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Courtney and Jessica jumping for joy
High School North Class of 2001 graduate Courtney Decker, left, and HSN freshman Jessica Abbott, right, jump for joy in front of the school's marquee. As well they should; the two cross country stars represent a legacy of running success at the school, and a generational connection that remains strong. Story below.

Nov. 16, 2022-- coverage of High School North's girls cross country 2022 South Jersey Group 4 state title, and freshman Jessica Abbott's first-place finish, notes the following:

"Abbott ... is the first Mariner to win this race since Courtney Fiorovanti did it in 2000."

It's 22 years later, and Courtney Fiorovanti, now Courtney Decker, is still running. She is, in fact, presently ranked first in the country for the 2022 outdoor track season in the mile for her age group, and second in the 800M.

She's also still in Toms River, teaching life skills and careers at Intermediate East after 17 years as a TRRS elementary school teacher. And when she's not in the classroom, she's serving as a bridge linking the success of district runners past and present.

"It's funny to me how things always come full circle," Decker said.

"I couldn't wait to run for TRN and become a Mariner." - Jessica Abbott

Finding where a circle starts is difficult, but let's begin in the office of former HSN Principal John Coleman, who had pulled Courtney aside at the beginning of the 2000-2001 school year to gently encourage her to try her hand-- or feet, rather-- at cross country instead of soccer her senior year. Coleman had noticed the success Courtney experienced in the winter indoor and spring track seasons, and knew of her desire to run in college, and thought that XC could be the key to future success.

"The idea was to do it to get better on the track," Decker said. "I put a lot of thought into it, and then decided to do just that."

A funny thing happened on the way to getting better on the track: Courtney realized she was pretty good on turf, too. She won the cross country South Jersey Group 4 state sectionals that very fall. Though it was surprising to some considering it was her first year running XC, it was no shock to Coleman, whose faith in Courtney's ability was immediately affirmed. Furthermore, it was a continuum of success for the school; North's Jen Pesce had won the SJG4 just a few years prior, in 1997.

Courtney did go on to college, running for the University of Maryland through her graduation in 2005. Now, Decker runs for the all-female group called Bella 'N Motion. Last month, at the Sweetwater 5k, Decker found herself running against Pesce, who was a senior at North when Decker was a freshman. They finished 1-2. Bella 'N Motion is coached by yet another HSN running standout and Toms River Athletic Hall of Famer Dianne DeOliveira, who now serves as the assistant coach for High School East's cross country team.

"I truly attribute all of my success in the past few years to her and her knowledge," Decker said of DeOliveira.

In various races over the past year-- three of them to be exact-- Decker found herself running against an up-and-comer on the cross country circuit, a girl named Jessica Abbott, who was fresh off breaking Intermediate North's record in the 1600M and who was about to enter her freshman year at-- guess where?-- High School North.

Incredibly, Courtney and Jessica finished 1-2 in all three races.

"That is how I originally met Jess and her parents," Decker said. "Knowing where she was headed, I thought it was pretty cool that we're both North girls."

On Oct. 29, Jessica indeed became the first Lady Mariner since Courtney to win the SJG4 sectional championship.

Full circle.

Past and present came together after HSN XC assistant coach Noel Whitall invited Decker to document this school history-making feat with a get together. The three runners gathered under the school's marquee and took photos together. There, Jessica acknowledged that she had always had her sights set on running as a Mariner.

"I always saw the girls team on the track working out while I was preparing for Junior Olympics under Coach Bob Andrews at Gone Running," Jessica said. "I couldn't wait to run for TRN and become a Mariner. There have been so many great runners at North and I am just hoping to be another one and represent the school to the best of my abilities."

One might wonder what Decker's high school cross country career might have looked like had she started sooner, considering she experienced instant and lasting success. Jessica Abbott might be the manifestation of that curiosity, a state sectional champ just two months into her high school career. The sky's the limit for her, and with the support and encouragement of the school's past elite runners like Decker, Pesce, and DeOliveira, there's no telling what the future holds.

Courtney Decker in high school 1
A multi-sport athlete at High School North, there was no doubt that running (above) always brought a smile (below) to Courtney Fiorovanti's face. Now Courtney Decker, she is still competing-- and excelling-- on the racing circuit for her age group.
Courtney Decker in high school 2
high school highlights for Courtney Fiorovanti
Jessica Abbott displaying her SJG4 plaque

HSN freshman Jessica Abbott led High School North to the SJG4 title in October, becoming the first Mariner since Fiorovanti to win the race outright, finishing first overall with a time of 18:04.02.

Courtney and Jessica arm on shoulder

Jessica Abbot knows she can lean on High School North runners of the past, like Decker, for support, encouragement, and motivation.