The only runner capable of challenging Joe Rosa's pursuit of yet another meet record on Saturday was family. Bearing identical blue singlets and shocks of red hair, Rosa and twin brother Jim, juniors from West Windsor Plainsboro North, were indistinguishable as they surged stride-for-stride into Van Cortlandt Park's back hills on Saturday at the Manhattan Invitational.
It was in these woods where Joe gapped his brother, but it wasn't enough to break him. Jim’s drastic improvement from last season to this season, combined with superior closing speed kept Joe uncomfortably in the lead to the record-breaking end.
"[Jim] stayed with me the whole way," Joe said. "He was breathing down my back."
Joe held him off, and liked what he saw at the finish: 12:03.77 and a new meet record. Five seconds back was Jim, who's 12:08.71 marked a 56-second improvement from the same meet a year ago. Completing the 1-2-3 finish in the Varsity Boys "F" race was Jonathan Squeri, securing a big win for West Windsor Plainsboro North against several state-ranked teams.
In the meet's premiere boys event, Eastern States Championships, Haddonfield senior Jonathan Vitez barely held off a surging pack to win in 12:25.60. Seniors Brad Miles, of North Penn, and Tyler Udland, of Millburn, rounded out the top-3 in 12:27.51 and 12:28.17, respectively.
"I tried to pull away at about the mile but this is such a high quality field and everyone hung on," Vitez said. "There were people within reach the whole time and they definitely closed. Another 50 meters and they probably would have had me."
The top six places finished within 10 seconds of one another and 22 runners broke 13 minutes.
Christian Brothers Academy, of New Jersey, took the team title over top-ranked New York State team Fayetteville-Manlius by a score of 116-125.
Despite Eastern's stacked field, the day's fastest times still belonged to the Rosas twins by far. Lack of competition, however, was not a concern, they insisted.
"We try not to focus too much on what other people are doing," Joe said. "If we give it our best effort we can't be upset if there's no one with us."
It was Joe's third meet record in a season that has a chance to be historic: Joe is ranked #2 in MileSplit's Sweet 16 National Rankings; Jim is ranked #9. They are at least the fastest twins since Jorge and Ed Torres finished first and sixth, respectively, in the 1998 Footlocker Championship.
"We have different strengths as runners," Jim said. "I like to close fast and he likes to push the pace early. We help each other improve and it's been working really well for us."
A change to the original Van Cortlandt Park due to construction raised questions about how Rosa's time should be measured in the record books. Although two seconds faster than the standing mark, held by 2008 Footlocker Champion Soloman Haile, this year's time was on a course that included a shorter flat at the start and a longer flat to finish. The rest of the course, however, was laid out roughly the same way as previous years.
"I don't want to say that [Haile] couldn't have beaten me today," Joe said. "But I think that with the way I ran today, I'm happy to have the course record."
He added: "But you never really know. He could have beaten me today."