The State Group 4 Championships at Franklin High School in Somerset was simply off the hook! This meet had it all!!!!!
There were meet records, dramatic finishes, upset specials, state leading performances, eye-popping results, and lots of PR's!!! Let's take a deep dive into several highlights as we look back on a remarkable two days of competition.
Girls Group 4
Often times the best recipe for winning a team title at the State Group Championship meet is to have a superstar who can come through in the clutch and pile up points, and to get some key points from a strong supporting cast.
That's exactly what Scotch Plains-Fanwood did to to earn its first girls state title ever.
In her final high school race on NJ soil, Julia Jackson, one of the greatest quarter milers in state history, put on a spectacular show to go out in style and lead the Raiders to its biggest victory ever!
After winning the 100 on Friday in 12.00, Jackson smashed the All Groups 400 meet record by running 53.61, placed second in the 200 with a personal best and NJ No. 2 24.29, and then capped off her memorable performance by splitting 53.26 on the anchor leg to bring Scotch Plains-Fanwood across the line first in the 4x400 in 3:49.33 to clinch the first ever state title for the Raiders.
SPF was trailing Cherokee, 40-38, heading into the meet-concluding 4x400, but the Raiders picked up 10 points for winning the relay while Cherokee placed fourth to give SPF a 48-44 victory.
With her 53.61, the Duke-bound Jackson broke the All-Groups meet record of 53.69 set in 2014 by the legendary Olivia Baker of Columbia.
All of the 48 points for Scotch Plains-Fanwood came from six athletes.
In addition to Jackson's amazing quad, senior Grace Kennedy placed fifth in both the 400 hurdles (1:03.54) and the 400 (57.28), and split 57.71 leading off the 4x400. Junior Jenai Berry placed fourth in the 800 in 2:13.43, and split 56.21 on the 4x400. Senior Ashley DeFrancesco earned a sixth place in the long jump with a 17-1, and Keira Kelly ran a 1:02.11 on the 4x400.
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Nicole Clifford of Cherokee turned in a sparkling performance to keep Cherokee in contention.
The University of Oklahoma-bound Clifford won the 800 and 3,200 on Friday with personal best times of 2:11.12 and 10:45.24. Then on Saturday, Clifford, as gutsy a runner as you will find, placed fourth in the 1,600 in 4:59.71 and about 50 minutes later ran a 58.90 leg on the 4x400.
Cherokee also picked up 10 points for winning the 4x800 without Clifford in 9:27.76.
Samantha Strydesky of Howell cleared a personal best 5-8 to win the high jump and move into a tie for the state lead with Jordan Robinson of Morristown, who finished second at 5-6.
Montclair senior Kiya Lawson, who was second in the 100 on Friday in 12.01, came back to drop a NJ No. 1 time of 24.01 to win the 200!
Junior Leah Howard of Millville came up with a huge personal best of 148-2 to win the javelin. That's nearly a 10 foot PR, and it places her No. 2 in NJ behind Niki Woods of Demarest (148-11), and is No. 14 in the nation this season.
Junior Brooke'Lyn Drakeford of Piscataway dropped her PR down to 1:01.73, the second fastest time in the state this season, to win the 400 hurdles, and split 55.07 on the runner-up 4x400 that ran 3:50.96, which is NJ No. 4.
Celine-Jada Brown of Plainfield, the Meet of Champions winner in the long jump last year and the state leader in that event this season, won her first Group 4 title by soaring 19-9 to capture the long jump. Brown leads the state with a 19-11.50.
Emma Zawatski, a sophomore at Freehold, scored the biggest win of her young career when she dug down deep over the final 100 and outkicked Julia Scrudato of Montgomery and then held off a very talented field to win the 1,600 in a personal best 4:53.79.
Freshman Jessica Oji of Livingston threw a personal best 41-5 and won the shot put on a tie-beaker over Kelly Enterline of Southern.
Boys Group 4
East Brunswick, after finishing second to rival South Brunswick at both county championship meets and at the Central Jersey Championships last week, finally came out on top against its nemesis. East Brunswick put an exclamation point on its state title run by throwing down a NJ No. 1 time of 3:15.65 to win the 4x400. Union was second in a NJ No. 2 3:17.56.
