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Upsets, redemption, a pair of double winners, a historic throwing sweep, and a record smashing duo from East Brunswick made Saturday's emotion-packed NJSIAA Meet of Champions one of the most memorable in the 52 year history of the meet.
The day started with a lot of sadness at Frank Jost Field in South Plainfield as a moment of silence was observed prior to the start of the meet in remembrance of Hall of Famer Bill Bruno, who passed away on Saturday morning at the age of 68. Bruno served as the NJSIAA Track and Field Tournament Director for the six years.
There were several underdogs who came up with the races of their lives to score upset victories, especially in the distance races.
There was a lot of pre-race hype about meet record attempts in the girls 1600m and both 3200's. But instead, the favorites were all knocked off in dramatic fashion.
In the 3200's, Jackson Braddock of Southern and Angelina Perez of Lakeland, who both smashed the All-Groups record last week, were overwhelming favorites, but both ran out of gas late in the race. In the boys race, Jackson Barna of Ridge, who finished eight seconds behind Braddock in the Group 4 race, 8:48.64 to 8:56. last week, made a huge move with 800m to go to take the lead and open a gap on Braddock. Barna ripped a 62.54 last 400m and came storming across the line with the victory in 8:52.00, the 10th fastest time in state history and No. 3 in meet history. Barna, a junior, is the first individual boys champion ever from Ridge and his time is No. in state history. Braddock faded over the final 400 and took second in 9:04.47.
In the girls 3200m, Perez, who ran 10:20.25 to win Group 2 last week, went out very fast as she hit the 1600m in 5:00.94 and change and opened a 100-meter gap on the field with 1,200 go laps to go. But Perez paid the price for her aggressive front-running and began to slow down considerably over the final 600 meters. That opened the door for freshman Christina Allen of River Dell and sophomore Lindsay Hausman of Kent Place, who came storming back after trailing by 18 seconds at the bell. Allen and Hausman made furious charges over the final 200 to catch Perez right before the line with Allen winning in 10:46.36. Hausman was second in 10:56.41 and Perez third in 10:46.53.
The girls 1600m favorite was junior Lilly Shapiro of Colts Neck, who ran a 4:40.15 last month, but after a very slow pace (2:3698 at 800), Westfield senior Katie Hamilton unleashed a huge kick over the final 200 to grab the lead and then came hammering across the line first in 4:51.95, a step ahead of Shapiro (4:52.89). Hamilton ran 2:14.96 over the final 800, and went 65.24 for the final lap. Hamilton is the first girl from Westfield to win an outdoor M of C title.
The Duke-bound Hamilton, the indoor M of C 1600m winner in 2020, said choose the 1600m over the 800 because it presented the bigger challenge, and she said she never backs down for a challenge
Hamilton, who has always put her team first over her remarkable career, came back later to split 2:10.58 to bring her tram across second in the 4x800m.
Another upset came in the girls 100 dash as Manchester Township senior Jada Ellis, who came into the race with a PR of 11.82, used a big surge over the final 25 meters to beat heavily favored Lauren Princz of Egg Harbor when she smashed the Shore Conference record with a winning time of 11.66, No. 5 in meet history!! Princz, the state leader all season with am 11.73, was second in 11.66.
The Maryland-bound Ellis broke the Shore Conference record of 11.61 that was set in 2007 when Shavon Greaves of Lakewood won the State Group 3 championship.
Both Shapiro and Princz were determined not to leave without a victory, and both showed the heart of champions by turning their frustration into jubilation .
Shapiro said her coach, Jim Schlentz, left it up to her if she wanted to comeback and run the 800m. That was an easy decision for Shapiro, who couldn't wait to get back on the track.
Shapiro was boxed in for the first 400 in the 800m, before she broke out on the backstretch and took the lead as she came off the final turn. But she found herself in a similar situation to the 1600m and she was locked in another battle to the line, this time with Shore Regional junior Caroline Donohue. This time, Shapiro refused to be denied as she came blasting across the line first in 2:13.05 to secure her first M of C title. Donohue was second in 2:13.39.
