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As the 2007-2008 high school competition year draws to a close, we asked five staff members who spend a great deal of their time at meets to look back over the last twelve months and select their five favorite events, moments, match-ups, interactions, observations, confrontations or celebrations. The things that stood out, stayed with them, stuck to memory long after the coverage was over and the headlines had faded. The only catch was that they had to actually have been there. Floored by Fernandez’ California double, but you were in Michigan at the time? Doesn’t count. Blown away when Chanelle Price led the Pre Classic women’s 800 with 150 to go, but you were watching on TV in New Jersey? Not good enough. Five favorites you saw with your own eyes.

So, without further ado… a week’s worth of moments we were “in the house” to see.

Tuesday | John Nepolitan

Two for the Price of One - New Jersey Indoor Meet of ChampsThe New Jersey Indoor Meet of Champs in 2007 was moved into the cozy confines of the Toms River Bennett Center, and the 2008 edition of the championships provided fans with not just one, but two magic moments. In this case those two moments came within 15 minutes of each other and had state track fans buzzing for days.

In the days building up to the final meet of the New Jersey season, all the talk centered on the showdown that loomed in the boys 3200 between cross country champion Brian Leung (West Windsor – Plainsboro South) and Doug Smith (Gill St Bernard). Immediately prior to that showdown, off in the corner, another great showdown was shaping up. Mike Alleman (Scotch Plains- Fanwood), the state leader in the shot put, was about to square off against Morristown freshman Nick Vena. In the preliminary round, while extending his National Freshman record out to 64-01.00, Vena took the lead. As the finals began, the crowd grew, slowly surrounding the throwing area while dash prelims were taking place on the track. As the finalists went through the last three throws, Alleman would press to catch Vena and foul twice. His final throw was not enough to take top honors and he had to settle for the silver medal.

Stepping into the ring for the final throw of the day, Vena let go a toss that went straight down the center of the sector and landed at the base of the short retaining wall that marked the far end of the throwing area. The 200+ fans that had gathered around the area exploded in cheers when the implement landed 66-00.75 later, a new national freshman record.

Word quickly spread through the facility of the great performance off in the corner, and then all eyes were focused on the track for the 16-lap dual between Leung and Smith. In their separate state group meets the previous week, the pair had run two of the fastest times in the nation, and now they would meet head-to-head for the first time since the fall.

After an opening 400 of 69, where they were in the pack, the duo moved to the front by the 800 meter point, passed in 2:19. Smith was one step behind Leung as they passed through splits of 3:26 and 4:35. 2000 meters found Smith on top in 5:44 with Leung right behind. A few times through the following laps (6:51 at 1-1/2 miles), Leung would try to pass, but Smith would surge to hold him off. The entire time the drama was playing out the noise level was growing.

Finally, coming up to 1 lap to go (7:56), Leung was back in front and started a long drive for the line. Seeing the clock off the final turn and pumping hard, Leung, like Vena, brought the crowd to its feet as he crossed the line in 8:59.77, with Smith a few strides back in 9:01.86. There is almost nothing better than when two great competitors square off and go for broke.

Heartbreak and Joy - Eleanor Roosevelt at the Penn Relays – Eleanor Roosevelt MD over the last few years has become one of the best girls track teams in the USA. In any meet they show up to, it is expected that they will be among the leaders and in most cases they dominate the field. In the Penn Relays 4 x 800 Championship of America, a new national record of 8:43.12 wasn't enough to cross the line first, as the Maryland school was beaten by Holmwood Tech of Jamaica. Heartbroken, the girls slowly walked off the field in tears. Even the comfort of Bill Cosby did not seem to ease the sting of the loss.

Just a few hours later, the young women from Roosevelt were back on the track in the finals of the 4 x 400.

Once again they would get in a duel with the Jamaican schools, but this time they came out on top in the US #7 all-time performance of 3:37.16. The tears flowed once again, but these were tears of joy for sure. While many in the same position, after suffering such a loss, would have found it difficult to return to the track, the Roosevelt runners showed true class and maturity in digging down and turning the worst moment of their young lives into one of the best.

"I Think We Can, I Think We Can..." - Don Bosco NJ at Nike Team Nationals – From the start of the cross country season, Don Bosco Prep NJ junior Rob Molke knew his team was good enough to qualify for the Nike Team Nationals; his biggest challenge would be to convince his teammates they could do it. As each week passed, Molke’s master plan for earning the trip seemed to be taking shape and at the Northeast Regional meet the team earned an at large bid into the National Championship.

What makes this special is that as teacher at Bosco I was able to see the dream that the team had come to life. And since I would be in Portland taking photos, I would get to share it with them.

But this was not just going to be a trip for the varsity eight runners; a group of teammates, who had been painting their faces and doing their best Braveheart impression during the championship part of the season, would also make the trip west to cheer on their friends. The Don Bosco Prep runners would go on to finish 10th, while the cheering section and parents who made the trip west left their impression on Portland Meadows as well.

The Smile that Lit Up a Room – Victoria Flowers' Weight Throw Record at Brown - The cross country season had just about come to a close when it was time to head indoors for the long track season. Brown University may be one of the better institutions in the US, but its indoor track facility is dark and in many ways depressing. This should not be looked upon as a knock on the meet -- in fact, it is a very well run meet, with excellent competition and administration. It is just that its facility is a little on the dark side.

As the first day of the Brown Invitational was coming to an end, the girls weight throw was just getting started.

In the fifth round of throws, Victoria Flowers (Classical, RI) stepped into the ring and spun the weight out to a new National Record of 61-00.75, breaking the 11 year-old record of Maureen Griffin by almost 2 feet. What made the performance even more special was the young lady who achieved it.

That very serious, aggressive young woman in the ring became a very shy, giggling schoolgirl with all the attention suddenly thrust upon her. She was able to bring the gap between the seriousness of the sport and the simple joy of the event just a little closer together. A great way to end a very long day in a dark depressing building that her smile eventually lit up.

First Time's a Charm – Conor McCullough's Weight Throw Record at NSIC - Conor McCullough had never thrown in an indoor track meet, never had to deal with the craziness that can be indoor track in the Northeast, but coming to New York’s Armory Track and Field Center he made the most of his first opportunity.

Because of the enormous distances Walter Henning (St Anthony’s HS, NY) had been throwing two years before, the Armory had reconfigured its throwing area to accomodate longer weight throws. Stepping into “the ring that Henning built”, McCullough, the California junior, would not only win the NSIC title, but take the record away from Henning with a first effort toss of 87-10.75.

Once Henning had graduated in the spring of 2007, most felt that not only would his records stand for years, but it would be many, many years before the Armory cage would have its limits tested again. That was before Mr. McCullough came to town and in one throw was able to do both.
 All photos by John Nepolitan

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