East Brunswick defeated runner-up South Brunswick, 56-37.50, to win its first outright state title and its second overall. The Bears shared the Group 4 championship with Hackensack in 2010.
The best formula for winning a state group title is having some big stars who can rack up huge points, which East Brunswick has in Rutgers-bound Christopher Serrao.
Serrao was sensational for EB. He broke his own Middlesex County record and lowered his NJ No. 1 time in the 110 hurdles by running 13.77 in the trials, then won the final in 13.85. He also placed second in the 400 hurdles, ran a leg on the winning 4x100, (41.73) and split 48.20 as the third leg on the sizzling 4x400.
Jayden Phillip also came up big for EB. The senior anchored the 4x400 with 47.20 carry, anchored the victorious 4x100, and he finished third in the 100 and fifth in the 200.
EB also received strong performances from senior Chiemelie Anosike, fourth in the 110 hurdles (14.81) and fifth in the 400 hurdles (55.92), senior Zack Muyingo, who cleared 6-6 to place fourth in the high jump, and Aiden Baldelli, who split 49.94 in the 4x400, and ran on the 4x100.
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The O'Sullivan brothers, Kevin and Brian, put on a great aerial show in the pole vault as the dynamic duo from Hillsborough finished 1-2. Kevin, a senior, tied he Group 4 record with a winning clearance of 16-0, a new PR and the No. 1 performance in the state this season. That equaled the Group 4 meet record that Dan Heyburn of Cranford set in 1980, and Brian McSweeney of East Brunswick matched last year.
Brian, a junior, made 15-6 to finish second. Brian made 16-0.25 to win the indoor Meet of Champions, so the O'Sullivan's are now the first brother combination in state history to each clear 16-0.
Robert Paneque of Jackson came up with one of the biggest upsets and bombs of the meet when he unloaded a monster 208-6 to win the javelin, which shattered the Shore Conference record is the top throw in the state this season. Paneque, a senior who previous PR was 193-0, broke the Shore Conference record of 205-11 that was set by Robert Scales of Middletown South in 2022.
Paneque knocked off defending champion Tyler Zawatski of Freehold Township, the Meet of Champs winner last year. Zawatski, who led the state with a 197-7, was second with a 190-7.
Westfield lit up the track in the 4x800, blasting a 7:44.79, the 13th fastest time in the nation this season, to break the All Groups meet record (All Groups combined). The former record of 7:45.21 was set in 2016 by Old Bridge.
Westfield, which chopped more than four seconds off its school record of 7:49.02 that it ran at the Penn Relays in April, received splits of 1:57.87 from sophomore Jimmy Gildea, 1:57.75 from junior Liam Maurillo, 1:58.98 from junior Jonathan Scalia, and a 1:51.99 from senior Charlie Stock!
Kyle Rakitis of Kingsway made a huge statement by winning the 1,600 for the second straight year in 4:09.12. Rakitis, who won the Meet of Champions title in the 1,600 last year, split 2:02.20 for the final 800 and 58.37 for the last quarter to win the red hot 4-lapper that saw four runners go under 4:14!. Rakitis is the first repeat 1,600 champ in at Group 4 since Murad Campbell of Overbrook won in 1998-99.
Jacob Heredia of Clifton ran 59.98 for the final 400 to place second in 4:10.28. Andrew McCabe of Ridge was third in 4:11.78. Nikhil Makker of West Windsor-Plainsboro North placed fourth in 4:12.49, and Akshay Vadul of Ediison was fifth in 4:13.03.
Fabian Gonzalez NJ of Southern won the discus (185-9) and the shot put (60-3.25).
Evan Corcoran of Kingsway won the 100 in 10.71 and the 200 in 21.62.
Cashieve Blair of Irvington, the state leader in the 400 (47.67), ran 47.93 to edge Greg McQueen of Elizabeth (NJ No. 6 47.99).
James Kisker of Ridge, third at the North 2 Sectional meet, avenged that defeat by using a huge kick over the final 50 meters to rally for win the 800 in a school record 1:51.51.