|MEET OF CHAMPIONS GIRLS PREVIEW |
BY RICH BEVENSSE
There are some great matchups on tap for what should be an exciting 36th edition of the NJSIAA Girls Meet of Champions on Wednesday at Frank Jost Field in South Plainfield.
The meet is scheduled to begin with field events at 3:30 p.m. and running events at 4:30. The rain date is Thursday at the same times.
The stars will be out to back up all the headlines they have received this season, while the underdogs and underclassmen are looking to knock off the favorites and make a name for themselves.
Here’s a look at what fans can expect to see in each of the 16 events. Enjoy the show!
It has become apparent that Dominique Booker of Montclair Immaculate and Tylia Gillon of Jackson are headed for a showdown with Myasia Jacobs of Paramus Catholic for the title of New Jersey’s fastest girl.
Booker matched Gillon for the fastest time in the state in the 100-meter dash at 11.98 at the New Jersey Catholic Track Conference meet two weeks ago. Gillon got her 11.98 at the Shore Conference meet.
They were both knocked from the top rung when Jacobs burned an 11.94 at the Non-Public A state meet this past weekend. The aforementioned girls are the only speedsters to have posted sub-12 second times this season.
At least, so far. Deptford’s Audrey Wilson is next on the state performance list with a 12.04 but she owns a career-best 11.95 from finishing second in last year’s M of C.
And that’s not to say someone else can’t jump into the picture. Just two years ago, a meet-record five girls dipped under 12 seconds in the final.
Of the top six from last year, only Wilson, Booker (third last season) and Ada Unachukwu of Marlboro (fifth last season, with a 2009 season-best 12.09) are the returning challengers.
In the 200 dash, the picture is a bit more cloudy. The conversation must start with Seneca’s Michelle Brown, who clocked a state-leading 24.17 at the state Group 3 meet. She’s the defending champion in the 400 meters – and she’ll be the favorite there as well thanks to a state-leading 54.17 from the Rowan Invitational in early May -- so she is faced with a decision. Stick with defending her title in the quarter-mile, or try her luck and double down.
The latter choice is a tough assignment. Winning both the 200 and 400 hasn’t been done in 11 years and only three girls have ever completed this double: Stephanie Saleem of Neptune (1987), Tiffany Weatherford of Science Park (1990) and Mikele Barber of Montclair (1998).
If Brown chooses the 200, she could be beaten by Booker, who was third in that race last season and owns a 24.63 season best. It could be Gillon here, too, as she owns a 24.54 season best.
Morgan Gordon of Rancocas Valley threw her hat in the 200 ring last weekend by running a 24.31 – second in the state this season – at the state Group 4 meet.
A great story here, in either the 200 or 400, is Wallkill Valley’s Vicky Caruso. This senior headed for Delaware was told last spring she would never possess the same explosiveness after tearing her Achilles tendon in the sectionals. Yet here she is, the state Group 2 champion in the 100 and 200 and the runner-up in the 400. Caruso owns a 24.36 in the 200 and a 55.64 in the 400 this season.
In the 2008 M of C 400, Brown edged Oakcrest’s Nijgia Snapp for the title, 54.14 to 54.35. Snapp is back to challenge for the quarter mile crown and she’ll be on Brown’s heels. The evidence: a 54.39 at the state Group 4 meet. Also in the picture are Passaic Tech’s Amber Allen (55.41), Southern Regional’s Chelsea Cox (55.44) and Pope John’s Emily Carrollo (55.62).
Pope John’s Carrollo laughed at the Non-Public A meet when asked about challenging two-time M of C 800 winner Jillian Smith of Southern Regional, the reigning national champion. Carrollo said chasing Smith always sounds like a good idea until you get on the track and you see Smith begin her famous kick with 300 meters left in the race. You know it’s coming, you can plan for it, but beating it is another story.
