Gess didn't realize the separation between her and the rest of the field. She stayed with the front of the pack for the first two miles, pretending she was just out for a run with her biggest competition, Tenafly's Josette Norris.
Then Gess pulled away in the last mile.
"She hasn't looked that relaxed on the last mile at this course," said Pam Gess, who moved around to track her daughter's progress. "I haven't seen that look from her yet, so I knew she was in a good place."
"I'm just trying to go out and have fun," Briana Gess said. "That's what's allowing me to do this right now."
Gess talked with her mom for the entire trip to Holmdel. Pam Gess, who is an assistant coach with the team and coached her daughter's middle-school team, told her to stay relaxed.
"I was just telling her that no matter what happens today, she has to get up for Confirmation class tomorrow," Pam Gess said. "It's just a race."
And for Gess, the Meet of Champions was just another run. While this season was the first time she considered her running seriously, Gess has years of experience. She recalls 30-minute runs with her mother from when she was six before she started organized cross-country in middle school. She even practiced with the Haddonfield boys' team this season so she could participate in more beneficial workouts.
"She's been running for a long time," Pam Gess said. "She's a freshman, but she's been running for a while. It just all came together today."
Gess' Haddonfield team finished fifth, the best of any South Jersey participant in the girls' race.
In the boys' competition, Hammonton's Louis Corgliano ran a 15:35 to set a personal record and finish third, nine seconds behind the winner, Christian Brothers' Mike McClemens.
"That race was there for me, but I just couldn't close," said Corgliano, who is deciding from among Clemson, Maryland, Syracuse, and Fairfield for where he will run in college.
"No one has been here before from my school. So to be in the top three, I can't complain."
Highland's Steve Maine finished fifth in 15:42.
Haddonfield's Greg Pelose ended up 46th to lead his team to a seventh-place finish, the best of any South Jersey team.
Teams: Christian Brothers 51, Don Bosco 104, West Windsor Plainsboro South 179, Westfield 191, Middletown North 201, Pope John XXIII 219, Haddonfield 237, Morristown 241, Cherry Hill East 242, Highland 247, Delbarton 261, Summit 285, Haddon Township 323, Wallkill Valley 358, Bernards 388, Pingry 403, Gill-St. Bernard's School 472, New Providence 500, Oratory Prep 581.
Individuals: 1 Mike McClemens, Christian Brothers, 15:26; 2 Dylan Tarpey, Freehold Township, 15:32; 3 Louis Corgliano, Hammonton, 15:35; 4 Kyle Kroon, Toms River South, 15:37; 5 Steve Maine, Highland, 15:42; 6 Michael Higgins, Don Bosco, 15:42; 7 Craig Corti, Wallkill Valley, 15:44; 8 Blaise Ferro, Christian Brothers, 15:45; 9 Josiah Hanko, Trinity Christian, 15:46; 10 Tom O'Neill, Middletown North, 15:47; 11 Scott Meehan, Pope John XXIII, 15:50; 12 Matthew Luppino, Westfield, 15:51; 13 Tom Rooney, Christian Brothers, 15:51; 14 Thomas Vinci, West Windsor Plainsboro South, 15:52; 15 Liam Mullett, Pingry School, 15:53; 16 Kyle Levermore, Don Bosco, 15:55; 17 Chris Luciano, Mountain Lakes, 15:55; 18 Brendan Ungemach, Wayne Hills, 15:56; 19 Leland Jones, Summit, 16:01; 20 Justin Lippert, Middletown North, 16:03.
Teams: Randolph 106, Red Bank Catholic 113, Rumson-Fair Haven 140, West Windsor Plainsboro South 159, Haddonfield 164, Ridgewood 166, Shawnee 176, Mount Olive 191, Voorhees 205, Seneca 216, Immaculate Heart 250, Academy of the Holy Angels 252, Middletown North 259, Pitman 352, North Warren 369, Robbinsville 377, Kent Place 440, Pingry 471, Villa Walsh 540.
Individuals: 1 Briana Gess, Haddonfield, 17:45; 2 Josette Norris, Tenafly, 18:12; 3 Mackenzie Barry, Mendham, 18:12; 4 Elizabeth Lansing, Randolph, 18:14; 5 Courtney Thompson, St. John Vianney, 18:16; 6 Dana Klein, Gill-St. Bernard's, 18:22; 7 Grace Dwyer, Hamilton North, 18:30; 8 Marin Warner, Holmdel, 18:36; 9 Julia Guerra, Indian Hills, 18:37; 10 Sierra Castaneda, West Morris, 18:39; 11 Clarissa Modde, Voorhees, 18:44; 12 Mara Schiffhauer, Seneca, 18:49; 13 Amanda Corbosiero, Mount St. Dominic, 18:50; 14 Brennan Sharkey, West Morris Central, 18:50; 15 Alexandra Juzwiak, Middletown North, 18:52; 16 Christina Rancan, West Windsor Plainsboro South, 18:56; 17 Eve Glasergreen, North Hunterdon, 18:58; 18 Lauren Zodl, Pinelands, 19:00; 19 Eryn Mills, Red Bank Catholic, 19:01; 20 Calleigh Higgins, Pope John XXIII, 19:02.