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Ed Grant's Review - NJ State Group Championships

Jillian Smith Steps Up With Tauro on the Shelf; Sherman Goree Likes the Photo Finishes - Helps Camden Win Tightest Meet of the Weekend

February 21, 2007

Ed Grant

Girls - Boys - Next Week's All-Group Meet 


When Southern Ocean sophomore Jillian Smith was asked earlier this winter if she thought she might catch up with teammate Danielle Tauro before the end of the season, she simply laughed at the idea of beating a national champion. After her exploits at the New Jersey Gr. IV championships over the weekend, the idea does not seem that preposterous.

With Tauro, the 2006 national outdoor mile champion and winner of three major races this winter, on the shelf temporarily with a hamstring injury, Smith took over and guided the Rams to a 34-30 win over East Orange, doubling the 800 and 1600 in 2:14.99 and 4:52.21, and anchoring a fourth-place finish in the 1600R with a sub-59-second leg, thus producing the points which prevented a tie for the crown.

The 1600 led off the program on Saturday afternoon and produced a rather bizarre competition between Smith and Ashley Higginson of Colts Neck, which had its own designs on the championships, eventually finishing third with 26 points. Higginson ran in the second-seeded section, soloing a 4:53.70 victory. Smith then had to beat that with no help from her rivals in the top-seeded section, using her devastating speed on the final lap to win by a second and a half.

The incident exposed the fallacy of a seeding system which depends almost entirely on what coaches place on their seeding card, ignoring the “hard” times posted by athletes during earlier meets. Tauro, Higginson and Smith had all run under 5:00 in the Boston Indoor Games three weeks earlier. This would have insured their being placed together in the final section at any other level of competition.

Smith came back from this one to win the 800 from Jahlisa Smith of Plainfield, again using her great kick to outrun her namesake rival by a dozen yards in 2:14.99. Meanwhile, teammate Brittany Knowles and Ashley Furlong had picked up 10 points in the hurdles and pole vault and Furlong later joined Smith in the relay effort.

East Orange might have made it a lot closer, even won the title, had Racquel Vassell run the final of the 55-meter dash, where teammate Porshe Giddings finished third. But the hurdles immediately followed that event and Vassell scratched the dash before taking a close barrier race from Lara Jane Que of Ridgewood in 8.15. She later joined Giddings in a 4:01.47 relay win which tied the meet for exactly three seconds before Smith came over the line 20 yards back.

The Gr. III meet earlier in the day also saw the emergence of a sophomore as Erin McKenna of Ramapo led senior teammate Kesley Ramsey over the line in 5:04.17, giving her team 18 points, more than half of the total of 35 that topped Notre Dame’s 26. The two distance stars later added 14 with Ramsey second to Ariann Neutts of Roxbury in the 800 and McKenna finishing third to Amanda Goetschius of Delsea in the 3200 in 11:15.29.

The other two girls’ meets, on Thursday and Friday evening, were runaways for two of the state’s best all-around teams. Pope John exceeded even advance notices as it won Gr. I by the widest margin in the history of the meet, 76-19, over Haddonfield. Another soph, Emily Carrollo, was the big news for the Lions as she upset national outdoor 400-meter hurdle champ Leslie Njoku of McNair Academic in the 400 in57.47, placed second to defender Jamie Walker of Haddon Heights in the 55M in 7.34 and anchored a record 4:03.69 win in the 1660-meter relay. Senior Lara Heigis doubled the distances in 5:05.69 and 11:03.19,

The next day, Hopewell Valley reclaimed its Gr. II title with a 60-33 margin over Hanover Park, scoring in eight of the 10 events with still another soph, Julie Alexander, winning the 400 in 58.99., placing second in the 55-meter hurdles and anchoring a fourth-place relay effort.

Trenton Boys lived fully up to advance notices in the Gr. IV boys meet on Sunday, routing Don Bosco, 60-29, with Tykeen Fulton winning the 55H in 7.46 and placing second in the 400 in 49.66, indicating that he will be quite a force in the intermediate hurdles outdoors. Devon Bond took the high jump at 6-8 and then had the bar placed at 7-1, giving the crowd a thrill with two close misses.


