Fahd Nasser went to McNair Academic a little more than three years ago to become a basketball star.
Almost four years ago, Jasmin Lim enrolled at McNair with the hopes and dreams of becoming an engineer.
Together, they have carved out a place in school history, because they now own a distinction for life. They are NJSIAA state sectional cross country champions. It had never before happened that two athletes, a boy and a girl, won state sectionals at the same time at McNair.
Last Saturday at Greystone Park, also known as Morris County Central Park, Nasser won the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I boys’ cross country championship, crossing the line in an impressive 16:43.17, a good 13 seconds ahead of the rest of the field.
A little while later, Lim obliterated the competition in the North 2, Group I girls’ race, romping home in 20:40.46, some 37 seconds ahead of everyone else.
Two races, two champions for the Cougars. Not a bad day in Parsippany.
“It’s very nice,” said veteran McNair Academic head coach Matt Hogan. “It’s nice to have them both win.”
Nasser is the third McNair boy to win a state sectional gold medal. Lim is the fourth girl. But it is the first time that two won in the same year.
For their efforts, Nasser and Lim have been selected as Hudson Reporter Co-Athletes of the Week for the past week.
Nasser always had hopes and dreams of being a basketball star.
“I basically didn’t know anything about track,” Nasser said. “I played basketball.”
After his sophomore year of basketball at McNair, boys’ head coach Dave Masciale suggested to Nasser that he could run track in the spring to keep in shape.
“It’s because my basketball coach told me,” Nasser said. “He said that he would rather me run track than doing nothing in the spring. I did it for conditioning, but I wanted to get better in basketball. A lot of people told me that was the way to get better. But I think that’s what got me going. Coach Masciale told me to run.”
Basketball’s loss has been track’s gain, because Nasser has been brilliant.
“He had a breakthrough year for us last spring,” Hogan said of Nasser. “He ran a 4:27 mile [1,600-meter run], which is pretty good for someone who had no training. He was pretty good right out of the blocks. We knew he was an athletic kid with some talent.”
But Hogan never dreamed that Nasser would become the state sectional champion.
“He’s made some tremendous strides,” Hogan said. “He had a really good summer working out. He just kept it rolling. He’s been in the top 10 in every race this season. He’s really had a solid season.”
Hogan believes that Nasser can be even better next year and beyond.
“He’s definitely a collegiate runner,” Hogan said. “That’s if he wants to be. He enjoys it now enough where he has to give up basketball.”
Nasser is ready for that. He just hasn’t told Masciale that yet.
“I’ll tell him,” Nasser said. “I have to tell him. I am considering running in college and I’m waiting now for offers. Some schools have sent e-mails and letters. I’m going to try to make the best of it.”
Nasser was asked what it felt like to be a state champion.
“It’s a really nice feeling,” Nasser said. “All the time and dedication I put into it has paid off. It’s an accomplishment for me and my teammates. I truly think it’s a team accomplishment.”
As a team, the Cougars finished second to champion Whippany Park by just two points, the closest of all state sectional outcomes.
Lim’s championship came out of nowhere.
“She is the biggest surprise of all,” Hogan said. “It’s amazing how far she’s come this year. She trained pretty hard over the summer. She’s a totally different runner than she was last year. She’s made great strides.”
How much? Well, Lim’s best time a year ago was around 21 minutes.
“She’s now running in the high 19s,” Hogan said. “She had some injuries in the past that slowed her down.”
Lim would not use the ankle, calf and foot arch injuries as excuses. She also walked away from the sport to concentrate on her academics last year after cross country season was over.
But she came back.
“Yeah, it was my senior year and I wanted to see if I could end my career with a good year, especially since I knew that Coach Hogan believed in me,” Lim said. “I’m definitely really surprised. I didn’t expect this. The girls on the team have worked well together and helped me a lot. I’m still a little surprised by it.”
Hogan is still a little shocked.
“If you would have told me that she could come back this year and win the state sectional, I wouldn’t have thought it,” Hogan said. “But she put in so much work, a lot of it on her own. She got stronger and she has a great work ethic.”
Lim hopes to attend Cooper Union and study engineering next September. She has a 97 average in her classes, but has yet to take the Scholastic Aptitude Tests.
Needless to say, it’s been a reason for immense pride at McNair.
“I’m as happy as pie,” Hogan said. “We have two individual champions and the teams made major strides.”
And the runners feel the same way.
“I feel like it’s a great accomplishment and great to share this with Jasmin,” Nasser said. “The guys and the girls get along. We’re all on the same team. Both teams work very hard.”
“I didn’t know we were the first,” Lim said. “It’s really nice.” – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com