Allentown High School’s Liam Murphy never ran for the boys’ cross-country team before 2018.
The junior played for the Redbirds’ boys’ soccer team in his freshman and sophomore years.
He played soccer growing up, and did not want to stop. But Allentown’s cross-country coach, Rick Smith, noticed that Murphy was a natural runner during spring track. Murphy especially thrived in distance events.
Back in June, after the 2018 spring track season and two years of coaxing, Smith finally convinced Murphy to join the cross-country team. Murphy instantly became the best runner on Allentown’s team and also emerged as one of the best in New Jersey.
He won every regular season meet, the Mercer County championship race on Oct. 19 at Washington Crossing Park in Titusville and the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 3 sectional title on Nov. 3 at Thompson Park in Jamesburg.
“I was telling him since that first season, ‘Dude, what are you doing? Stop soccer,'” Smith said, laughing. “He bought in this year and gave up something he had always done with his buddies. He started running in June and it all built up to this.”
“It was hard. I had been playing soccer my whole life. My coach always told me I’d be successful in this, so I decided to give it up. And my parents were always telling me to do cross-country,” Murphy said. “I definitely made the right decision. But I definitely didn’t expect this much success.”
Murphy did not stop at the state sectional meet. He placed fifth (16:16) in the NJSIAA Group 3 championship on Nov. 10 at Holmdel Park.
It was a strong performance by Murphy, but it was also the first race he didn’t win as a cross-country runner. For the first time, Murphy had to think about failure and what he needed to do differently.
“I went out too fast,” Murphy said. “I got tired after that first hill and had nothing left.”
The junior corrected his mistake in the NJSIAA Meet of Champions on Nov. 17 at Holmdel Park. Murphy stayed back, conserved energy and made his move on the home stretch.
He finished third (15:53) out of the 183 best boys’ runners in the Garden State.
“I got good experience and figured out strategies and stuff. After groups I thought about it a lot. I had a bad race at groups. That dwelled on me a lot,” Murphy said. “I thought about game plans more. It helped a lot.”
Murphy’s third-place finish in the Meet of Champions earned him a spot in the Foot Locker Northeast Regional on Nov. 24 at Van Cortlandt Park in New York City. The Allentown native placed fourth (15:38) out of 193 of the best runners in the northeast region of the country.
Murphy executed the same strategy that he executed in the Meet of Champions.
“I was in sixth the whole time in the regional,” Murphy said. “But I pushed at the end, passed a couple dudes and got fourth.”
That finish landed Murphy a post in the Foot Locker Nationals on Dec. 8 in San Diego. In his first year as a cross-country runner, Murphy will get a chance to race against the best high school runners in the United States of America.
Not surprisingly, the junior is going to stick with cross-country over soccer.
“I’m firmly a runner now. No more soccer. I definitely miss soccer. It was tough to give up. But I definitely made the right decision,” Murphy said. “I don’t get sick of (cross-country) either. It’s tiring sometimes but I enjoy it. I’m just trying to do the best I can in nationals.”
“I was nervous going into the county, the sectional, the group, the meet of champs. But he just kept doing better,” Smith said. “In nationals he can learn even more about himself. He’s still growing as a 5K guy.”