Highlights from Sunday's NJSIAA Meet of Champions at Ocean Breeze in Staten Island, NY.
Junior Morgan Lyons used her formidable kick to put a sizeable gap on the Union County cross-country champ, Union Catholic's Abby Granrath, and crossed first to give Ridge a meet-opening, 4x800-meter relay victory in NJ#1/US#8 9:14.49. The Red Devils missed their own meet record by .02 seconds but they remain the only team to win the event in the four years it's been held.
Only the Union Catholic girls have a longer streak of success in a particular M of C relay, indoors or outdoors, boys or girls. The UC girls won their sixth straight 4x400 later in the meet.
Union Catholic, with Granrath anchoring in 2:23.59, placed second in the 4x800 in 9:22.93, No. 5 in meet history.
Senior Manon Stephen led off for Ridge in 2:22.44, senior Olivia Cicchetti split 2:16.32, sophomore Grace LaCapra ran a personal best 2:20.80 and Lyons, who got the baton with a 5-meter gap, closed in 2:14.92.
Ridge's previous best this season was 9:21.33 from the North Shore Invite two weeks ago. Union Catholic entered the meet with a then-state leading 9:20.86.
When Union Catholic's Chi Chi Nkulume threw down a 56.50 from an unseeded 400 heat, Nylah Perry was unintimidated. The Winslow senior was intent on winning the event and her first M of C title after entering with an NJ#2 56.85.
Perry came through with her plan to emerge as a champion after racing to the lead in 26.11 at the bell and coming home in 56.19, diving at the line in exhaustion. Perry is Winslow's first female indoor M of C winner since Stey'ce McNeil won the 55 hurdles in 2012.
Nkulume was second overall with her 56.50 and Rumson senior Lily Orr, second to Perry in the seeded heat, was third overall with a 56.99.
Perry's 56.19 is second in the state only to the 53.14 by Trenton's Athing Mu.
With three bulging discs in her back to start the season, Jailya Ash said her coach didn't want to overload the speedy star with too much of a workload so she cut out the 55 dash from her program and picked up the hurdles, but not until the sectionals. It was a difficult choice because Ash was the defending 55 dash champion at the M of C.
It turns out Ash, a junior at Eastern, didn't need too long to rehab that ailing back of hers. She won the M of C 55 hurdles title in 8.03 and became the eighth fastest girl in meet history. Only seven girls have run sub-8.0 at M of C. Union Catholic superstar and 2016 U.S. Olympian Sydney McLaughlin has done it twice.
Paramus Catholic senior Mariah Fede was second in 8.12 and Hillsborough junior Kristyn Schecheter was third in 8.19.
Ash became just the second girl to ever win a 55 dash title and a 55 hurdles crown at the M of C. Wendy Vereen of Trenton won both -- and at the same meet, in 1984.
Lauren Princz is the first to admit she is motivated by rankings. The Egg Harbor Township junior entered the M of C 55 dash with a NJ#1 7.05 and wanted more than ever to prove her worthiness.
That motivation came with some history, too. As a freshman she placed second in the 55 dash and the 200 at the M of C. Last winter she entered as the No. 1-ranked athlete in both events, but took second in the 200 and seventh in the 55.
This time there was no near miss. Princz entered the dash with a NJ#1 7.05, and blazed across the 55 dash finish line first in 6.98, eighth fastest in meet history. She is the first girl to crack seven seconds this season.
Kent Place sophomore Christiana Nwachuku was second in 7.06 and Manchester junior Jada Ellis was third at 7.13.
In a showcase event which was introduced to the meet schedule last winter, Union Catholic junior A'Liyah Thomas made the most of her opportunity to get into the record book.
Thomas entered the meet as the jumper with the state's top mark, and she left with the hardware, leaping 18-7 ¼ on her third jump to win the M of C title. Thomas came in with a NJ#1 18-9 ½ from the Union County meet.
Her mark was just shy of last year's winning mark of 18-7 ½ set by North Brunswick's Nakaja Weaver.
Pope John senior Bridget McNally placed second at 18-2 ¾, Egg Harbor senior Gabrielle German was third at 18-2 ½ and Williamstown senior Karissa Watson was fourth at 18-2 ¼.
Katie Hamilton has been tearing it up in the mile this season since she first laced up her spikes, and she recently punctuated her senior campaign with a season PR and NJ#1 4:56.05 to win the Group 4 title last week.
But no race or time could have substituted for the feeling of winning an M of C crown. The Westfield senior broke away from the field on the final lap of the 1,600 meters with a 32.49 final tour and crossed the tape in 4:57.15 to become Westfield's first female indoor M of C winner.
Sophomore Lilly Shapiro of Colts Neck was second in 4:59.06 and Voorhees junior Emma McGill was third in 4:59.42. Shapiro and McGill were the Group 3 and Group 2 mile champs, respectively.
Teja Brown ended a 12-year indoor M of C title drought for the Pope John girls, winning the introductory triple jump with a personal best and NJ#2 38-2, which she chalked up on her sixth and final attempt. On the state leader board, her winning mark sits behind only the 39-3 ¼ recorded by Divya Sundar of J.P. Stevens at the North Shore Invitational back in December.
