Toms River, NJ: The best track meet of the winter season took place on Saturday at the Bennett Indoor Complex in Toms River. The fastest New Jersey has to offer gathered under the dome and clashed to determine the strongest athlete in each event. The top 6 athletes per event from every group as well as the 6 fastest non-automatic qualifiers had their opportunity to prove their NJ supremacy.
Egg Harbor Arrives
The heart of a great track and field team is 400 meters. Teams with depth in that event prove difficult to conquer. Challenge them in the 200 and they will compete. Challenge them in the 800 and they will respond. Challenge them in the 400 and you are in trouble. Egg Harbor Township has shown strength throughout this winter season in all three events and capped off indoors with a performance that should shake the confidence of the rest of South Jersey. The Eagles soared to victory in the 4×400 meter relay as Alex Dessoye, Robert Dessoye, Aidin Hendriks, and Amir Brock turned in the fastest South Jersey time of the season running 3:22.75.
Alex Dessoye set the stage for EHT from lane 3 as he cruised around the first two turns before making the break into lane 1. After being gapped by Paul VI, Hunterdon Central, and Old Bridge he was able to kick his way into a confusion causing dead heat (50.8). As all three teams fought to pass the baton Robert Dessoye had to spin around other athletes take the exchange from his brother. Adrenaline racing from the messy pass, R. Dessoye made a huge back stretch pass and grew his lead before handing off to Hendricks with room to spare (51.9). Paul VI and Franklin passed the Eagles on the first lap of the third leg but Hendrick summoned his speed, kicked home, and handed off in 1st (50.9). From there Brock closed the deal and pulled away in the last 75 meters (48.9) to register his school’s first Meet of Champions 4×400 title (3:22.75). The Paul VI foursome of Maxwell Dickens, Richard Bush, Antonio Tarantino, and Stefone Moore-Green came up for second in 3.23.31.
Coach Ryan Smith said his athletes work, “tremendously hard in practice.” 3 of the 4 (the Dessoye brothers, and Hendricks) train with distance coach Joe Lucchio and “they even attack the OC bridges each Saturday for extra training.” Brock works with the sprint group and yet their team chemistry is forged on Wednesdays when the foursome comes together for “M.O.P. training.” According the Smith the workouts, “were started by EHTHS’s late Head Track and Field Coach George Wilkinson [and] stand for Minutes of Pain.” All of South Jersey stands to feel “minutes of pain” as all four champion athletes are juniors.
Isaiah Curbelo of Rancocas Valley ran what coach Jeff Dzuranin called, “the best and most complete race he has run in his career.” Curbelo, an 800 meter specialist with distance running strength knew he couldn’t sit and kick against the loaded Meet of Champions field so he use his aerobic power to lead the race through 400 meters in 55 seconds. Curbelo and Dzuranin hoped that if he opened in an “honest pace,” he could outlast 2015 Spring MOC winner Ray Rivera of Old Bridge. Despite executing the plan and running nearly perfect splits through 600 meters he was unable to hold off the charging Rivera. Still, his 1:55.72 personal record setting 2nd place performance sets him up to take a stab at sub 1:54 at tonight’s Eastern States and the New Balance Indoor Nationals in two weeks. Cherry Hill East’s Isaiah Jean-Baptiste also medaled finishing 8th in 1:58.21.
For a freshman it is a fantastic accomplishment to be selected by your coach to run at a sectional meet. To qualify for the State Meet exceptionally rare. To win is unfathomable. To enter the Meet of Champions as the number 1 seed is so outrageous it borders on comical, yet that was the situation young Luke Colehower found himself in entering Saturday’s 400 meter competition. He lead through 200, through 400, through 600, and through 700 but was outgunned in the final meters. Still, the Haddonfield quarter miler smashed his own school record running 49.44 and placed 2nd overall.
Colehower’s teammate Greg Pelose sought to outduel a set of mile running twins in the 1600 and knew it would take a nearly perfect race to accomplish that goal. After running to a final lap lead he finished 3rd in a school record time of 4:14.18. That time not only made him the top South Jersey performer but also is the 3rd fastest time ever by a SJ runner indoors. Aaron Groff from nearby Cherry Hill East was South Jersey’s top finisher in the 3200 with an outstanding effort that notched him 3rd place in 9:16.57. Martin Booker of Pennsauken was SJ’s top finisher in the 55 meter dash where he finished 8th in 6.74 seconds.
SJ athletes captured 4 of the 8 medals in the 55 meter hurdles where Deptford’s Tyler Farland place 4th in 7.69 seconds. His 7.68 trails time was a personal record. He was followed by Thomas Zor (7.70) of Millville, Jason Stefanski (7.71) of Penns Grove, and Jamil Adams of Winslow (8th, 8.02). Booker of Pennsauken earned his second medal of the day in the 200 meter showcase where he placed 2nd in 22.55 seconds. He was followed by teammate Marquan Jones in 3rd (22.65) and Derrick Clement(22.94) of Deptford who placed 6th.