The tightest meet of the weekend was in Gr. III boys where Camden won the 1600-meter relay by two-hundredths of a second to edge Notre Dame, 30-29 1/6. Sherman Goree anchored that one, catching Gigi Gibilisco of Notre Dame a yard from the finish. Goree also won the 400 by the same time margin on a comparison with Akeem Thomas of Teaneck as they ran in separate heats. (Thomas had no 400 time in advance since Bergen County runs the 300 and 600 in its meets and his estimated mark didn’t quite qualify for the final section.).

The Cox twins (whose sister Chelsea Cox ran with Smith on the Southern Ocean relay) led Monmouth to a 46-32 win over Hanover Park in Gr. II, running 1-2 in the 400 meters. Charlie Cox set a group and meet record of 49.11 and Chris Cox hit 49.98. They were also in an early section of the event since Monmouth did not send in seeding times either for this or the 1600R where the Coxes sparked another meet record of 3:24.42. It was a case of the old Scots’ saying: “where the MacDonald sits is the head of the table.”

Pope John finished up a Gr. I double on Sunday, edging relay co-winners Roselle and Union Catholic, 28-25-22. An unexpected win by Chris Thomas in the high jump at 6-0 and a 4:28.89 1600 triumph for Jon Juleus were the key to the victory, made possible, however, by the absence of Union Catholic distance star, Brian Guterl, who had contributed to the relay co-victory and an initial Union County crown despite nursing a leg injury all winter,

The Gr. I boys’ meet provided the race of the weekend, one that will unfortunately not be repeated at this weekend’s all-group meet; Sophomore Doug Smith of Gill-St. Bernard’s and Naval Academy-bound Andrew Hanko of Trinity Christian went at it side-by-side for 16 laps with Smith just getting the call with a group and state sophomore 3200-meter mark of 9:08.01. Hanko will not be at Sunday’s meet because his school does not compete on the Sabbath.

The All-Group Meet Coming Up -

Doug Smith may still be involved in quite a race should Craig Forys of Colts Neck try for the distance double he scored a year ago. Forys won the two Gr. IV races on Sunday with plenty to spare, exactly matching the 1600 mark of 4:21.43 set by John Coyle of CBA 18 years ago and running 9:28.40 in the 3200.

Another double could come from Eastern’s sensational freshman English Gardner, who won the Gr. IV sprints last Saturday despite having a stomach ailment. With Vassell scratching, Gardner took the 55 by two yards from Adaobi Unachukwu of Marlboro in 7.10 and then defeated Colgate champ Symone O’Connor of Franklin in the 400 in 56.44. She will be a heavy favorite in the dash this Saturday, but has a tough obstacle in the 400 in defender Kristen Mahon of Notre Dame, who won the Gr. III race handily in 57.19 and then also anchored a relay victory over favored Camden.

It is doubtful that Jillian Smith will double the 800 and 1600, her second effort likely to be in the closing 1600-meter relay with Danielle Tauro hoping to join her. Smith and Ashley Higginson could meet head-on in the 1600 on Saturday, but the more likely scenario is for Jillian to run that race and Higginson to concentrate on a third straight 3200 title. This would promote Jahlisa Smith to the favorite spot in the 800.

The boys’ 800 may be the most competitive event of the weekend. No less than 13 boys broke 2:00 last weekend and only Nick Miehe of DePaul may choose another event. The field is headed by Apwah, the all-group outdoor champ last scoring, Maxwell Bruno of Indian Hills, the Gr. II winner, Niall Buckley of Ridgewood, the Gr. IV champ, and Gibilisco, who will not be doubling the 800 and 1600 this weekend.

Bond’s likely attempt at 7-0 will head the field event action, but both shot puts look promising with Taryn O’Connor of Hillsboro and DeAnne Hahn of Brick likely repeating their close battle of last weekend and junior Mike Alleman of Scotch Plains, the Gr. III winner at 59-6 π, trying to join the 60-foot club.

The track at the Bennett Center in Toms River lived up to advance notices with more than a dozen records being broken. Most who attended enjoyed the intimate setting, far different from that which was part of the Jadwin Gym setting for the past two decades or so when spectators were confined to the rather remote balcony. Seating, however, is limited and it was mostly a case of relatives and friends of the athletes attending, particularly as this was the weekend of the highly popular district wrestling meets

The girls’ meet begins at 11 a.m. on Saturday and the boys. Meet at noon on Sunday.


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