Winter Track: Highlights from a Championship-laden week

Last week was the busiest week of the winter track season with three of the largest and most important championship meets within four days, sandwiched around one of the better mid-week invitationals of the season. Here's a look at all four big meets as the season moves towards the first weekend of state sectionals starting Friday, Feb. 3.

Ridgewood sweeps large school meets at Bergen County Relays

There were 41 teams entered in the Bergen Relays at the Armory Track Center in New York on Jan. 23, the largest group of schools since the meet began in the early 1980s. But at least in the large schools division, the team winners were the same as they've been in six of the last seven years, with the Ridgewood boys and girls winning titles, the boys by 11 points over Demarest and the girls by 12 1/3 over River Dell.

"This is always a meet we point to every year, because it's the one meet where all our varsity athletes can really contribute,'' said Ridgewood head coach Josh Saladino, who leads both teams. "Our boys have one of the most balanced teams in the state and the girls have a good young team with some terrific senior leadership.''

Both teams won the same four events, the 4-x-1,600, the shot put, the pole vault (the boys tying Old Tappan) and the 4-x-400 with the boys adding a win in the distance medley.

"Our big breakthrough in the boys meet came in the shot, where Carlos Bermudez had his best throw of the year (50-6) and Nick Merlino had a four foot PR to give us the win,'' said Saladino. "We got great legs from Trevor Kane, Benjy Pappageorge and DJ Murphy on the 4-x-1,600 and Luke Pash was his usual self, the jumpers were steady and Dexter DeMarco is having a great year in the hurdles and long sprints.''

But the unquestioned star for the Maroons was senior Matt Aono, who earned the Alan Wedemeier Award as the top boys performer at the meet. He had the best pole vault of the night (14-0) and ran a leg on the 4-x-400 team which ran the fastest time in North Jersey this year. He also ran legs on Ridgewood's runner-up teams in the hurdles and 4-x-200.

The top individual divisional field performances came from Demarest's Ohan Ambartsoumian (53-1 shot), Liam Paneque (6-0 high jump and 21-8 1/2 long jump) and Jack Attali (42-1 triple jump).

Ridgewood senior Emma Reinke was the Maroons' workhorse in the girls meet, running anchor on the winning 4-x-400 team and furnishing key legs on the second place long jump and hurdles teams and third place 4-x-200 squad.

"We got off to a great start by winning the shot with Hannah Otterstedt and Isabel Johnson and taking a tough 4-x-1,600 race (in the state's fastest time this season) and clinched it late with some points in the high jump and a great effort from a young 4-x-400 team,'' said Saladino.

That team included Reinke, junior Bea Brassel, freshman Kennedy Lubkemann and soph Peyton Wennersten, who was also part of the winning pole vault team.

Top field performers in the division included: Pascack Valley shot putter Alia Morera (33-5), Tenafly high jumper Norina Khanzada (5-4), River Dell long jumper Grace McQueeney (16-8 1/2) and triple jumper Emily Turschmann (35-5 1/4) and Ridgewood pole vaulter Talia Hutchinson (10-0).

Hasbrouck Heights girls repeat; Glen Rock wins first ever boys small schools title

Fresh off of its best sectional cross-country finish in more than 20 years, the Glen Rock boys winter track team set some high goals for the 2022-23 season.

"We wanted to do really well in the Bergen County Relays, win the NJIC and win the sectionals,'' said third year winter head coach Brian Weinberg, "We wanted to get back to our winning ways.''

The Panthers succeeded in the first part of their triple quest, winning the boys small schools relays title for the first time in Glen Rock history, with a narrow 54-51 win over Indian Hills, with several of the same boys who were part of the second place sectional cross-country finish three months earlier.

"We got leadership from a great group of kids and a lot of our seniors stepped up,'' said Weinberg. "The cross-country kids did their part and others like Devan Wasserman, Tyler Caswell and Wyatt Cornell made us a lot more well-rounded as a group.''

Ironically, Glen Rock did not enter either the 4-x-800 or 4-x-1,600 events, both seemingly suited to their distance talents. And the Panthers only entered six of the 12 events, and only one of the five field events. But they picked their spots well, placing first or second in each of the events they entered.

Caswell and Cornell were joined by Ethan Reiman and Peter Renga as the Panthers took the opening event, the shuttle hurdles. Nick Atme, Robert Drace, Hayden Yuzon and Wasserman took the 4-x-200 and Ben Raser and Cornell grabbed second in the pole vault behind Pascack Hills.

Indian Hills and Mahwah were ahead of Glen Rock going into the final three running events, but Wasserman, Yuzon, Jeff Zhang and Jacob Bae grabbed second behind Indian Hills in the sprint medley and Ben Habler, Sean Stephenson, Devin Smith and Raser won the distance medley over the Braves to pull within a point going into the 4-x-400.

