonfield took eight of the first 10 spots. The Bulldogs' first five runners finished less than a minute apart.
"With this team, our fifth runner could be our first runner and our first runner could be our fifth runner," Haddonfield sophomore Austin Stoner said.
What was notable about Haddonfield's victory was that there was some serious speculation before the meet that Haddon Township, the two-time defending Group 1 state champion, might be in position to spring the upset, based on the strength of its top runners.
Haddon Township's Luke Petela won the individual race in 15 minutes, 40 seconds, with teammate Owen Long taking sixth in 16:25.
But Haddonfield's depth resulted in an imposing victory, as the Bulldogs scored 21 to the Hawks' 40. Haddonfield also beat Sterling and Haddon Heights by the maximum mark of 15-50.
"I felt like we were the stronger overall team," Haddonfield coach Nick Baker said of the competition with Haddon Township. "I told the guys, 'If we run our race, we should win.' But you never know how it's going to go. We needed to run smart, and we needed all our guys to contribute."
As usual, that's what happened for Haddonfield. The boys who represent the high school in the tony town that is the distance-running capital of South Jersey stayed together through the woods, breaking apart Haddon Township's pack, outdistancing the guys from Haddon Heights and Sterling, and registering three more victories in a streak that stretches back 16 years.
Senior Alex Gigliotti led the way in 15:45, taking second. Senior Greg Pelose was third in 15:50, senior Matt Stewart was fourth in 16:06, and Greenberg was fifth in 16:09. Stoner took seventh in 16:44, with junior Chris Goings next in 16:45, junior Danny Brennan ninth in 16:50, and senior Patrick Shea 10th in 16:51.
"We don't have that one stud runner," Greenberg said. "On any day, any one of our guys could be our No. 1 runner. We're united as a team."
In its long run of success, Haddonfield boys' cross-country has featured plenty of sensational individual runners, guys who challenged for the top spots in major competitions at the state and regional level.
This team is a little different, built more on depth and balance than strength and speed. They still run as individuals, but they are at their best when they move as a team.
"It makes it so enjoyable when you emphasize the team aspect of cross-country," Stoner said. "The bond we have with each other, it's incredible."