The second half, or nightcap, of the NJSIAA indoor track group championships celebrated another terrific weekend of competition on Saturday, as Group 2 and 3 athletes battled for automatic berths in the NJSIAA Meet of Champions, Sunday, March 8 at 10 a.m.
The top three finishers in each event automatically qualify for the M of C. In addition, the top 12 performances from all six groups combined which did not automatically qualify will receive wild cards for the M of C.
Elite Individual Highlights
Irvington senior Dwight Henry broke a 40-year-old meet record while improving his NJ#1 time in the 55 hurdles. Henry won the Group 3 title with a 7.27, which erased the 7.54 (adjusted for hand time) set by Craig Henry of Monmouth Regional in 1980. It was the second-oldest group meet record, boys or girls.
On the girls side, probably the biggest headline coming out of the Bubble was Gov. Livingston senior Victoria Vanriele's assault on the facility record in the 800 meters. Vanriele won the Group 2 800 in 2:07.83, which knocked out her old Bubble record of 2:08.81. Her winning Group 2 time also wiped out the All-Groups record of 2:09.72 which she set last season.
Sharing the stage with Irvington's Henry for the biggest boys headline from the Group 2 and 3 meet was Allentown's exceptional distance ace, Villanova-bound Liam Murphy. He won the Group 3 1,600 in a new NJ#1 and meet-record 4:13.83, a six-second season PR and a five-second career best. Incredible. Murphy, the cross-country M of C winner last fall, dusted his previous season best of 4:19.22 from the sectionals. His outdoor PR is 4:18.76. The old Group 3 record was 4:14.94 set by West Windsor-Plainsboro South's Sam Macaluso in 2010.
Murphy came back to outrace Mendham senior and future 'Nova teammate Jack Jennings in the Group 3 3,200, with both of their times now at the top of the state leaderboard. Murphy won in NJ#1 9:04.41 and Jennings was second in NJ#2 9:09.27.
Pleasantville senior Gabriel Moronta kicked off the Group 2-3 meet by soaring eight spots to NJ#1 in the 400 meters. Moronta, fourth in Group 2 in this event last season, won in a meet-record 48.79, knocking out the 49.70 he ran to win at sectionals last week. The old meet record was 49.11, set by Monmouth's Charles Cox in 2007. Moronta also claimed the 800 in 1:56.11.
No sooner did Moronta blast the 400 than Pennsauken junior Jade Pope ran a hot 400 herself in the girls Group 3 race, winning in NJ#4 56.98. Her previous season best was 58.01 from last week's sectional meet. Her time was a shade off one of the group meet's oldest records -- 56.45 set by Gisele Harris of Shabazz in 1986.
Three out of four 400 races in the Group 2-3 meet produced NJ top 10 times. Rumson senior Lily Orr was the latest to jump on the bandwagon after winning the Group 2 title in NJ#6 57.35. Her previous best was 57.96 from the Shore Conference meet.
Austin Gabay, a senior at Cinnaminson, ran an NJ#8 4:21.42 to win the Group 2 1,600. That's his second 1,600 group title to go with the one he won last spring. Gabay is coming off a triple last week, winning the 800, 1,600 and 3,200 at the Central Jersey sectional.
Old Tappan enjoyed quite a day in the field events.
Patrick Passalacqua, a senior, won the Group 3 shot put with a bomb of 61-7 ¾, getting the winning throw on his sixth and last attempt, and blowing away his own NJ#1 mark of 60-8 from the sectionals. Passalacqua won his first group title and for the eighth time in nine meets this season.
Also for Old Tappan, senior Marisa DiGia won the girls Group 3 pole vault with a NJ#2 12-0 ¾. That's ¾ of an inch better than her season best executed at the Bergen County Championships.
Colts Neck sophomore Lilly Shapiro won the Group 3 1,600 in NJ#5 5:01.81. Her previous season best of 5:07.13 came at the sectionals. She doubled down by winning the 800 in 2:18.62.
Demarest senior Jada Sewell improved up on her standing as No. 4 in the state in the shot put when she won the Group 2 title in 44-0. Sewell reached NJ#4 by throwing 42-0 at Easterns.
Voorhees junior Emma McGill became the fifth girl this season to run a sub-five minute mile when she won the Group 2 1,600 in NJ#5 4:59.15. McGill stood seventh coming into the meet at 5:05.49 from the sectionals.
West Morris senior James Zeolla cleared 15-0 ¼ in the Group 3 pole vault to claim the NJ#5 spot all for himself. He was tied at 15-0 with three others.
Northern Highlands junior Brynn Madonna won the Group 3 shot put with a NJ#8 40-3 ½, sliding up one spot after posting a 39-9 at Easterns.