The Penn State-bound Princz rebounded from her loss in the 100 when she came off the curve in the lead and pulled away in the homestretch to win the 200 in a personal best and NJ#1 24.22. It's the third M of C victory of Princz's career. She won the 200 outdoors as a freshman, and captured the 55 at the 2020 M of C.
Junior Niki Woods of Demarest also got some redemption in the javelin.
Woods, the state leader all season with a 141-0, suffered losses the past two weeks to Westwood senior Alianna Eucker at the State Sectional and State Group meets. But this time, in a great battle with Eucker, Woods came up with a clutch bomb of 149-5 on her fifth throw to overtake Eucker, who had taken the lead in her fifth throw with a 145-0.
The 149-5 by Woods is a PR by nearly eight feet and is No. 6 in meet history, and ??. For Eucker, who was also second in 2019 with a 149-1, what she accomplished this season is remarkable considering that she surgery to repair a torn ACL that she suffered while playing soccer last October.
RECORD BREAKING TEAMMATES
It was one of the greatest days in East Brunswick history as junior Chris Serrao and senior Brian McSweeney each scored huge victories, both took down Middlesex County records, and McSweeney took down the longest standing meet record.
Serrao got his best start ever and ran clean over the 10 barriers in his way to winning the boys 110 hurdles in a NJ#1 13.93, which broke the Middlesex County record of 13.95 that Christian Boateng of Old Bridge set when he won the M of C title in 2011.
Then it was McSweeney's turn to take center stage.
With victory in the pole vault already secured, the West Point-bound McSweeney had the bar raised up to 16-4.75 (five meters) and soared over that height on his first attempt to break his own Middlesex County record (16-0 last week at the Group 4 meet) and the meet record of 16-4 that was set in 1980 by Will Nesbitt of Millburn. He also moved past Nesbitt into the No. 4 spot on the state's All-Time outdoor list. Only state record holder Adam Sarafian of Ocean Township (17-4.50 in 2004), Craig Hunter of Robbinsville (16-6 in 2013), and Bill Lange of Bridgewater-East (16-6 in 1980) have gone higher outdoors than McSweeney.
Whittle was the only athlete to win two individual events. First, the sizzling sprinter came from behind to catch James Bivins of Donovan Catholic to win the 100 in 10.55. Bivins was second in an Ocean County record 10.68 (the former record of 10.71 was set by Jihaad Howard of Brick Memorial in 2010).
Jackson, the state leader all season in the 400m, fought off a strong challenge from senior Sydney Goldson of Holmdel to win the 400m with a new PR and NJ#1 time of 54.48, edging Goldson, second in 55.
Jackson returned to split 55.21 to bring SPF across the line first in 3:46.73, which lowers its NJ#1 time by more than three seconds. Jackson is the first girl from SPF to ever win a M of C title.
STATE OF THE UNION
In addition to the wins by Hamilton in the 1600m, Jackson in the 400m, and Scotch Plains-Fanwood in the 4x400m, Union County also picked up victories from Plainfield junior Celine-Jada Brown in the long jump (18-2.50), the Union girls won the 4x100 in a NJ#1 47.21, No. 5 in meet history, and the Elizabeth boys captured the 4x400 in a NJ#1 3:17.68.
HISTORIC THROWING SWEEP
Senior Cole Tucker of Colts Neck, the state leader in the shot put since the start of indoors, won the shot with a throw of 64-10.50. Sophomore Fabian Gonzalez of Southern unloaded a a NJ#1 184-9 on his final throw to finish first in the discus, and Freehold Township Tyler Zawatski sent the javelin soaring a NJ#1 191-1 on his final attempt to put the finishing touches on his victory.
FOUR LAPS OF FURY
The boys 1600m lived up to all the hype as a meet record-tying four runners went sub 4:10!!
Kingsway junior Kyle Rakitis dominated the race, going to wire to wire for the victory in 4:08.58, which is No. 5 in meet history and matched his PR that he ran to win the SJ Group 4 sectional race. Senior Edwin Klanke of St. Peter's broke his own Hudson County record with his runner-up time of 4:09.42. Junior Shane Brosnan of Union Catholic placed third in 4:09.46, and junior Marco Langon of Bridgewater-Raritan finished fourth in 4:09.47.