"It was a nervous time for us because Devan Wasserman couldn't run the 4-x4 because his hip was bothering him,'' said Weinberg. "But we had good athletes in Drace, Zheng, Smith and Caswell and we had confidence that they could pull it off.''

Indian Hills had put up a time of 3:43.29 in an earlier heat, five seconds faster than the Panthers had run in their only previous attempt at the event this winter. But the Panther quartet responded with a clocking of 3:41.64, to grab second overall and secure the win.

It wasn't nearly as dramatic for the Hasbrouck Heights girls, who weren't as dominant as they had been last year when they won nine events and took second in the other three en route to a record-setting 114 points. But the Aviators won four field events and scored in everything but the hurdles (where they finished first but were disqualified) to hold off traditional rival Ramsey by 10 1/2 points. That gave the Aviators their second major win of the year after their Group 1 state relays title earlier in January. They would add a third in winning the NJIC three nights later.

"We have a little less depth than we've had the last couple of years and our distance group is much younger,'' said Hasbrouck Heights coach Rob Brady. "But we've got a lot of talent in the field events and our young kids and developing nicely.''

Jack Yockers Bergen County Relays at River Dell High School on Saturday, April 23, 2022. Dea Jera of Hasbrouck Heights competes in the sprint medley.
Jack Yockers Bergen County Relays at River Dell High School on Saturday, April 23, 2022. Dea Jera of Hasbrouck Heights competes in the sprint medley.

With the NJIC meet looming just three days after the Relays, Brady did a lot more technical work coming into the week with athletes like Morgan and Mia Gagliano, Natalie Kroncke, Dia Jera and Alexandra Samperi, the core scorers in both meets.

One thing he didn't worry about was the shot put, where Elliot Eddy and Meghan Stellhorn have stood out all year. The duo went 1-3 in the small schools division and had the best performance of the day as a team. Gaea DePass and Elisha Santos combined to win the triple jump, Samperi and Santos the long jump and DePass and Brooke Freschi combined to take the high jump.

Bergen Catholic returns to the top and IHA wins a third straight title in the Non-Public division

The Non-Public division returned for the first time since 2020 after the meet was cancelled in 2021 and run in two divisions a year ago.

Bergen Catholic won every field event and two more on the track to return to the winner's circle for the first time since 2019, easily topping Paramus Catholic, 84-62.

But Crusader coach Mike Begen wants more.

"This is really the Bergen County group Relays,'' says Begen, who competed for Pascack Valley in high school. "I really wish we would think about doing this as one county relays so we can match up against the other teams in the county and decide a real county champ."

"It's good for the kids to be able to match up against the best teams and kids in the county and determine who's the best in each event.''

Allan Hilton-Clarke is a perfect example. He had the top individual triple jump performance of the night, tied for first in the high jump and was second in the long jump. BC had the best overall first finish in the high jump and were second in the long and triple jumps. Hilton-Clarke also ran a leg on BC's 4-x-200 team which was second to Paramus Catholic, both in the division and overall.

Other standouts for BC on Monday included shot putter Justin King, hurdler/high jumper Tristan Oliver and distance runners Tommy Rogers and Brendan O'Rourke.

IHA wasn't very stressed going into the meet. And the Blue Eagles won 9 of the 12 events and took second in two others en route to scoring as many points as its three competitors in the group.

"Our goal was to win the meet and be as highly ranked as we could be against the best teams in the county,'' said IHA coach Matt Joyce. "We also wanted to go sub 1:50 in the 4-x-200 and we did that too.''

It doesn't hurt when one of the state's top distance runners was available to lead off both the 4-x-1,600 and distance medley relays with meet-leading legs. Leanna Johnston, who earlier this month set the Bergen County record in the 3,200 meters, ran a sterling 5:00.97 to lead off the 4-x-1,600 team and went 3:42.37 for 1,200 meters in the distance medley. That double earned her the Lou Molino Award as the outstanding girls performer in the meet.

With Lauren Dunnigan not yet ready to return to jumping, soph Katelyn Mikros filled in again behind top jumper Abby Romero with excellent efforts in the long and triple jumps in addition to her usual high jump duties.

With 2022 indoor All-Americans Dunnigan and Kate Shepler both out of the shuttle hurdles team with injuries, a makeshift team of new hurdlers Anabella Martino, Rylee Smith, Sierra Tofts and Olivia Battifarano came through to win the division and take 4th overall.

