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New Jersey Report

Distance Stars, Bond's TJ Fight for Headlines

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

By Ed Grant

New Jersey distance stars Craig Forys of Colts Neck, Danielle Tauro of Southern Ocean and Ashley Higginson of Colts Neck gave future national rivals an idea of what to expect with outstanding performances at the state’s group championships held this past weekend in South Plainfield and Egg Harbor.

All three were in the Gr. IV meet, which shared the field at Egg Harbor with the two non-public divisions.  Forys won the boys’ Gr. IV 1600 in 4:07.36 and 9:14.93, while Tauro took the girls’ 800 and 1600 in 2:09.21 and 4:44.35, and Higginson the 3200 in 10:52.49 after running third to Danielle in the 1600 in 4:47.71.

Forys’ 1600 clocking was a meet record and also the fastest outdoor boys’ schoolboy race ever run within the state, though still second to overall to Vince Cartier’s 1972 indoor standard of 4:06.6 for the full mile.  Tauro matched Michelle Rowen’s Gr. IV hand-timed standard of 4:43.0.

The hoped-for match of Tauro and Higginson in the 3200 didn’t quite come off.  Danielle actually checked in for the event, second to last on the weekend program.  But she scratched when it was apparent that her team had clinched the team title.  East Orange, the last challenger, scored only eight points in the 200, leaving it 15 points back and with no entry in the 3200 to get it within striking range before the relay, which it won in 3:55.46.

Weather on both days definitely favored the sprints, being in the high 80s with much humidity.  The Egg Harbor meet also had occasional strong cross-winds on Friday, which didn’t aid the sprinters, but definitely slowed the longer races.  And two days of exposure to the heat didn’t help anyone.

Almost stealing the show from the distance runners was Devon Bond of Trenton.  In leading his team to the Gr. IV boys’ title, he set a state record of 50-1/4 in the triple jump in only his third appearance of the spring.  His high jump win was more routine as he cleared 6-6, a figure topped by two winners at South Plainfield, Ken Wise of Haddon Twp in Gr. II and Anthony Gregory of Salem, both of whom cleared 6-8 for the first time.

The state’s top two girls’ high jumpers were at their best. Anna Cook of Florence, the defending all-group champ, won in Gr. I at South Plainfield at 5-8 and Priscilla Frederick of Paul VI had a record 5-9 1/2 in non-public A at Egg Harbor.  And the respective pole vault leaders, Greg Stripe of Mahwah in boys’ Gr. II and Chrissy Finkel in girls’ Gr. III, won handily at South Plainfield, Stripe clearing 15-0 and Finkel 11-6 in an event which lasted to 10:45 on Friday.

There were no team surprises in the girls’ meet.  Southern was joined in the championship circle by Ramapo in Gr. III; Hanover Park and Haddon Heights in a Gr. II tie; Woodbury in Gr. I, overcoming a 38-point effort by National 400H champ Leslie Njoku of McNair Academic, who set a record of 59.96 in her specialty; Pope John, which tallied 127 points in non-public A; and Pingry, which won its seventh non-public B title in a row, catching Sacred Heart of Vineland by winning the closing relay.

It was a different story with the boys.  Trenton and Metuchen in Gr. I were the only favorites to score clear-cut victories.  Monmouth was tied by Morris Hills in Gr. III; Somerville won its fifth title in seven years over favored Pleasantville in Gr. II, thanks mainly to a sprint triple by Rutgers-bound (for football) Mason Robinson in 10.66, 21.81 and 49.09; and Seton Hall gave retiring coach Mike Mielko a fine going-away present with a 90-83 1/2 win over highly-favored Don Bosco, whose strong distance crew scored only one point in the 1600 and 3200.  Pingry made it a sweep in non-public B division with an 85-69 win over Mater Dei as the natural favorite, DePaul, had been pushed up to A.

Robinson’s 100 time was by a shade the best of the day with relative unknown Robert Page of Kingsway taking Gr. III at 10.68 from favored Rashad White of Teaneck, and Sabli Gonnet of Eastern edging Marquis Bonds of Millville in Gr. IV at 10.76.

There were two major individual upsets at Egg Harbor in the boys’ 800s.  In Gr. IV, defending all-group champion Jason Apwah of Roxbury finished third to Manalapan soph Robby Andrews in 1:54.37 and, in non-public A, Gigi Gibilisco of Notre Dame also finished third behind Sharif Webb of Don Bosco, who set a division record at 1:52.44, and Brian Guterl of Union Catholic, who had won the 1600 on Friday in 4:18.11.