Kyle Loveland of Moorestown lead the way for South Jersey in the field. After petitioning his board of education to participate in the State Meet series (Moorestown does not sponsor Winter Track) Loveland cleared 14 feet 6 inches to place 2nd in the pole vault. He was South Jersey’s top finisher by misses as Jarrod Brovero also cleared 14’6. He placed 3rd. Brovero’s teammate Nick Clarke finished 4th with a 14 foot clearance. Caade Antonucci of Holy Spirit was South Jersey’s only medalist in the shot put where he placed 6th with a huge throw of 55 feet, 3.5 inches. Kingsway’s Chase Matthews lead the way in the high jump with a 7th place earning 6 foot 4 inch performance.
Sprint Stars Capture Gold
For the second consecutive year Deptford sprint start Kiara Lester won the 200 meter showcase at the New Jersey Meet of Champions. Her winning time of 24.96 seconds was nearly 2 tenths of a second better than 2nd place sophomore Cecelia Gerstenbacher of Delsea who ran an outstanding 25.17 seconds. The Gloucester county foes were joined by Eastern’s Shakira Dancy who placed 7th in 26.08 second. Lester placed 2nd in the 400 meters where she ran 55.83 and was only defeated by a State Record performance from Union Catholic’s Sydney McLaughlin. She was followed by South Jersey’s other sprint start, Aliyah Taylor of Pemberton who ran a personal record of 57.29 for 3rd.
Taylor, who’s coach Sophia Ard calls, “a dedicated student-athlete who doesn’t mind putting in the hard work,” was rewarded on Saturday with a dominant Meet of Champions win in the 55 meter dash. Her time of 7.04 seconds was a full tenth of a second faster than second place. In the 55 dash, on this level, that is an enormous margin of victory. That time is #1 in New Jersey and #13 in the Nation. She was followed by Bria Mack (4th, 7.31) of Williamstown , Gerstenbacher (7th, 7.39), and Najiyah Palmer (8th, 7.42) of Kingsway.
Brittany Preston of Winslow Township continued her school’s outstanding tradition by placing 2nd in the 55 hurdles with a personal record time of 8.19 seconds. She is the fourth different Winslow Township girl to place in the top 6 at Meet of Champions in the last 5 years. Christine Lavallias of Timber Creek turned a wildcard bid into a 7th place finish with a career best 8.36 second performance in the preliminaries (8.46 finals). Creek Coach Mike Short said he was, “Thrilled to see two area girls medal at the MOC.”
Briana Gess of Haddonfield continued her outstanding winter with a 3rd place finish in the 1600. After getting out to an early lead it looked like she might have enough for the win but her opening 2:24 800 meters took its toll and two hard charging girls were able to surpass her. Her time of 4:51.03 lead the way for the 3 South Jersey medalists. Megan Quimby of Lenape smashed the 5 minute barrier running 4:57.12 for 4th and in the process eclipsed her school and the Burlington County record. Triton’s Kelsey Cummings closed in 71.5 seconds to win the slow heat and place 8th overall. Her time of 5:06.85 was a school record by 8 seconds.
Cross Country Meet of Champions winner Alyssa Aldridge of Mainland continued to show her strength in the 3200 where she pushed the pace before placing 3rd in a personal and school record time of 10:42.4. She will complete in the 5,000 meters at the New Balance Indoor Nationals where her cross country prowess is sure to be on display. Alyssa Condell of Timber Creek smashed her school record and set a personal best with a 10:49.46. She passed 2 girls in the last 150 meters to place 5th.
Seneca’s Kayla Martin continued to lead the way for South Jersey in the 800 meters where she placed 4th in 2:17.03. She was with the leaders through 600 meters running 32, 33, 34 second splits and attempted to make her move but was stifled when another athlete pounced first and trapped her on the rail. Still she rebounded and earned SJ’s only medal in the event. Coach Karen O’Neil hopes she can learn from the race: “She was up against some tremendous competition… and the experience of running with that type of competition was good for her.” She will test that hard earned experience at Eastern States in the DMR, and at New Balance Indoor Nationals in the open 800 and 4×800 meter relay.
South Jersey’s 4×400 powerhouses, Lenape and Winslow Township, duked it out for top honors and ran to fast times in the process. The Lenape foursome of Megan Quimby, Shannon Lambert, Jasmine Staten, and Shannon Storms (4:00.76) outpaced the Winslow group of Iyianna Williams (61.7), Flora Ahiarakwe (59.6), Nicole Berry (59.8), and Brittany Preston (59.7) (4:00.8). They finished 4th and 5th respectively. Eastern Regional’s team of Jennifer Civatte, Gabrielle Jackson, Victoria Liverpool, and Nyjah Young-Bey ran 4:02.61 for 7th.
Seneca Junior Brittney Raffo continued to be South Jersey’s top field performer with her 4th place pole vault clearance of 11 feet. After clearing 10’, 10’6, 11’ on her first attempts she made three strong attempts at 11’6. She will look to eclipse that barrier at tonight’s Eastern States Championship. Vineland’s Najeaya Singleton was South Jersey’s only other field medal. Her throw of 43’3 eared her 6th place in what was arguably the strongest field of the day, the shot put.