Cate DeSousa goes out with the pack at Holmdel Park during the Monmouth County Cross Country Meet. Courtesy photo
Cate DeSousa goes out with the pack at Holmdel Park during the Monmouth County Cross Country Meet. Courtesy photo

Red Bank Catholic senior Cate DeSousa has been one of the top distance runners in the state over the past three years. 

But she could never outpace the competition in her own backyard until Oct. 11, when the Oceanport resident won the Monmouth County Cross Country Championships at Holmdel Park. 

DeSousa had won NJSIAA Non-Public B championships in both cross country and track & field, but her best county finish in cross country was second place each of the last two years. She actually won her pod as a sophomore but finished second overall. 

That all changed when Cate toured Holmdel in a time of 18:36 to outdistance Freehold Township’s Emma Zawatski by 17 seconds. St. Rose of Belmar senior Tilly O’Connor was third, while RBC sophomore Rhiannon Hill was seventh. 

On the boys side, Christian Brothers Academy of Lincroft won its 21st consecutive MCT team title without even putting its best team out to compete.  

While winning counties was old news for the Colts, it was a fresh, new experience for DeSousa. And it meant a lot.  

“I never really won the full county title until this year,” she said. “That makes it more exciting. It’s something I really wanted and really had my eye on. I know our county has great competition. It’s a really hard race, so I was happy to come out on top, but the other girls were amazing. We always push each other and challenge each other.”

Her victory serves as a great kick start for the upcoming Shore Conference and state meets. 

“Just having that experience in October is really great and definitely helps at the end of the season,” DeSousa said. “Getting to race all these girls before the championship season comes around is great. It’s good to get back into a competitive racing mindset. It definitely gives me a lot of confidence and I’m super excited for the rest of the season.”

DeSousa’s strategy was to hang back for the first half of the 3.1-mile race. She and O’Connor ran with each other during that time, with Zawatski 10 seconds ahead. Cate began to make her move at the mile-and-a-half mark. 

“At the two-mile mark I was still about 30 to 40 meters behind her,” DeSousa said. “It was a pretty big gap, but I just had to keep my head in it and keep my nose in it and keep going. I just had to keep on closing the gap in the back woods and try to use the downhill to my advantage. At about 400 meters to go I was able to get her and just tried to keep on going and get to the finish.”  

The win capped an eventful two weeks for DeSousa, who on Sep. 29 announced via Twitter that she will continue her running and academic careers at the University of Virginia. After overseeing national powerhouses at Stanford and Oregon, coach Vin Lananna has already produced 24 All-Americans and two NCAA individual champions at Virginia in his first three years there. 

The program is growing, and DeSousa wants to be part of it. 

“He’s trying to make Virginia the Oregon of the East Coast,” DeSousa said. “The progress they made from three years ago up to this year is pretty crazy. I know with the upward direction they’re going it’s gonna be pretty exciting the years that I’m there. I really hope I’m able to contribute to that.”

DeSousa, who sports a 4.6 weighted grade point average, had a bevy of outstanding schools to pick from. It wasn’t easy, but she had some assistance. 

“Faith definitely has helped me a lot,” DeSousa said. “It was a really tough process. Even though they were all great choices, it was very stressful because it was obviously about deciding my future. Turning toward my faith during this time, I was trying to ask God for signs to tell me what school to go to, and to let me know where the right place for me is. Faith was really important all through the process and I turned to it during hard times.”

What made it so hard is that DeSousa was choosing from four outstanding schools in North Carolina, Duke, Virginia and Georgetown.  

“Throughout the entire process I wanted to find a school with an academic and athletic balance,” said Cate, who hopes to get into sports broadcasting. “Obviously both are important to me. I knew that was definitely apparent at Virginia and the coaching staff was great, they made me feel so welcome. I just felt like part of the team. The girls were great; I love what they’re building there and I’m really excited to be a part of that. I knew right away it was the right place for me.”

In the boys race, CBA had only one finisher in the Top 10 but its top five runners were all in the Top 30 as the Colts beat Manalapan by six points. Senior Zach Shroba was third, followed by sophomores Alex Mastroly (12th) and Alex Schmitt (14th), senior Matthew Mastroly (23rd) and junior Conor Clifford (28th). RBC junior Patrick Coyle finished eighth.