Finally given a full break by the weatherman, New Jersey athletes responded with a series of stunning performances Wednesday evening at the all-group championships at South Plainfield High School Field.
The meet opened under a baking sun, but as the day progressed softened into almost perfect conditions. Wind was no factor, a light breeze occasionally whipping up, but always against the sprinters and horizontal jumpers. It was in one of the latter events that Tiquan Underwood of Notre Dame came up with a state record of 49-4 in the triple jump to crown the night’s performances.
Things got started early in the opening 400-meter hurdle races when Penn Relays champ Justin Gaymon of Phillipsburg won the boys’ race by five yards from Underwood in 51.55, sixth best in state history. (Gaymon later won the high hurdles in 14.09, becoming the only double gold medalist of the meet). The girls’ race was even closer with Michelle Smith of Teaneck just holding off a diving Leslie Njoku of McNair Academic in 1:00.43. (Krystal Cantey of Winslow Twp, the state leader, skipped this race, running only the 200 which she won in 24.19; she will run the 300-meter hurdles Saturday in the Golden West meet.)
Then came the 100s, which saw a pair of sophomores break their state class records in highly competitive races. The girls went first with defender Danielle Tauro of Southern Ocean and Renee Tomlin of Ocean City took off with a 1:08 opening 400 and waged a duel which lasted to the home stretch with Tauro running a 1:05 final lap a 4:47.55 victory, fifth best in state history. Tomlin, a novice at the distances, had a seventh-best mark of 4:49.11, just behind Jodie Bilotta.
The boy’ race also turned into a two-man affair with Craig Forys of Colts Neck and Byron Williams of Ridgewood running each lap a little faster than the one before, Forys clocking just over 60 seconds for the final one as he was timed in 4:11.26, lopping two seconds off the class record. Williams, a junior (like Tomlin) finished in 4:12.71 with Anthony Kelhower of Lenape taking third at 4:15.73.
And things just went on from there. Football star Michael Ray Garvin of Don Bosco ran away from the boys’ 100-meter field in 10.50. Freshman Ogechi Nwaneri of Columbia took the girls’ 100 from sophomore Shavon Greaves of Lakewood in 11.99.
Both 100 winners lost their bids for doubles, Garvin in rather dramatic circumstances. Shaquan Brown of Paterson Kennedy, who had missed his Group IV 400 race last Friday and then finished second on Saturday to indoor 200 champ Bryant McCombs of Old Bridge, came from behind in the final strides to edge Garvin in a season’s-best 21.23. McCombs, who had earlier won the 400 in 46.94, finished fourth in 21.62. As already noted, Cantey took the girls’ 200 in 24.19, followed by Toneisha Friday of Franklin, Nwaneri and Greaves.
With Brown out of the 400, McCombs had no trouble adding this one to his indoor National title, finishing seven yards ahead of Carl Smith of Camden in 46.94. And with Cantey and Janine Davis of Queen of Peace skipping the girls’ 400, it came down to Symone O’Connor of Franklin and Tiffany Grant of Ocean Twp with Grant winning by five yards with a PR of 54.34.
The 800-meter runs were runaways, with the winners leading from start to finish. In the girls’ race, Davis ran a 61-second first lap and went on to win by 35 yards in 2:07.93, slightly off last year when she was pressed by Tomlin for the first 600 meters. Robbie Novak of Bordentown, who usually runs from behind, took off with a 53-second first lap and went on to win by 20 yards from Hayrol Cruz of Passaic in 1:50.36. (This race also saw a class record broken when Christian Brothers frosh Brandon Pierson ran ninth in 1:55.35.)
Colorado-bound Bobby Papazian of Gill-St. Bernard’s became the third boy to break 9:00 in the 3200 in this meet as he ran a 59-second final lap to finish 100 yards ahead of Ben Massam of Chatham in 8:59.79, missing the meet record by a second. The girls’ race saw Katie Van Horn of Triton lead most of the way and finish 15 yards ahead of Ashley Higginson of Colts Neck in 10:44.13.
Trier Young of Neptune, who will also be at the Golden West meet, won the 100-meter hurdles by five yards in 13.93, emulating her coach, Dawn Bowles, who won the event in 1986 and 1988 and lost it in 1987 only because she tried a back-to-back 100/100H double. The boys; race was a lot closer with Gaymon just edging indoor champ Chris Haley of Union in 14.09.
Underwood opened the triple jump with a 48-7, breaking his own meet record of 2004 by more than two feet. He went on to break Anthony DiCosmo’s state record with his 49-4, a mark that has been bettered only by a wind-aided 49-9 by Darius Pemberton of Hackensack at the 1992 Penn Relays. He will go after that mark at the Nationals. The meet record also fell in the girls’ event where Jessica Mills of West Detpford registered a 39-6, fourth best in state history.
Literally topping the field event efforts was the 15-6 vault by Anthony Abitante of Berkeley Heights, giving him an indoor-outdoor sweep in the event. The same was true in the girls’ vault where Kristen Hafford of Warren Hills won on fewer misses from Jessica Kloss of Moorestown at 12-0.
Yemi Ayeni of South Brunswick just missed a double as he won the discus at 190-9 and finished second in the shot put to Sal Delhierro of Toms River East who hit 58-2 3/4 to reverse his Gr. IV loss to Ayeni. The girls’ events went to Danielle Dailey of Freehold Twp who had a big PR at 45-1 and Caitlin Kelly of Hanover Park at 134-2.
Hanover Park missed a second gold when Alaina Alfano lost another close long jump duel to Celeste Holder of Parsippany. Both girls broke the Morris County record, Holder leaping 19-2 1/2 and Alfano 19-1. The boys’ event also was a one-two Morris finish as Shaun Adair of Morristown---who was a “wild card” entry, having failed to place in Gr. IV---got back in form with a 23-9, followed by Shawn Bolcarovic of Morris Hills at 23-5 1/2.
The high jumps went pretty much to form. Justin Frick of Freehold Boro took the boys’ event at 6-10 from all-around sophomore field star Joe Martinek of Hopatcong---third in the javelin, seventh in the triple jump---while Briana Gray of Haddon Heights won the girls’ event on missed at 5-6.
Marion Easley of Somerville completed a successful season with a 204-3 win in the boys’ javelin, while the girls’ event---the most wide-open of the evening---went to Erin Folger of North Brunswick at 129-0.
The evening ended, as usual, with a pair of rousing 1600-meter relays. Fortunately, there was no collision in the boys’ event as in 2004, with Seton Hall leading until the home stretch when Carl Smith of Camden passed Pat Blackie of the Pony Pirates for a 3:13.50 victory, the first 10 teams beating 3:20. Brown had a 46.1 anchor for Kennedy which finished fifth in 3:22.63.
The girls’ race was even more competitive. The lead changed hands at every exchange with first Piscataway, then Wilson, then Franklin taking the lead. In the end, though, it went back to the Chiefs as Asia Washington unfurled a 53.5 anchor for a 3:48.42 victory in a race where the first 18 teams broke 4:00 and the first 10 had only four or five seniors among them.