Carrollo, third in the 800 last season, is likely to choose the 800 over the 400 for two reasons. One, it’s her best event, and two, she wants to at least challenge Smith, who is No. 2 on New Jersey’s all-time list with a 2:05.24 and who has posted a season-best 2:06.78 from the Shore Conference meet. Smith already owns the meet record after winning here last season in 2:05.26. Carrollo enters the meet with a season-best 2:12.90, but she owns a career-best 2:09.92 from last spring.
Ajee’ Wilson of Neptune and Marielle Hall of Haddonfield must be slipped into the conversation at this juncture. Wilson, a freshman, pushed the state freshman record down to 2:09.66 at the state Group 3 meet. Hall showed she can hustle as well, winning the state Group 2 title with a 2:09.89.
Last year in this race, Southern’s Cox was second in 2:09.92. She has run 2:14.05 this season but she’s used to keeping up with teammate Smith and should not be counted out for another top-three slot.
Voorhees senior Lanie Thompson, the reigning champion in the 3,200, has chosen to drop down to the 1,600. Clearly, the Oregon-bound Thompson is the state’s best in the distances – she is a two-time cross-country M of C winner and a two-time winner of the indoor track M of C 3,200. But for those questioning her decision to try the shorter race, she has proven over and over again during her career that it’s not wise to bet against her. She proved she can handle the mile last weekend by clocking a state-leading and career-best 4:50.40, No. 13 in state history, at the state Group 3 meet.
She’ll need all of that effort and perhaps more because chasing her that day was Neptune’s Wilson, who finished second in 4:52.03. Clearly, Wilson is fast in the half-mile and mile, and has a tough decision to make, much like Seneca’s Brown.
Wilson can choose just one race and face a imposing obstacle in either Smith or Thompson, or run both and attempt to pull off the 800/1,600 double which only two girls have ever accomplished: Jodie Bilotta of North Hunterdon (1988) and Danielle Tauro of Southern (2006).
Roxbury’s Ariann Neutts, a solid threat in the 800 (2:11.08), could be good here, too. She owns a 4:52.64 from the sectionals. Haddonfield’s Hall belongs in this race as well thanks to a meet record 4:52.99 from the state Group 2 meet.
With Thompson opting for the 1,600, there’s one girl to watch in this race: Kingsway junior Chelsea Ley. The reason is that she has finished second in state championship races more times than she cares to remember.
But Ley knows how to win. She earned a pair of national titles – the two-mile and the 5,000 -- at the National Scholastic Indoor Championships – this past March in New York City.
With apologies to Katie Kellner of West Windsor-Plainsboro South, who ran a career-best 10:45.79 at the state Group 4 meet and is No. 2 in the state this season, this race belongs to Ley. The junior from the Woolwich school ran a 10:28.42, No. 11 in state history, to win the state Group 3 title.
Of the 2008 top six who return this season, Ley was third last year, Sarah Pagano of Immaculate Heart (11:06.18 in ‘09) was fourth, Jillian Prentice of Montgomery (10:48.65 in ’09) was fifth and Kellner was sixth.
Union senior Ugonna Ndu is on the brink of history.
Ndu owns the fastest time in the nation in the 400 hurdles with a 59.36, No. 7 in state history, from the state Group 4 meet, and the second-fastest 100 hurdles time in the state this season with a 14.28.
If Ndu can win both, she will become just the second girl in M of C history to do so, following Delsea’s Arnita Green, who accomplished this rare feat in 1989. The two hurdles events have been contested for 28 years.
With a victory in either event, Ndu would become her school’s first female winner. She could also become just the second Union County girl to win two events. Inshallah Saunders of Plainfield won the 100 and 200 in 1993.
No other NJ girl this season has dipped under one minute in the intermediate hurdles, so Ndu has a leg up on the field there. She actually has a shot at the meet record of 59.03, set in 1988 by Tonya Lee of Rancocas Valley.
Ndu’s closest competitor in the intermediates appears to be Passaic Tech’s Allen, the 2008 fifth-place finisher who timed 1:00.33 at the Penn Relays. Allen ran 1:00.56 to finish second in the state Group 4 meet. Rumson’s Melissa Bellin, last year’s runner-up, owns a 1:01.55 from the state Group 2 meet.
