New Jersey Week by Ed Grant
May 14th, 2005

A mixture of relay and individual meets marked the last week of action in New Jersey with both producing marks that indicate, once warmer weather settles in, this could be quite an outdoor season.

Two Essex County sprinters made their mark in both genres, sophomore Racquel Vassell of East Orange and freshman Ogechi Nwaneri, who began a rivalry which should produce a lot of fireworks before they part company after the 2007 season.

They broke even at Friday night’s Essex County Relays at Livingston, run in frigid weather. Columbia, with Nwaneri anchoring and classmate Tenesia Simpson leading off, won the 400R in a meet record and season-leading 47.3, an incredible performance considering the conditions and the fact that the absence from the lineup of another frosh, Bianca Stewart, who was busy with other events.

Columbia also seemed headed for victory in the 800R when its second runner struck her thigh with the swinging baton and lost precious seconds recovering it while Vassell and her teammates sailed on to a 1:42.9 victory. The rematch for that one should come May 23 in the East Coast Relays at Morristown.

The next day, at Bernards, Vassell scored a sprint double in wind-blown times of 12.0 and 24.8. Columbia passed up that one, but the teams met again at the Iron Hills Conference meet at Randolph a few days later with another even split for the sprint stars, Vassell winning the 100 in 12.05 and Nwaneri the 200 in 24.39---the third best frosh time in state history behind two earlier superstars, Wendy Vereen of Trenton and Stephanie Saleem of Neptune.

Columbia won both the Essex Relays and the Iron division of the Iron Hills on its way to what could be a perfect season. It is still operating without 400/800 star A. Bianca Cruz, who has been sidelined since the middle of the indoor season; were she to return in full form, a state Gr. IV title would be within grasp even against the powerful Jackson Twp squad.

The top individual event of the week was, to no one’s surprise, the boys’ 800-meter run. With the South Jersey Open lost for a year due to lack of a site, Haddonfield put on a few distance races last Thursday and Rob Novak of Bordentown won the 800 in 1:53.2. (He will be trying to better that mark this weekend in a meet at Trinity College.). Bryan Scotland of St. Benedict’s, the indoor leader, had no individual race, but ran a 1:54.6 anchor as the Gray Bees won the sprint medley at the Essex Relays in 3:31.0.

At the Bernards meet, four boys went under 1:55.0, led by Hayrol Cruz of Passaic in 1:54.0. The others were Pat DiGiaocchino of the host school, Robert Damon of Piscataway and Byron Williams of Ridgewood. On Wednesday, soph Jason Apwah of Roxbury won the Iron Division title at the Iron Hills meet in a meet record 1:54.60 with Bernie Lauredan of Seton Hall clocked at 1:54.65 (the former record-holder was Tennessee coach J.J. Clark.) Korey Edwards of Parsippany Hills, the state Gr. III cross-country champion who spent the winter leading his school’s basketball team, took the Hills division in 1:57.73. And, on the same day, Watson Estelan of Rahway and Ryan Malloy of Bound Brook won the two divisions of the Mountain Valley Conference meet in 1:58.7 and 1:58.8 in the midst of multiple-event efforts.

The Bernards meet was the best in years with a half dozen all-group favorites in the boys’ field. Three of them met head-on in the 200M with Kevin Thompson of North Bergen winning by a nose from Shaquan Brown of Paterson Kennedy and Malcolm Jenkins of Piscataway in a wind-blown 21.4. Thompson also took the 100 in a windy 10.4 and Jenkins the 400 in 48.8. (Brown had qualified for the 400 in 49.1, but chose to run only the 200 final.)

The meet also had two of the state’s top weight-throwers. Yemi Ayeni of South Brunswick took advantage of the wind to scale the discus 198-6 and also won the shot put at 57-2. Marion Easley of Somerville won the javelin at 202-9 after practicing for a couple of weeks with a baseball to ease an aching arm.