Brown, a senior, entered the meet with a 37-9 ½. She is the third PJ girl to win, joining Lauren Bariexca and Emily Carrollo who won back-to-back 800 titles in 2007 and 2008.
Olivia Wright of Winslow placed second with the 37-4 she recorded in the trials; she chose to pass on her three attempts in the finals to prepare for the 4x400 relay. Dai'jah Wiggins of Elizabeth was third at 37-2 ¾.
Barely a whisper behind Eastern's Jailya Ash in the 55 dash, Mariah Fede more than made up for the loss in her next endeavor.
Just an hour after that second-place finish, the Paramus Catholic senior became just the school's second female indoor M of C winner after she ripped off a meet-record 24.34 to claim the 200 meter crown.
Fede's time surpassed the 24.94 which Rancocas Valley's Aliyah Taylor ran to win in 2017. Fede also became her school's first indoor M of C winner since Myasia Jacobs won the 55 dash in 2011.
Egg Harbor junior and 55 dash champion Lauren Princz was second in 24.83. Eastern senior Jewel Ash, sister of 55 hurdles champ Jailya Ash, was third in 25.09.
Pinelands senior Elizabeth Makar couldn't wait to take her shot at the state's best shot putters and a chance at school history.
Makar entered the M of C with the state's third best mark, but toppled the two girls who stand ahead of her on the state leaderboard and left with the best prize. She logged a 43-foot throw on her first attempt and never looked back, never trailing en route to the title with an eventual winning throw of 44-2 ½.
Makar is just the second female indoor M of C winner from her school, following Amy Beykirch, who won the 3,200 in 1998.
Hillsborough's Brielle Kelly placed second with a 44-11, and Donovan Catholic's Bryanna Wilson, who entered the meet with a state-leading 45-3 ¾, placed third at 41-9 ¾. West Orange's Denae Hill came in with an NJ#2 45-0 ½ but placed fifth at 40-9 after fouling on four of six attempts.
Makar remains one of only four NJ girls who have broken through the 44-foot barrier this winter. They are Wilson, Hill, Makar and Demarest's Jada Sewell (NJ#4 44-0).
Angelina Perez could not have foreseen an introduction to competitive running quite as productive as this school year has gone.
The Lakeland sophomore began to make headlines last fall with her North 1, Group 2 win in cross-country, when she picked up six wins overall.
Now Perez can call herself not only a state champion but her school's first female M of C winner and a county record holder as well. Perez outgunned Ridgewood's Camryn Wnnersten over the final 800 meters and won the 3,200 crown in a sizzling 10:36.48 to break a 17-year old Passaic County indoor record.
Perez' time is No. 8 in meet history. The old Passaic County 3,200 standard was 10:40.47 which belonged to Hawthorne Christian's Lindsay Van Alstine set in 2003.
Several girls went through 800 meters in 2:42 and the field had been sifted down to Perez and Wennersten at the mile at 5:25. With 800 to go Wennersten broke out to a 20-meter lead, but Perez made up the gap on the penultimate lap and they crossed together at the bell. The Lakeland soph then charged around the backstretch to gap Wennersten for good.
Wennersten finished second in 10:43.72 and Pingry senior Nicole Vanasse, the 2018 champ, was third in 10:48.33.
The Union Catholic girls track team wins relay races so often it seems to be ordinary for them, but what they have accomplished is nothing but extraordinary.
In a come-from-behind effort, freshman Maameyaa Nyinah (59.01), junior Avery Jordan (58.56), sophomore Asydiah Pray-Brown (58.22) and senior Chidumga Nkulume (55.89) won the 4x400 relay in US#7/NJ#1 3:51.68, No. 4 in meet history.
It is the sixth straight mile relay triumph for the program, an unprecedented achievement. No girls team has won more than two consecutive relay titles, indoors or outdoors, and that counts legendary programs Columbia, Franklin, Willingboro and Winslow.
The longest streak outside of the UC girls 4x400 indoor dominance belongs to... wait for it... the Union Catholic boys, who have won three straight outdoor 4x400s (2013-15).
Pingry senior Caroline Dannenbaum had the M of C stage to herself once all the other events were completed and she outlasted runner-up Marisa DiGia of Old Tappan.
Dannenbaum, the defending champion in the pole vault, cleared 12-6 on her first attempt to best DiGia and tie the meet record held by her and five others, then cleared 12-7, again on her first attempt, to claim the meet record all to herself.
Dannenbaum is also the first girl to win consecutive indoor pole vault titles. Chrissy Finkel of Montville won twice, but those titles came in 2007 and '09.
Dannenbaum took three unsuccessful tries at 13-0. Her indoor best this season is 12-8 but her indoor personal best is 12-10 ¼ set at nationals last winter. Her overall best is 13-0 achieved in the spring of her sophomore year.
Nailing down the M of C record makes it two records in two weeks for Dannenbaum, who just last week cleared 12-6 ½ to claim the all-groups record at the group championships at the Bennett Center.
DiGia enjoyed a near-perfect meet, clearing her opening height of 10-6 as well as 11-0, 11-6 and 12-0 all on her first attempt.