There were historic performances, upset specials, a sizzling triple, a remarkable throwing double, dramatic duels, and the completion of a rare triple crown that made Thursday's 54th NJSIAA Meet of Champions at Franklin High one of the most memorable in recent years.
Let's get right to it!!!!!
Sparks were flying when the Rutgers-bound Tucker, who came into the meet as the U.S. leader and a big favorite to become the first boy to ever win three straight 400m hurdle titles, staged a big rally over the final 25 meters to get his three-peat by the narrowest of margins.
Tucker caught Alex Sadikov of Ocean Township right before the line to win the greatest 400m hurdle duel in state history with an eye-popping time of 50.96!! Sadikov, who won the 400m at the MOCs last June, was second in a Shore Conference record 51.00!
Those times are the two fastest in the nation this season, No. 5 and No. 6 in NJ history, and are No. 2 and No. 3 in meet history. Only Cory Poole of East Orange (50.72 in 2017) has run faster at the MOCs than Tucker and Sadikov.
The only 400m hurdlers in NJ history who have run faster than Tucker and Sadikov are Poole, the state record holder with the 50.14 he ran at the Pan American Junior Championships in 201, Taylor McLaughlin of Union Catholic (50.20 in 2015), Dwight Ruff of Camden (50.37 in 2001) and Justin Gaymon of Phillipsburg (50.84 in 2005). That's it.
When Tucker crossed the line, he held up three fingers.
"It feels good to be the first one to ever win three in a row," said Tucker. "I'm proud of my time, but my execution in the race was a bit off little bit off. I messed up my rhythm, but I was able to get it back. I give a lot of credit to him (Sadikov). He ran a great race and was worried for a while that I might not be able to catch him, but I found a way to get it done at the end.''
Tucker came back later to split 48.06 to bring Pennsauken across first in the 4x400m in 3:15.81. The anticipated showdown between Pennsauken and Seton Hall Prep, the state's two fastest 4x400m teams, never materialized because Seton Hall Prep star Xavier Donaldson injured his hamstring in the 200 and couldn't finish, so Seton Hall, the New Balance Indoor National champs in the 4x400m, scratched from the 4x400m.
Nate "The Great' Rayan, second indoors in the 55 hurdles at the MOCs, avenged that loss and got the title he had been seeking in jaw-dropping fashion as the Clemson-bound star smashed the meet record with a wind-legal (+1.0) and NJ No. 2 all-time 13.42 in the trials of the 110 hurdles!!!
He came back to win the final with a 13.48 into a -0.7 headwind.
Rayan took down the meet record of 13.52 that was set in 1998 by Todd Matthews of Notre Dame, and moved past Danyne Brown of Camden (13.43 in 1999) into the No. 2 spot on NJ all-time list.
That means that Scotch Plains-Fanwood is now home to the two fastest 110 hurdlers in NJ high school history. The legendary Renaldo "Skeets'' Nehemiah ran a state record hand time of 12.9 (13.14 when converted to automatic time) in 1977. SPF is the only school that currently has the No. 1 and No. 2 ranked athletes in NJ history in the same event!! How awesome is that!!
"It's nice to get that record, but I know I can go much faster when I run a clean race,'' said Rayan. Losing indoors at the Meet of Champions really hurt, so I really wanted to get this one. It was also tough getting second at nationals indoors, so I'm really motivated to try to win at the New Balance Nationals this weekend and try to make a run at Nehemiah's record.''
TMBER CREEK BLOWS UP THE TRACK
Jones was the biggest winner of the day.
The junior burned a NJ No. 1 time of 11.73 to win the 100m, and anchored the winning 4x100 that ran a NJ No. 2 46.89, No. 3 in meet history, and she finished off her sizzling triple with a 55.23 anchor carry to bring Timber Creek across first in the 4x400m in 3:46.38, the No. 1 time in the state this season, No. 8 in meet history, and No. 18 in NJ history.
In the 4x400m, Timber Creek, the first first girls team to win the 4x100 and 4x400m at the same MOCs since Columbia did it in 2010, used Ryan Jennings (56.97), Billie Frazier (58.46), Chloe Jones (55.73) and Naylah Jones (55.23) together for the first time this season!
Emma Zawatski of Freehold Township and Tilly O'Connor of St. Rose were the big favorites to win the girls 1600m and 3200m, respectively, but Julia Scrudato of Montgomery and Ava Thomas of Haddonfield pulled off the two biggest upsets of the meet.
Scrudato, a junior who had never beaten defending champion Zawatski before, ran a 70.15 final 400m to pass Zawatski and score the stunning win in the 1600m in a huge PR of 4:45.76, the third fastest time in meet history!
Only Josette Norris (4:41.61 of Tenafly in 2013), and Liz Lansing of Randolph (4:45.36 in 2013) have run faster. Zawatski, a junior who has won three MOCs titles in her career (one in each season), was second in 4:48.13.
