Schellberg, Paramus Catholic Showcase Penn Relays...and More

PHILADELPHIA - Columbia HS (Maplewood, NJ) started their quest for glory (as they were chasing finals in the 4x100m, 4x400m and 4x800m relays) in style by running the 4x800m relay early Thursday morning running in the third heat (1st heat of large schools).  Coming in we all knew that had a chance to sneak into the finals but as always we didn't know how many Jamaican schools would run near 9:00 or even sub-9 and I was fairly certain that Columbia was not running sub-9.  They were pitted against one of the best teams that the Caribbean country could bring in Edwin Allen (Clarendon, Jamaica).  They held their own much of the way never losing site of their goal, to make the finals.  They finished 3rd in the heat in 9:11.47 (splits in order: Ty Vonna Johnson (2:12.4), Adebunmi Gbdaebo (2:22.2), Jade Johnson (2:25.5), Brittney Jackson (2:11.4) easily the fastest time a team from the Garden State had run all year.  So it was looking pretty good that they could slip in.  But that was only the 1st heat of the large schools and that 2nd heat featured a few schools that on paper could run really fast including Randolph, NJ who was going to run Joelle Amaral on the anchor.  Long Beach Poly (Long Beach, CA) was the heavy favorite in that heat and won going away, crossing the finish line in 9:05.53 but Randolph held off the rest of the pack to take 2nd in the heat running .01 faster than Columbia in the previous heat.  So both Randolph and Columbia grab spots in the Championship of America to be run on friday.  Columbia would step back on the track for the 4x100m relay where they and Paramus Catholic had legitamate shots at making the Championship of America race.  It wasn't to be as both teams just missed the cutoff of 8 teams.  However, both had qualified for the Large Schools and Tri-State finals that would be run on Friday and Saturday respectively.

     Thursday at the Penn Relays is for high schoolers is always about the races at night.  The Distance Medley Relay was the 1st of three straight championship races.  In that Distance Medley NJ boasted three teams that could challenge the field, Red Bank Catholic, Southern Regional and Lenape.  Lenape was 3rd at the Nike Indoor Nationals in Boston just 4 weeks ago but had some trouble early and was never a factor.  Southern Regional stayed up near the leaders the entire race.  After the 1st exchange Red Bank Catholic had some catching up to do and they battled every step until they handed off the baton to anchor Molly McNamara and catch up she did.  McNamara ran a sensational 4:57.60 to pick off a bunch of places and end up finishing 5th just in front of Southern Regional with a time of 12:00.91 good enough for NJ #23 All-Time.  We didn't have any runners in the championship mile because Joelle Amaral pulled out to concentrate on the 4x800 the next day.  We certainly were well represented in the girls 3k, the last of the high school championship races on thursday.  Marielle Hall (Haddonfield) and Megan Venables (Highland Regional) toed the line and were ready to battle some of the top distances runners the United States has to offer.  Hall hung on for the entire way but was no match for the deadly last 200m by Emily Lipari (NY) who sizzled by everyone finishing in 9:34.52.  Hall finished 5th in 9:40.23 a time that is #6 on New Jersey's all-time list.  Venables lead the 2nd pack for much of the way and for much of the race found her self in no-where's land behind the leaders.  Venables hung on for 7th in a very respectable 9:45.83 NJ#9 All-Time.

     Friday morning is always about the high school boys 4x800m trials and how many NJ teams could get into the finals.  It was safe to say that we would not see the fireworks that we saw last year when Morris Hills battled Albemarle, VA to a National Record (Morris Hills crushed the NJ record) but we could still expect some great times.  For all of the indoor season Freehold Twp, on paper, had one of the best 4x800m relays that NJ could field.  But the never put it together for one reason or another.  Friday at the Relays Carnival was a different story.  One leg after another Freehold Twp was banging out times like there was no tomorrow.  Rich Fedak led off and by the last turn he found an extra gear and surged past much of the field handing off the Gregg Tilley splitting 1:56.x.  It was Tilley's turn to hang with the field (who by the way had Abbington PA in it, they only won every 4x800m they entered in the indoor season, including the Millrose Games).  But nevertheless Tilley did a fantastic job getting the stick around to the 3rd leg James Faith.  The 3rd legs are a lot of times the weaker of the 4, but Faith was not about to let his team down especially after his 1st to legs busted their tails.  Faith made it around 2 laps in an excellent 1:58.5 seconds to leave the rest up to their top 800m runner Randy Spadola.  Spadola rounded the last turn about 5 meters behind the leader, Abbington PA and surged down the stretch to get up right next to him both crossing the line with Abbington just inching out the win.  Spadola split 1:55.9 and was enough to get them into their 1st EVER Championship of America with an overall time of 7:51.26.  After the 4x800m relays always come the high school boys 4x100m relays and O boy it seemed like there were a million heats.  Once the trials of the 4x100m relays were completed it was time for the high school girls 4x800m COA where Randolph and Columbia would take a shot at the Jamaican's and the rest of the field.  Randolph was the better of the two NJ schools as they improved 5 seconds from their trial time running 9:06.92 with splits of Molly Higgins (2:12.12), Natalie Anthony (2:21.12), Victoria Kiss (2:18.49), Joelle Amaral (2:15.19).  Their time of good enough to place 5th as the Jamaican powerhouses of Holmwood Tech (3rd consecutive year winning the event) and Edwin Allen were too much to handle.  Columbia would get back on the track for the Large School 4x100m relay where they would meet fellow NJ school Paramus Catholic who had an anchor that would rival most teams around the country in Myasia Jacobs.  Both teams got the stick around relatively well but it was Paramus Catholic who had the last laugh as Jacobs used her speed to dash down the final 100m to give her team the victory and a coveted Penn Relays plaque.  The two teams would meet once again on Saturday for the Tri-State finals.  When the sun starts to settle on the Friday on the relays, everyone knows it's time for the high school boys to showcase their distance talents.  With the same lineup as Thursday night, this time being the boys races, we would see the Distance Medley, Mile and 3000m runs.  In the Distance Medley, NJ's top hope for winning was shattered when we found out Haddonfield Memorial would be without their ace anchor Jon Vitez due to a slight injury.  Nevertheless NJ had other squads that would take a crack and claiming victory.  One of those relay squads included West Windsor-Plainsboro North who is home to the Rosa twins and when those two step onto the track we are surely to see a fast race.  Joe Rosa, who has only raced 1 or 2 times since getting injured at the NXN meet in Portland OR, was going to lead off for the Knights.  Joe Rosa did what he knows best and he ran his heart out handing off just behind the leader in 3:05.2, it was up to Chris Banks to hang on, running the 400m leg.  Banks split 51.7 and handed off the Jon Squeri for the 2 lap leg. Squeri had some trouble getting around the two laps and could only muster a 2:05 so Jim Rosa had a little work to do in order to get back with the leaders.  The distance proved to be too much for Jim to win but he still managed an excellent 4:13.1 which brought his Knights back into 5th place the best finish by a New Jersey team. 