The only other time that four guys went under 4:10 in one M of C race was in 2012 when Chris Marco of Toms River South ran a still-standing meet record of 4:07.31.
Rakitis, who will be running the mile at the Nike Nationals at Hayward Field in Oregon in two weeks, said he wanted to make it an honest race and not let the pace lag like it did last week in the Group 4 race. So he went right to the front and took it out in 61.42, hit 800 in 2:04.59, and 1,200 in 3:09.23. Brosnan made a big move with 300 to go, but Rakitis matched it, and then Klanke charged hard over the final 100 meters, but Rakitis, who closed in 59.34, answered and simply refused to lose.
STARTING WITH A BANG
The Princeton University-bound Asante won the girls race in a Middlesex County record and NJ#1 1:00.24, edging Diamond McLaughlin of Absegami (1:00.40). Asante's 1:00.87 set in 2016 by another North Brunswick star, Shelby Francis, who ran that time to win the Central Jersey, Group 4 race.
In the boys 400 hurdles, Pennsauken's Bryce Tucker became the first sophomore winner in 25 years when he lowered his PR and NJ#1 time to 52.17. Tucker's time is No. 12 in meet history and the second fastest time by a sophomore in state history and is the second fastest time run in the country this season. The only NJ sophomore to ever run faster than Tucker is Taylor McLaughlin, who ran 51.69 in 2013.
Senior Kaelen Mitchell of Piscataway soared to the fourth best mark in meet history when he went 24-3.50 to win the boys long jump. Only William Spearman of Woodrow Wilson (25-0 in 1995), Anthony Miles of Winslow (24-11.25 in 2002), and Isaac Samuel of Willingboro-Kennedy (24-8 in 1983) have gone further than Mitchel at the M of C.
Senior Floyd Whitaker of Highland Regional battled through a tight hammy to pick up the fourth M of C title of his career by defending his triple jump title with a 49-7. Whitaker set the meet record when he won the TJ as a sophomore in 2019 when he went 50-2.50, and he captured the long jump and triple jump at the 2020 Indoor Meet of Champions.
UConn-bound Jailya Ash of Eastern won the third M of C title of her career and the first of her career when she rallied off the final barrier to win the 100 hurdles in 14.02, just ahead of Union Catholic sophomore Ajanae Thompson (14.03).
Rancocas Valley broke its school record in the boys 4x100 by blasting a 41.99, No. 2 all-time in Burlington County history. Since the 4x100 was added to the meet in 2010, a South Jersey team has won nine of the 11 races!
Senior Mariah Stephens of Egg Harbor won a great duel with Snyder junior Faith Bethea. After Bethea took the lead with a 37-10 on her final attempt, Stephens came up with a clutch 37-10.25 on her last attempt to come up the dramatic victory.
The Ridge boys and Haddonfield girls, the state leaders all season in the 4x800, rolled to victory. Ridge won for the second straight time in 7:50.44, and the Haddonfield girls won in 9:10.24
Georgetown-bound Nick Medeiros of Old Bridge won his first M of C title in 1:51.83. Medeiros, the state leader with his Group 4 winning time of 1:50.98, ran 55.14 for the final 400 to secure the win.
Senior Jessie Legister of Montclair won the boys 400 in 47.63, which lowers his PR and his NJ#1 time. Legister is the first boy from Montclair to win since the late Eric Taylor-Perry captured his second straight high jump title in 1990 with a still-standing in meet record of 7-2.
Junior Casey Sullivan of Demarest won the girls shot put with a throw of 43-1. She's the state leader with her Group 2 record throw of 45-5.50 last week.
Senior Julia Bannan of Holy Spirit sent the saucer flying 129-0 to win the discus and set a new PR.
Freshman Alanna Woolfolk of Delsea, who had no missed until she got to 5-8, won the girls high jump on misses at 5-6. Three other girls made 5-6
Junior Dillon Page of Cherry Hill East was the only one over 6-6 as he captured the high jump crown.
Lauren Cashman of Montgomery won the girls pole on misses at 12-0. Four other girls made 12-0, but Cashman was the only who had no missed until she got to 12-6.