In the 100 hurdles, where Ndu was third last year in 14.45, Ashley Porterfield of Neptune owns the state’s fastest time of the season with a 14.22 from the state Group 3 meet and she will be aiming to improve on last season’s sixth-place finish. Among the other girls who will attempt to spoil Ndu’s date with history, Irvington’s Azudei Dubois owns a season-best 14.69 and went 14.32 in placing second last season.
Fiona Paladino of Montgomery shot to the top of the contenders’ list in the high jump when she won the state Group 4 title with a 5-8; she beat Howell’s Maggie Gilbertson on misses. Paladino also owns a 5-9 from a dual meet in April and is the only girl in the state to have two jumps this season over 5-8.
Emily Kianka of Hopewell Valley, the indoor M of C winner this past winter, chalked up a 5-8 ¼ at the Mercer County Relays. Also from the Colonial Valley Conference, Ewing’s jumping twosome of Brigita Roemer (5-6) and Tayona Brown (5-5) will also be in contention.
The defending champion is back as well. Lacey’s Lauren Calorel won with a 5-6 last season but her season best is 5-4 so far.
Johnson’s Emily Vargas (5-6) and Columbia’s Brittney Jackson (5-6) have been consistent all season. The winning jump at the M of C has exceeded 5-6 only once in the last six years, so if that trend continues, the event will be a shootout as usual.
Eleven girls have leaped as far as 18 feet in the long jump this season, and they are led by Montclair’s Shantal Athill, who recorded an 18-11 at the Northern New Jersey Interscholastic League meet last month.
Johnson’s Vargas (18-5) and South Brunswick’s Mariah Browne 18-3 ¼ will be in the hunt. Browne (state Group 3 meet) and Irvington’s Dubois (18-0 in state Group 4 meet) are the latest members of this season’s 18-foot club.
No matter how big the jumps are from year to year, this event is always up for grabs. In the last three years, only the long jump winner has exceeded 18 feet.
Marlboro’s Unachukwu is this season’s only 40-foot jumper, as she notched one at the Penn Relays. She has since been a consistent 39-foot jumper and will be in the hunt after placing second last year at – what else – 40-0.
Another of the state’s 40-footers is Hillsborough’s Ebony Young, who reached 40 feet to win the state Group 4 title last season. Young bumped her season best up to 39-0 when she placed second at the state Group 4 meet.
Morristown’s Christina Epps literally leaped onto the radar screen after sailing a Morris County-record 39-9 to win the state Group 3 title.
An interesting angle to this event is the rivalry between two Union County leapers. Johnson’s Vargas began the give-and-take this season when she jumped 38-4 at the Mountain Valley Conference meet and broke the Union County record of 38-1 ½ set last spring by Cranford’s Kelly Burke. Burke broke back, temporarily, when she leaped 38-5 in the Union County meet. Just 12 minutes later, Vargas reclaimed the record with a 38-9 ¼ on her final attempt. Not to be outdone, Burke sent Vargas back to the drawing board after soaring 39-5 in the Central Jersey, Group 2 meet.
It appears Jackson’s Shannon Watt is ready to claim her share of the spotlight after standing in the shadows of Shore Conference throwers the last couple years, namely DeAnne Hahn of Brick/Lakewood and Maureen Laffan of Toms River North, both former M of C winners.
The Harvard-bound Watt, fifth last year in the M of C shot put, owns the state’s top mark this season thanks to a 45-5 ½ she recorded at the state Group 4 meet. She leads a pack of 14 girls who have notched 40-foot throws.
Apresha Hampton of Teaneck is No. 2 at 43-0, but she placed third in the state Group 3 meet behind Brick’s Lisa Stuto ( 41-3 ¾), fourth in the M of C last season, and Wayne Valley’s Alana Pantale (40-2). Stuto’s best is 42-5 ¼, and Pantale’s best is 40-5.