Tiquan Underwood of Notre Dame, the defending state champion in the triple jump, won that one at 45-9 1/4 (a meet record for a new event), took the high hurdles in 13.9, placed fifth in the high jump at 6-0 and ran second leg in a 3:24.4 1600-meter relay victory. There is no team score in this meet, but the Irish would have won it handily with 51 points.

Seton Hall, one of three powerful teams in Parochial A (the third is, of course, Christian Brothers), like Columbia, doubled the Essex County Relays and Iron Division titles by wide margins. The Pony Pirates won five events at the relay meet and had non-winning efforts of 43.0 in the 400R, 1:29.3 in the 800 and 3:35.5 in the sprint medley. (Irvington doubled the sprints in 42.7 and 1:29.1.) In the Iron meet, Pat Altema won the 200 in 22.16, Billy Buzaid the 400 in 49.67 and Luis Puopolo the javelin at 170-6. The 1600R also won in 3:25.81 without regulars Lauredan, Altema and Pat Blackie, who rested an aching leg.

One of the stars of the Iron Hills meet was Morristown’s Shaun Adair, for whom track is a third sport. The football and basketball star set a meet record of 23-4 1/2 in the long jump, won the high hurdles in 14.78, placed second in the triple jump and third in the high jump.

The Hills division of the meet also produced some top efforts. Ted Galligan led Morris Hills to the boys; title, winning the 400 and both hurdles, while teammate Shawn Bolcarovic, a decathlon hopeful, took the long jump at 22-1 and a meet record 42-6 3/4 and placed second in the intermediate hurdles. In the girls’ meet, Celeste Holder of Parsippany swept the sprints in 12.73, 25.71 and 58.64 and was second in the long jump at 18-1 to Alaina Alfano, who doubled the hurdles and long jump at 15.32 and 18-9 1/2.

Most of the teams in this meet had competed three days earlier in the Morris County Relays where Randolph and Morristown tied for the boys’ title and Randolph ran away with the girls’ crown. But the Roxbury girls’ distance crew stole the show here with three meets records: 9:33.64 in the 3200R, 21:10.35 in the 6400R and 12:03.21 in the distance medley. Two members of those teams, Jenn Ennis and Ashley Cromartie swept the Hills’ distance titles a few days later, Ennis doubling the 1600 and 3200 in a meet record 5:07.57 and 11:04.38 and Ashley Cromartie taking the 800 in 2:17.85.

While the South Jersey boys lost their meet, the Ike Willis Invitational for girls went on at Rowan University last weekend with Wilson and Ocean City takinf five events between them in Friday’s relay program. Wilson took the 800R in 1:41.50, best of the season, the 1600 in 4:01.0 and the sprint medley in 4:10.5, second only to Piscataway’s 4:10.3 two days earlier at the Middlesex County relays. Renee Tomlin anchored Ocean City to a distance doubled in 9:35.0 and 12:25.3. In the windy individual program the next day, Nicole Castronuova of Jackson doubled the sprints in 12.25 and 24.7, while Brittany Whitehead of Cherry Hill West took the 400 in 57.55 and Katie Van Horn of Triton the 1600 in 5:05.8. The Jackson duo of Amanda Marino and Jen Clausen swept the distance program, Amanda winning the 3K in 11:15.1 and Jen the 5K in 17:51.53.

A gallant effort by ailing Andrea March and a pair of sprint upsets marked the Gloucester County meet on Wednesday, which opened the series of South Jersey county meets. March led the Minutemen to the girls’ title with a triple in the two hurdles and the high jump, then led off a 4:02.5 win in the 1600R. In the boys’ sprints, reigning all-group 100-meter champ Bruce Owens of Deptford was beaten by A.J. Bunton of West Deptford, who ran 10.8 in the 100 and 21.9 in the 200. Owens did salvage the 400 in 49.5. In the girls’ sprints, Kim Moody of Woodbury defeated Gr. I champ Shardae Anderson of Paulsboro in 12.2 and 25.1



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