River Dell senior Joshua Iyonsi won the Group 2 shot put with a NJ#9 55-9, moving up six slots. His season best coming in was a 54-11 from a shot put invitational in early January.
Lakeland sophomore Angelina Perez won the Group 2 3,200 in NJ#2 10:45.41. She slid up one spot and improved upon her season best of 10:48.05 effort from sectionals.
GROUP 3 BOYS
Nottingham senior Louis Akpadago won the Group 3 55 dash with a meet record and the Northstars overcame some drama in the final event to earn their first Group 3 team title.
Nottingham trailed Allentown by three points heading into the final event, the 4x400-meter relay. The Northstars won the seeded heat in 3:28.42 and Allentown was second in 3:28.74. That would have been good enough to give Allentown a one-point team victory, 34-33.
But, because Pennsauken won its unseeded heat in 3:28.60, Allentown slipped to third overall in the relay standings and finished behind Nottingham for the team title, 33-32. Last year Nottingham finished second to Scotch Plains-Fanwood in last year's Group 3 competition.
Nottingham's relay was fueled by junior Jalen Corbin, sophomore Shamali Whittle and seniors Dana Ridley and Kernley Charles. Whittle also placed fourth in the 400 (51.10).
Akpadago won the 55 in 6.40, which erased the meet record (adjusted for hand time) of 6.54 set by Clark Waddell of Franklin in 1983. Ridley finished second to his teammate Akpadago in 6.57 and senior Judeson Mirac was sixth (6.67).
Obviously Allentown's big push for its first title came from senior Liam Murphy, who enjoyed a sparkling meet, chalking up two NJ#1
GROUP 3 GIRLS
The Winslow girls like to cram lots of depth into their speed events, and that's how they took down their third straight Group 3 state team title. The Eagles won the meet-closing 4x400 relay and stormed out of the Bubble with 56 points while runner-up Colts Neck had 39.
The bulk of the Eagles points came from the 55 dash, 55 hurdles and 400 meters. Senior Janeya Hammond led the way by winning the 55 dash in 7.22 while sophomore Jaia James was second in 7.33.
Hammond jumped into the fray again in the 55 hurdles. Junior Shevell Higgs placed second in 8.40 and Hammond was third in 8.45. Senior Nylah Perry placed second in the 400 in 57.33 and Hammond was third in 58.15.
Hammond, James, Perry and junior Olivia Wright capped a huge night for Winslow by winning the mile relay in 4:01.21.
Sophomore Lilly Shapiro was a double winner for second-place Colts Neck, taking down the 1,600 in NJ#5 5:01.81 and later on the 800 in 2:18.62.
Shapiro's elder sister, Natalie, a senior, added to the family gold rush by winning the Group 3 3,200 in NJ#8 11:03.27. She shaved .61 seconds from her season best at sectionals.
GROUP 2 BOYS
The Morales twins, seniors Marco and Nico, knew their event may have an impact on the team standings, but they still conducted business as usual, which to them means scoring a lot of points for Delsea.
After Pleasantville won the penultimate event, the 4x400 relay, Pleasantville and Cinnaminson were tied for first place with 30 points each. Delsea was in fifth place with 20 points, with the Morales boys on deck in the pole vault, the 10th and final event.
Marco came through by winning the pole vault at 15-6 and Nico placed third at 14-0, and that 16-point push vaulted Delsea to its second Group 2 team title in three years. Delsea finished with 36 points to race past Pleasantville and Cinnaminson, who shared runner-up honors.
Junior Joe Metzger gave Delsea a huge boost with his second-place effort in the shot put after a heave of 52-10 ¼. Senior Noah Deckert earned a runner-up finish in the 1,600 in 4:24.39 and was fifth in the 3,200 (9:41.60). And senior Damir Lomax placed fifth in the 55 hurdles in 8.04.
GROUP 2 GIRLS
Led by Rachel Bonnet's victory in the high jump, Haddonfield performed its onslaught on Group 2 with exceptional balance and finished the meet with 59 points, while second-place Rahway closed with 20.
Bonnett, a senior, won the high jump at 5-2 and placed fifth in the 55 hurdles (8.90) for the Dawgs, who received scoring from eight athletes.
A highlight for Haddonfield was its all-junior 2-3-4 finish in the 1,600, as Sarah Naticchia placed second in 5:07.21, Allison Colflesh was third in 5:08.31 and Payton Weiner was fourth in 5:09.83.
Also scoring for Haddonfield were junior Lindsay Colflesh, second, 800 (2:16.62); junior Robin Rosen, second, pole vault (10-6); junior Olivia Stoner, fifth, 800 (2:22.82); and senior Grace Kegler, sixth, 55 hurdles (8.93).