By Jim Lambert
Union Catholic kept its stranglehold on the 4x400-meter relay when the Vikings blitzed the field to extend its remarkable streak to five titles in a row at the NJSIAA Meet of Champions on Sunday at the Bennett Center in Toms River.
No other program in meet history has won more than three 4x400 titles in a row.
UC, which came into the race with a NJ#1 time of 3.50:93, won the race in 3:53.84 (No. 6 in meet history). Rancocas Valley was second in 3:57.82.
Senior Khamil Evans, out the last couple weeks with a sore hammy, ran 59.7 on the leadoff leg to put Union Catholic ahead to stay. Junior Leena Morant then blasted an indoor PR of 57.3 to blow the race apart. Sophomore Sydney Tucker followed with a 58.9 as she maintained the huge lead, and then junior Chidumga Nkulume capped it off with a 57.8 anchor carry.
Morant, who also placed second in the 800 in a NJ#3 2:13.08, has now run on three indoor M of C winning 4x400's, and Evans has run on two. This was the first time Tucker and Nkulume ran for UC on the 4x400 at the M of C.
"It's definitely motivation,'' Tucker said of the streak. "We always want to keep it going and we all ran strong and I'm proud of all of us for winning this again.''
"I knew we had a big lead, so I just made sure than no one closed the gap on me and that I finished strong,'' said Nkulume. "I didn't want let the girls on my team down. I knew they were counting on me.''
"It means everything for me to be out here at the Meet of Champions,'' said Nkulume. "This is like a dream for me. I have never been part of something this special, so it feels great.''
By Robert Kellert
The Ridge girls are now three for three and keep their streak alive winning this year's 4x800m showcase title with a time of 9:18.64, the only school to win the girls 4x8 event which first came to indoor MOCs in 2017.
If you include the outdoor 4x800m, where they have a four year streak going, this is seven straight! And to make this even sweeter the Ridge boys took the title home the day before making it a Meet of Champs 4x800m sweep for the Skyland Conference school.
Manon Stephen opened up with a 2:22.5, Olivia Cicchetti 2:19.5, Tatum Peskin 2:22.8, and their anchor Morgan Lyons 2:13.9 to bring them home. Union Catholic finished second at 9:30.45, River Dell third 9:35.44.
Talking about streaks... Ridge now heads to New Balance Nationals Indoor beaming with confidence and plans to lower their time significantly like they did last year when they dropped a 9:08.07 to win back to back National Championships.
Morgan Lyons and Olivia Cicchetti return from that Nationals winning squad and everyone from this year's relay will be back again next season.
This isn't just a strong event historically for Ridge, at New Balance Nationals Indoor the 4x800m championship has gone to a New Jersey team five of the past ten years. Southern Regional in 2009, Red Bank Catholic 2011, Freehold Twp 2014, Ridge 2017 and 2018.
All of these winning traditions and championships on the line and a key component of their squad almost wasn't a part of the team this season.
Olivia Cicchetti, who ran 2:18 on their New Balance Nationals winning squad last winter and a 2:19 this weekend, moved to Texas in August with her Mother who relocated for work while her Father remained in New Jersey to sell their home.
Turned out after the start of the school year in Texas that Cicchetti missed her New Jersey home and the Ridge team immensely. It was decided, since selling the home was taking longer than expected anyway, that she would return to finish out high school with Ridge and transferred back in time for the indoor season.
"This team definitely means a lot," Cicchetti stated after the meet, "and it was a big factor in coming back."