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NJ Report

61' freshman putter highlights State Group Relays

January 10, 2008

By Ed Grant

As New Jersey schools awaited the opening of the state indoor relay championships at the Jersey City Armory this weekend, the greatest speculation was what Morristown frosh Nick Vena might accomplish in the Sunday’s Gr. III shot put relay with no fear that one of his efforts might land in the midst of unwitting spectators.

The new national indoor frosh record-holder at 61-1 1/2 has been throwing so far in the crowded confines at Drew University, with an iron rail fence marks the outer boundary at just about 62-0. Some changes will obviously have to be made before he graduates in 2011.

His record throw came under other intimidating circumstances in the county relays on Jan. 7. With just three turns in the circle that night, he exploded on his first effort and landed the 12-pound ball less than a foot from the fence. Two days later, he returned for the Cliff Back Invitational and had a meet record at 60-9 1/2.

A southpaw spinner, Vena will not turn 15 until mid-April. He already stands 6-3 1/2 and weighs in at 260. His almost perfect form is no accident --- he was coached from age 8 by Tony Naclerio, who has produced a series of weight stars in New Jersey for the past 40 years at Essex Catholic, Morris Hills and Rutgers University. (NCAA regulations prevented Tony from watching his protégé in action until the Jan. 2 Pietrewicz Invitational at Drew, where he finished second to 2007 indoor state and Eastern champ Mike Alleman of Scotch Plains at 57-2 1/2.)

Vena upped the ante two days later as he hit 59-6 1/2 at the Iron Hills Conference meet, which opened a series of four championship meets within 30 hours at Drew. His win helped the Colonials take the Iron title that night, while Morris Hills repeated in Hills, 103-82, over Mendham. The meet also saw the indoor debut of Seton Hall’s 400-meter star Clayton Parros, who had spent the past two winters sitting the bench for the Pony Pirates’ JV basketball team. A 47-second 400M man outdoors, Parros doubled the Iron 55 and 300 in 6.74 and 36.51.

The girls’ winners in that meet were Columbia in Iron and Summit for the first time in Hills. Bianca Stewart led the Columbia win with a 300M/HJ double at 43.90 and 5-4, while Susan Scavone had 26 points for Summit, including an 8.75 win in the 55H. Ariann Neutts doubled the 600 and 1600 for Roxbury in 1:41.27 and 5:01.96 with teammate Ashley Cromartie taking the 1K. (Lauren Penney, third member of the Gaels’ sub-5:00 mile crew, was absent with a minor injury.)

The next day at Drew saw an unprecedented triple header, opening with the Mountain Valley Conference, followed by the Northern Hills and the Colonial Hills. These were more about team competition than individual excellence, but Gerkins Senesca of Roselle and Brandon Hillman of Verona showed off their all-around talent, leading their teams to victory in the MVC Valley and CHC, respectively. Senesca, the state’s number-two high hurdler, won that event in 7.72, took the 400 in 55.15, anchored a wining 1600R and was second to Jamaican-born teammate Akeem Gauntlet in the 55M. Hillman, primarily a horizontal jumper, had no opportunity in those events at Drew, but doubled the HH and HJ. On the girls’ side, Dominique Booker of Immaculate Conception doubled the CHC 55M and 300M in 7.57 and 1:01.46.

The showcase for New Jersey talent that day was the Hispanic Games at the New York Armory, where Garden Staters racked up 10 victories. Two Mercer County athletes led the boys, all-group cross-country champ Brian Leung of West Windsor-Plainsboro South taking the 3200 in 9:22.92 and Devon Hill of Trenton winning the HH in 7.39. Brandon Jarrett of St. Benedict’s, sixth at Foot Locker, is resting a sore Achilles heel, but teammate Brian Bucknor was on hand, winning the 200M in 22.01. The fourth boys’ victory came in the 800M relay, where Winslow Twp topped Pleasantville in 1:30.38.

English Gardner of Eastern, who dominated the Jersey sprint season last year indoors and out, won the girls’ 55M in 7.08 over Deptford junior Audrey Wilson; Samantha Sharper of Wilson took the 55H in 8.27; and Camden scored in the 800R in 1:42.21. In the field, Natalie Parkes of Hunterdon Central won the PV at 10-0, Aisha Chisholm of Marlboro the TJ at 36-10, and Gen Rybicki of Our Lady of Mercy the SP at 41-1.

Most of the state’s top pole vaulters went out to Reno for the pole vault summit with Greg Stripe of Mahwah hitting a PR of 14-10 in the boys’ competition and Morris County rivals Chrissy Finkel of Montville and Nicole Pompei both clearing 11-10 in the girls’ action.

Bennett Center in Toms River was a beehive of activity in the days following Jan. 1 with three nights of Shore Conference divisional meets, broken up by the Colts Neck Invitational on Jan. 4. This kept the Toms River North pole vault duo of Rich Villanova and Greg Kelley literally at home. On Wednesday in the Colts Neck meet, Villanova cleared 14-0 and Kelley 13-6; two days later in the Shore South A meet, Kelley prevailed at 14-6 with Villanova again topping 14-0.

There was one major upset during the Shore Conference marathon. Maureen Laffan of TR North handed state indoor and outdoor SP champ DeAnne Hahn of Brick a startling defeat in the girls’ South A meet, topping her rival by almost three feet at 45-8 1/4.

Two clear favorites for this weekend’s relay action emerged from the week’s competition. Msgr. Donovan’s boys easily won the South B Shore meet, and then took five events four days later at the New Jersey Catholic Track Conference Relays at the New York Armory. That included a 1:32.7 in the 800R, 3:31.6 in the 1600R and 31.5 in the SHR. Lenape’s powerhouse girls’ team ran away with the Colts Neck title, with Miya Johnson doubling the 400 and 800 in 1:00.40 and 2:20.50, and Lindsay Walsh taking the HH and HJ at 8.79 and 5-5.

While Haddonfield has been notable by its absence from most indoor action to date, it remains the favorite to sweep Group I honors on Saturday as it did in Gr. II cross-country last fall. The distance stars provide the edge in both instances, though Roselle could make things interesting in the boys’ meet with its sprint and hurdle power. Friday’s Parochial girls’ meet looks like the same kind of scramble as the cross-country campaign with Red Bank Catholic, Msgr. Donovan, Immaculate Heart Academy and Pope John all in the running.

Another interesting scramble will be in girls’ Gr. II where defending Hopewell Valley goes against Voorhees and Wilson. Morris Hills appears a safe choice in the boys’ meet, even giving Camden’s sprint strength. Ridge seems to have too many weapons for its Group III girls’ rivals, while Irvington’s sprint and hurdle strength, plus a pretty fair high jump team, should prevail among the boys. Franklin has an interesting combination of distance runners and sprinters in boys’ Gr. IV.