The 3200m winner was an even a bigger surprise because of the way Thomas won.
Thomas, a junior, was in fourth place at the bell, 8.58 seconds behind O'Connor, who went out in 5:11.49 for the first 1600m. But O'Connor started to pay for that ambitious front-running and began to fade as Thomas and others began to close the gap. Thomas had the most left, and stormed past O'Connor with about 50 meters left and charged across the line first, stopping the clock at 10:44.34. Rosemary Shay of Middletown South finished second in 10:45.76 and O'Connor, the state leader with a 10:18.08, was third in 10:46.36.
Thomas, who ran 1:14.55 for the final 400m, was in shock and disbelief when she crossed the line.
"This just doesn't seem real to me,'' said Thomas. "I really didn't think I could catch her at first, but I just never gave up and tried to finish as strong as I could. I just can't believe that just happened.''
STATE OF THE UNION
It was a remarkable day for Union County (six wins), especially in the boys distance races where Gabriel Rodriguez of Union (800m), Micah Lawson of Rahway (1600m) and Lucas Reguinho of Elizabeth (3200m).
Rodriguez, who was second last year is one of six athletes who won titles wo are headed to Rutgers, ran 55.64 over the final 400m to win the 800m in 1:51.43, the fastest time in the state this season.
Lawson also committed to Rutgers, dropped a 58.94 400m on the third lap to open a big gap and ran 1:59.33 for the final 800m on his way to a dominating victory in 4:12.01. When Lawson came across the line he motioned with his hands to act as if he was putting on a crown.
That's because the victory completed a rare triple crown for Lawson, which consists of victories in all three seasons in the same school year. Lawson won the MOCs cross country title in November, the 1600m at the Indoor MOCs, and on Thursday he added the final jewel with the outdoor 1,600 title.
Lawson is the 8th boy in NJ history to win won M of C titles in all three seasons in the same school year, and he's just the second boy to ever pull off the XC, 1600, 1600, trifecta in the same school year. Cliff Sheehan of Westfield accomplished the same feat (XC, 1600, 1,600) in the 1980-81 school tyar.
Next up it was Reguinho's turn to complete the Union County distance sweep.
The Louisville-bound Reguinho was locked in a great duel with Lakeland senior Owen Horevay as the two started to hammer their way around the final turn. Reguinho, who ran a 61.63 final 400m, was able to dig down and find another gear as they charged down the homestretch and crossed the line first in 9:10.31. Horvath was second in 9:11.34.
The victory was especially for Reguinho, who won the Group 4 cross country title last fall before an ankle injury sidelined for the cross country MOCs and the the indoor season. He vowed to come back even better and faster and get his first MOCs title, and he did exactly that.
The Old Tappan girls, who came into the meet having won just one title at Meet of Champions in 2014, broke that drought in a big way by winning three titles on Thursday as Layla Giordano scored a dynamic double in the throws and Abigail Dennis finished first in the 100m hurdles.
Giordano, a junior, exploded in the circle with a massive double, unloading a huge PR bomb and NJ No. 1 throw and Bergen County record of 159-7, which is No. 6 in NJ history, to win the discus and she captured the shot put with a 44-3.25.
Dennis, who was third as a sophomore last year, came storming back from behind to win the hurdles with a big PR of 14.09.
CHEROKEE DOES IT AGAIN
For the second straight year, Cherokee's Conor Jacob (1:55.74), Nick Kuenkel (1:55.70), Robert Poplau (1:54.92), and Patrick Ditmars (1;53.82) owned the boys 4x800m, but this time they left a lot of smoke on the track after burning a 7:41.17, the fastest time in NJ this season, and No. 2 in meet history. Only River Dell (7:40.57 in 2016) have run faster in meet history.
BATTLE OVER THE BAR
Alanna Woolfolk of Clayton and defending champion Samantha Strydesky of Howell came into the meet having combined to win the last four MOCs high jump titles, indoors and outdoors combined. So it was no surprise to see them as the final two competitors with bar sitting at 5-10.
Neither one made 5-10, so Woolfolk was declared the winner on misses after both made 5-8. It's the fourth time this season that Woolfolk made 5-8, and this is third MOCs title for the junior star. Woolfolk also won the outdoor HJ title as a freshman in 2021, and captured the Indoor MOCs title in 2022. Strydesky, won last year and at the Indoor MOCs, and Woolfolk are the only two girls to make 5-8 in NJ this season.
The Wilberforce School, a small school outside of Princeton, and the Elizabeth girls never had a MOCs winner before.
But that changed when sophomore Adeline Edwards (2:17.32), freshman Laura Sallade (2:18.43), senior Sarah Park (2:19.13), and sophomore Gwen Mersereau (2:21.32) combined to give Wilberforce the victory in the 4x800 in a NJ No. 3 time of 9:16.2, and Rutgers commit Cynthia Boakye won the 200 for Elizabeth in 24.36.