The next race on the track was surely one that NJ track fans knew we had a great shot at winning.  Pat Schellberg had one EVERY 1600m/Mile race that he had ran in (except for the NJ MOC) the past season and a half.  Schellberg was not about to give up his dream of winning a Millrose title (which he already did) and a Penn Relays mile title.  However, the rest of the field was not about to just roll over and give him the title.  Schellberg sat and waited for about 1200m and then used his strength over the last 400m to open up a gap on the entire field.  Rounding the final turn only 1 runner was close enough to him to maybe steal the victory, but Schellber was not going to let that happen.  He crossed the line and the crowd went nuts.  4:08.07!!!!! and a New Penn Relays Mile Record.  Schellberg would eventually be selected as the Male Individual high school performer of the meet, by the Penn Relays committee.  The last race of the night, the 3000m had a few athletes from New Jersey that had a chance to finish very high.  Tyler Udland (Millburn) lap after lap hung on with the top distance legs on the East Coast, and another from Jamaica (yes Jamaica had an athlete in the 3k, and who won, shhhhh).  Coming around the last bend Udland knew if he could find another gear that he would finish very high and that he did blowing down the final 50m to finish in 5th place with a time of 8:25.06 the 9th best time EVER run by a NJ athlete

Saturday mornings first even is always the high school boys 400h where NJ would see one of our best quarter-mile hurdles step on the line.  Mark Filandro (Indian Hills) dominated the entire race and had it all rapped up if it weren't for that pesky 10th hurdle.  Filandro clipped the hurdle and saw the race slip away from him as he fell to the track and the runners went past him.  NJ still faired well as we took places 2-4-6-8 with Stephen Vitale (Randolph) finishing 2nd from the unseeded heat running 54.06 the top time in NJ thus far. Once again Columbia and Paramus Catholic would toe the line for round 2 of this matchup.  Once again both teams had good handoffs and Paramus Catholic just proved to much for everyone including Paramus Catholic as they won their 2nd championship race of the weekend.  We had to wait much of the day for Freehold Twp to step on the line for what would be the biggest race of their young lives running in the Championship of America 4x800m relay.  But it wasn't all bad as 58,000+ screaming fans got to see Usain Bolt the biggest name in the sport and the fastest human alive.  Bolt anchored his country's 4x100m that would dominate the track running 37.90 the only country under 38.00.  The USA Blue and Red teams finished 2-3 respectively.  But enough about the American's losing (we won both 4x400m relays as we usally do) and on to the much anticipated high school boys 4x800m where Freehold Twp was up against some serious talent.  They ran the same lineup as the trials (why change a good thing).  Rich Fedak led off with a 1:58.3 which put 'Twp right in the middle of the pack and handed off to Gregg Tilley rounded the two laps in 1:59.2 and keep Freehold Twp just where they needed to be, it was then up to James Faith to keep them alive, if at any second you lose touch with the pack at the Penn Relays your day is over, there is not catching up without a 1:48 leg and no one in the field had that.  So Faith did his job and kept them in it splitting 1:57.1 and now it was time for Randy Spadola to bring them home.  Spadola most of the way stayed right on the heels of the other anchor legs and rounded the final turn screaming for the finish line.  Spadola crossed the line running 1:57.2 and another 7:51 for Freehold.  The boys from Freehold were proud as they led NJ to a 10th place finish in the biggest race of their lives.

Right after the high school boys 4x800m relay was the College Men's 4x800m relay.  Now I don't usually cover college races as I just don't have the time but this one was special.  In the middle of March the nation saw Freshman phenom Robby Andrews who now runs the the Univesity of Virginia, under the tutelage of Jason Vigilante win the NCAA Division1 championships beating Olympian Andrew Wheating of the U. of Oregon.  Well Saturday saw them pitted against each other again and this time Wheating would be ready.  However, Wheating had no match for the closing speed of Andrews who zoomed past Wheating and held him off in the final meters giving UVA their 1st COA since 1943.  Andrews split an astonishing 1:47.7.

All photos by Matt Shatkus except Robby Andrews (left), that photo is courtesy of Maroon News