Every morning when Freehold Township High School distance runner Emma Zawacki wakes up, the first thing she sees is a corkboard that lists all the goals she wants to accomplish each season.

In her 2022 junior cross country campaign, Zawacki had two big goals in mind: to win the NJSIAA Meet of Champions and to qualify for nationals at the Champs Sports Cross Country Championships. She achieved both goals and got her name in the school’s record book.

Zawacki became the first athlete from Freehold Township to win the cross country meet of champions and the first high school runner to qualify for nationals.

“It’s been a great season for me and my teammates,” Zawacki said in an interview this week. “I’m very focused. Every time I reach a goal, a new one is created. I’m really excited for the next two seasons at the track.”

During the 2022 spring track season, Zawacki captured her first Meet of Champions state title, winning the 1,600 meters in a personal best time of 4:48.88.

During the 2022 cross country season, Zawacki captured her second state Meet of Champions title, winning the 5-kilometer (3.1 mi) race in 18:38 at Holmdel Park on Nov. 12.

The Meet of Champions brings together the best athletes from across New Jersey from high schools of all sizes to compete against each other. The sectional and group meets that precede the Meet of Champions separate athletes by region and school size.

Zawacki said she surprised herself by winning the Meet of Champions 1,600 earlier this year. She said the win showed that anything is possible and gave her a lot of confidence heading into the cross country season.

“You can never stop running. Once you’ve accomplished one goal, there’s another one to reach. You can do so many great things,” said Zawacki.

In 2021, Emma’s brother, Tyler, won the Meet of Champions javelin championship for Freehold Township. Tyler is a freshman javelin thrower at the University of Virginia.

Their brother, Zach, is a junior distance runner at Baylor University. In 2020, Zach won the 3,200 meters at the Shore Conference Indoor Championships for Freehold Township.

“It’s really cool to be part of a family that’s expanding our legacy” in Freehold Township, Emma said.

On Nov. 26, Zawacki competed in the Northeast Regional Champs Sports Cross Country at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, N.Y., becoming the first Freehold Township cross country runner to qualify for nationals.

Zawacki finished 10th in the Bronx and will compete at nationals on Dec. 10 at Balboa Park in San Diego, California. The top 10 runners from each of the four regions advanced to the national championships.

“It’s been a dream of mine since I was in fifth grade,” Zawacki said of competing at nationals. “I’m looking forward to all the experiences of the race.”

During the 2022 cross country season, Zawacki took home a silver medal at the Monmouth County Championships and then earned the top prize by winning a gold medal at the Shore Conference Championships, the Central Jersey State Group IV Sectional and the Group IV State Championship Meet.

Zawacki’s success this season has not come as a surprise to Freehold Township coach Todd Briggs, who is also her training partner. Briggs said after training with Zawacki all summer, he knew she was destined to have a great fall season.

“It happened pretty much the way I thought it would from watching it. It’s amazing that our (Freehold Township) program can produce a Meet of Championship winner,” he said.

Zawacki attributed much of her success this season to training with Briggs and his tutelage helping her become a better and smarter runner.

“I came into this season stronger than ever before,” she said.

Zawatski’s success had a big impact on the rest of the cross country team, Briggs said.

According to Briggs, Zawacki not only helped lead the Patriots to multiple championships in the fall, she also inspired many of her teammates to reach new heights and become better runners.

“If there’s anyone who has had the biggest impact on her teammates, it’s Emma,” Briggs said. “She lives and dies by sport and that has rubbed off on the other girls.”

Freehold Township made history as the first boys and girls team in school history to win a state title at the Group IV cross country championships held Nov. 5 in Holmdel. The Patriots clocked 20:14 as a team to win the crown.

Prior to winning the Group IV championship, the Patriots won the program’s first title at the Central Jersey Group IV Tournament on Oct. 29 at Thompson Park in Jamesburg.

Ava Biemüller, Heather Feinstein, Leah Rutledge, Sophia Briggs, Caroline Cox and Leah Bloom ran alongside Zawacki during the sectional and state championships. The runners helped Freehold Township cap off an outstanding 2022 campaign with a third-place finish at the Meet of Champions.

The Patriots also won team titles at the Monmouth County Championships and the Shore Conference Championships.

“We had so much fun (this season). We had a great roster of talent and every day they pushed each other to be their best. It made us a tight-knit group. The culture of the Freehold Township girls cross country program has grown exponentially,” Briggs said.

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