Wilberforce's victory added to a remarkable historical year. In the fall, the Wolverines won its first State XC title, and last week they captured the State Non-Public B Championship. Small school doing big things!!!!
As for Boakye, her victory caps off the greatest season in school history. She led Elizabeth to its first sectional championship in 20 years and to its first ever state championship in Group 4, and now she's the first girl from the Big E to win a M of C title. Her legacy is secure in Elizabeth history as an all-time great!
The senior won the high jump for the second straight year by clearing 6-10, soared also 23-5.75 to place second in the long jump, and he finished third in the triple jump with a 46-11.
Those add up to a mind-boggling total of 77-2.75!!!! I don't think anyone has ever hit that number in the three jumps combined.
Potts finished his career with four MOCs titles. He won the HJ and LJ at the MOCs this past indoor season.
Senior Kadence Dumas of Eastern Regional and sophomore Clemmie Lilley of Rumson-Fair Haven were side-by-side as they charged toward the finish in the girls 800m. It was anyone's race and Dumas, who is headed to Delaware, was able to just gain a slight edge as she leaned across the line to win with a big PR of 2:10.44.
Lilley, who crashed to the track as she crossed the line, was second in 2:10.62, which broke her own school record.
How about what Mercer County did in the boys sprints!!! My goodness!!!
First, senior Mekhi Stafford of Ewing, who missed the Indoor Meet of Champions with a hamstring injury, burned a NJ time of 10.56 to edge Hamilton West's Jaci Summers, who ran 10.61. Summers ran 10.59 in the trials, so Stafford and Summers are now NJ No. 1 and NJ No. 2.
Several boys county records went down!
The Notre Dame-bound Ahart, who has his season cut short last year when he pulled a hamstring in the Group 1 100 dash, shattered the Morris County record of 47.46 set in 2018 by Kevin Sembrat of Roxbury.
In the boys 4x100, Bergen's Catholic's Allan Hilton Clarke, Kaj Sanders, Andrew Boakye and Logan Casey broke the Bergen County record by running 41.69, the fastest time in the state this season. The former Bergen County record was 41.71 by Teaneck in 2010
Huisman, a junior who won the indoor MOCs title in the shot, launched a 64-7.75 on his fifth throw to rally past the Stanford-bound Gonzalez. Gonzalez, who wound up second in the shot with a 63-11, got his first MOCs title by wining the discus with a 193-7.
FLAIR IN THE AIR
State pole vault leaders Emma Keating of Pompton Lakes and Brian O'Sullivan of Hillsborough, both headed to Rutgers, scored dominating victories. Keating won her second straight girls title by clearing a PR of 13-0, which is tied for No. 3 in state history. Only Haley Horvath of Notre Dame, who cleared a MOCs meet record of 13-5.25 in 2018, and Danielle O'Reilly of Shawnee (13-3 in 2004) have gone higher than Keating in NJ outdoor history.
O'Sullivan, the state leader with a NJ No. 2 all-time 16-6.50, won the boys vault by making 15-6. It was a great bounce back win for O'Sullivan, who was third in Group 4 last Saturday.
In the horizontal jumps, junior Sophia Curtis of Ocean City, won the girls triple jump with a 40-7.50, No. 6 in met history. Curtis, who loved to Ocean City from Delaware this year, is the state leader with a 40-10.25. Adannia Agbo of Morris Hills was second with a 39-3.75, and defending champin Alexandra Bonn was third with a school outdoor record 39-3.
The girls long jump winner was junior Saniyah Evans of Rahway, who soared 18-9.25, just off her PR.
The boys javelin produced one of the best battles in meet history as George Kalkanis of Mahwah sent the spear 205-9 to edge Kevin Burr Jr. of Rancocas Valley, second with a 204-4. Those are the two best throws in NJ this season. Burr just picked up a javelin two months ago after giving up basebal!!
Leah Howard of Millville unloaded the second best javelin throw in meet history, to win the girls javelin with a 159-10 to win her first MOCs title. Howard, the state leader with a 161-1, is now No. 2 on the MOCs list behind state record holder Brielle Smith, who threw 163-8 to win in 2019.
Freshman phenom Sianni Wynn of Pennsauken continued her torrid rookie season by winning the girls 400m in 54.56. Wynn, who won, the 55 and the 200 at the Indoor Meet of Champions, was chasing the state freshman record of 53.78 set in 2014 by the legendary Sydney McLaughlin of Union Catholic. Wynn, who ran 53.97 at the Group 4 meet, will have another shot at that record this weekend when she competes at the New Balance Nationals.
Aaliyah Murphy, who dropped a major NJ No. 1 ranked PR of 1:00.39 just days before during Groups, won the 400m hurdles for Morristown in 1:01.57 to become the first girl from her school to win a MOCs title on the track.