There are four Non-Public throwers who will figure into the mix: Paramus Catholic’s Olivia Wade (42-4 ¾), Genevieve Rybicki of Our Lady of Mercy (41-3 ¼), Immaculate Heart’s Shannon Sullivan (41-1 ¾), and Rybicki’s teammate Victoria Imbesi (41-1).
There are two 130-foot throwers in the state this season, one of them being Our Lady of Mercy’s Imbesi, possibly one of the best all-around throwers in the state. Imbesi is currently ranked seventh in the state in the shot put, second in the discus and first in the javelin.
In the discus, Imbesi threw a meet-record 132-6 at the Non-Public B meet, and that mark is second only to the 133-10 which Delaware Valley’s Chloe Early logged at the Central Jersey, Group 2 meet.
Jackson’s Watt, sixth in the M of C last season, will be a presence here as well, having thrown 127-9. Wayne Valley’s Pantale, another well-rounded thrower despite the off-day she had at the state meet, checks in at 125-6. Rybicki, second to teammate Imbesi in Non-Public B, owns a season best 125-3.
The javelin competition should be interesting because we’ll see if Imbesi, the state’s top-rated thrower, can reach a mark she posted in late April, when she threw 151-8 in a tri-meet.
Sullivan, meanwhile, has been peaking of late, thanks to a 149-1 at the Bergen County M of C last week. Sullivan, who threw 133-11 to win the Non-Public a title, is the defending champion at the M of C.
Egg Harbor’s Jill Shaner is bidding to become her school’s first champion and is in good position after winning the state Group 4 title with a 133-0 and the South Jersey, Group 4 title with a 148-5.
Pennsville’s Lindsey Minch, who placed sixth last season, threw a meet-record 141-6 to win the state Group 1 title. And congratulations to Madison’s Tayler Siegrist, who won the state Group 2 title with a 137-7 and became her school’s first champion since 1980.
Barbara Simovic of Southern is the only other thrower in the competition with a 140 on the charts this season. She won the South Jersey, Group 4 meet with a 142-6.
This five-year-old competition is the swan song for one of the best rivalries in the state. Montville’s Chrissy Finkel and Hanover Park’s Nicole Pompei, both seniors and Morris County rivals, will match up on New Jersey soil for the final time.
They are tied for No. 3 all-time in state history (with Barnegat’s Jen Holly, the 2007 M of C winner) with identical 12-6 marks.
Pompei is the defending champion here and owns the meet record at 12-6. She matched that mark this season at the Morris County Relays and leads the state.
Finkel, third last season and sixth as a sophomore, cleared a season-best 12-4 at the sectionals. Her career best of 12-6 came last season at the Morris County Relays.
The only other 12-foot vaulter in the state this season is Cranford’s Burke. The Cranford junior reached 12-0 when she beat Pompei on misses to win the state Group 2 title.
Watch out for Columbia of Maplewood.
For the first month and a half of the season the Columbia girls believed they were one of the best teams in the state, but they are angry about lukewarm performances at the North Jersey, Section 2, Group 4 meet and at the state Group 4 meet. Columbia placed second to Ridge in the sectionals, and it placed fifth in the state meet.
But Columbia cranked out a state-leading 3:49.65 to win the Group 4 mile relay title, and if there’s one thing Columbia knows how to do, it’s a relay. At the Penn Relays, Columbia was the second-fastest U.S. team in the 4x800 and it won the Tri-State 4x100 title.
TyVonna Johnson (57.1), Kelsey Jackson (58.2), Kayann Richards (57.5) and Brittney Jackson (56.9) were the girls behind the triumphant mile relay on Saturday.
Among the teams chasing them will be defending champion Southern (3:51.56, No. 3 NJ), which will probably have All-America Jillian Smith in the lineup.
Camden is the No. 2 team in the state after its 3:50.24 at the Penn Relays. Camden was not pushed in the state Group 2 meet and won in 3:53.27.
Jackson will be in hot pursuit, too. Fueled by outstanding sprinter Tylia Gillon, Jackson placed third in the Group 4 meet in 3:51.91 (No. 4 NJ).