The much-anticipated non-public B 3200 match of Navy-bound Andrew Hanko of Trinity Christian and Doug Smith of Gill-St. Bernard’s did not match their stirring Gr. I indoor race.  Hanko, who won the 1600 in a stiff breeze on Friday in 4:21.08, came back to win the longer race by a comfortable 30 yards in 9:13.63, best time of the weekend.

Matt Poskus of Cinnaminson, who entered his senior year as a 400-meter hurdler, was one of the weekend’s sensations, doubling the Gr. II 1600 and 3200 at South Plainfield in 1:54.44 and a division record of 4:14.60, taking down the mark set three years ago by former Pirate star Jon Anderson, now at West Point.  Another Gr. II doubler with a record was Rahdel Savage in the horizontal jumps with a 23-3 in the LJ and the new mark of 47-3 in the TJ.  Aaron King, who led the Morris Hills co-win, went one inch further in the TJ in Gr. III, winning by hand an inch from Anthony Chisholm of Wayne Hills.

Antonio Abney of Willingboro evened the score with defending all-group 400 champ Charles Cox of Monmouth, taking the Gr. III 400 in 47.43 and also effectively producing the tie finish.  Cox came back to win the 200 in 21.42.  Sophomore Shawney Kersey, who contributed 28 individual points and a winning relay anchor to Woodbury’s Gr. I title, wiped out Tyrone Ross’ 400 record in Gr. I at 47.88 and won the 100 in 10.76.

Topping all multiple winners for the day, however, was Da’Mon Merkerson of St. Mary’s, Rutherford, who became only the third boy to win four group titles, sweeping the distances from 100 through 800 meters in non-public B with a 48.97 in the 400, the race he will no doubt choose at Wednesday’s all-group meet at South Plainfield.  This was the tenth-best time of the weekend, so it will take two scratches from the top eight to get him in the seeded section.  One is likely from Trenton sprinter Dean McCleese; the other might be Delsea’s Aaron Younger, who is a 400M hurdle specialist.

Emanuel Mayers of Lakewood, the defending all-group 400H champ, swept the hurdles in the weekend’s best times of 14.04 and 51.98 and also had a fourth in the TJ at 46-3 1/2.

Another young star to emerge from the weekend was Toms River South junior Pat Park, who doubled the Gr. IV SP and DT at 56-1/2 and 175-1.  The feat was matched in Gr. III by state discus leader George Abyad of Passaic Valley, who upset Mike Alleman of Scotch Plains in the SP at 57-3 and took his pet event at 176-10.

In the Gr. IV girls’ SP at Egg Harbor, defending all-group champ DeAnne Hahn of Brick avenged her sectional loss to Taryn O’Connor of Hillsboro at 45-4 1/2 with junior Maureen Laffan of Toms River North also slipping ahead of O’Connor with a huge PR at 45-0.  Hahn also won the discus leader Kristen Batts of Marlboro fouled all three trial throws.  “It’s a stinking way to win,” Hahn said afterwards.

Indoor state sprint leader, freshman English Gardner of Eastern, was one of those who spoiled the Tauro-Higginson match, as she doubled the Gr. IV sprints against the East Orange girls in 11.68 and 24.40.  But her times were bettered in both events by Shavon Greaves of Lakewood, who shared the weekend girls’ honors with Njoku and Tauro, tripling in Gr. III with an 11.61 in the 100, a record 23.69 in the 200 and a 55.26 in the 400.  Both topped the times of defending all-group champ, Ogechi Nwaneri of Chatham who doubled Gr. II in 11.87 and 24.44, the latter, just missing her own record, with cousin Leslie cheering her on from the sidelines.

Kristen Mahon of Notre Dame should be a factor in both 400s on Wednesday.  She will certainly challenge Njoku in the 400H after setting a non-public A record of 1:01.84 and may also take a shot at the 400, which she won in the wind at 56.18.  Her kid sister, Megan, won the “family” event, the pole vault, at 10-0.  Their father and uncle were both state champions in that event.

While the girls’ Gr. IV distance action at Egg Harbor naturally took most attention, the Gr. III events at South Plainfield, were nothing to sneeze at.  In the 800, Kesley Ramsey and Erin McKenna gave Ramapo the big push to the title, going 1-2 in 2:11.63 and 2:15.54.  The 1600 saw Melanie Thompson of Voorhees outlean McKenna at the finish line in 4:54.31 and, in the 3200, Amanda Goetschius led a finish that provided the three fastest times of the weekend in 10:39.68, followed over the line by Thompson and frosh Chelsea Ley of Kingsway, both under 10:45.