Passaic Tech sweeps Passaic County Championships

The Passaic Tech boys won four events and scored in everything but the 55 meters to roll to a third Passaic County championship in four years, 82-70 over Clifton on Jan. 23 at Ocean Breeze in Staten Island, while the girls won just one event but used multiple point scorers in five other events to hold off Lakeland, 72-54, for its first title since 2017.

The boys got wins from Raynier Galvez (800), Joshua Justin (high jump) and Trashon Dye (long jump) as well as a wire-to-wire win from its 4-x-400 team and got three medals and 12 points in the distance races by senior Kenneth Relovsky to take the title.

Casey Noonan was the only PCT girl to win an event, taking the 400 in 62.57. but the Bulldogs added a sixth in that event and went 3-4 in the shot, 3-5-6 in the triple jump, 2-3 in the pole vault, and 5-6 in the 55 hurdles. Soph Calyse Villaneuva was the Bulldogs top scorer with a second place finish and a pair of thirds.

Maclaren and Madison Score North Jersey Bests at Metropolitan Invitational

Championship meets earlier and later in the week limited the usually robust North Jersey entry at the Metropolitan Invitational on Jan. 25 at the Armory Track Center in New York, but a pair of non-winning efforts by Northern Highlands stars highlighted a solid night for those teams that made the trip.

Junior Rebecca Maclaren came from eighth place after the first lap and ran a personal best and North Jersey leading 2:19.00 in the 800 meters to take a close third place behind returning state medallists Maddie Scheier of Somerville and Jenai Berry of Scotch Plains.

Rebecca Maclaren, of Northern Highlands, is shown near the finish line, at Darlington County Park course, during the Big North Cross Country Championship.  Maclaren finished in second place. Tuesday, October 4, 2022
Rebecca Maclaren, of Northern Highlands, is shown near the finish line, at Darlington County Park course, during the Big North Cross Country Championship. Maclaren finished in second place. Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Zach Madison cleared a personal best 6-4 in the high jump, becoming the first North Jersey athlete to clear that height this season. He took second on misses to Rabae Smith of Linden.

Old Tappan's Jamie Kim (10-0, pole vault), Abby Romero of IHA (17-1, long jump), Allison Courtney of Northern Highlands (5:21.20, 1,600) and the Ramsey 4-x-800 team (10:03.59) all scored victories in the girls events, while Nathan Park of Old Tappan (13-6, pole vault) and teammate Jack Small (51-1 1/2, shot put) were boys winners.

Rutherford boys and Hasbrouck Heights girls win titles in return of NJIC Championships

The Rutherford boys team had been waiting all season for Jan. 26, the scheduled return of the NJIC championships to the Armory Track Center in New York after a two-year absence due to the COVID pandemic. A record 28 schools participated in the one division meet, including Bogota, Becton and Elmwood Park for the first time.

The Bulldogs had a new head coach in former New Milford assistant and Demarest standout John O'Hanlon and a talented group of athletes led by all-North Jersey cross-country star Tadael Mihret. They also had a goal -- to bring home the conference championship for the first time in the history of the meet, which dates back to 2013.

"We knew we had a chance and the guys jumped on it,'' said O'Hanlon after his team scored in every event but the shot put, and won three events on the way to a comfortable 79-55 win over Glen Rock. "We've been prepping all season for this day and we got a great job out of all our athletes.''

It didn't start off well. Sprinter Marco Bozza-Caballero lost a tight battle for second in the 55 meters and one of two apparent placers in the 400 was disqualified, costing Rutherford eight expected points.

Tadael Mihret, of Rutherford, is shown during the last 100 meters of the 5K NJIC Divisional Championships race, in Woodland Park. Mihret finished with a time of 17:28. Wednesday, October 6, 2021
Tadael Mihret, of Rutherford, is shown during the last 100 meters of the 5K NJIC Divisional Championships race, in Woodland Park. Mihret finished with a time of 17:28. Wednesday, October 6, 2021

"It couldn't have been a worse start for us, but guys picked up the slack,'' said O'Hanlon.

James Alati and Bozza-Caballero went 3-4 in the hurdles behind Glen Rock's Tyler Caswell, a coming star in the event. Dylan Gravina took third in the long jump and Tyler Smith third in the triple jump and the Bulldogs scored in the high jump and pole vault. Kai Sperling grabbed a third in the 400.

And through it all Mihret stood tall.

"He's the tonesetter,'' said O'Hanlon. "He's not very vocal but he is one of the hardest workers on a hard working team but his actions speak loudly, as does his talent.''

Mihret took second in the 3,200, running a personal best 9:52.64 to take second behind Hasbrouck Heights' Aidan Morrow, who PR'd in 9:50.84. He then led wire-to-wire to win the 1,600 in a tightly contested battle with Morrow, running 4:39.52 before finishing off a punishing triple with a fourth place finish in the 800. In the latter race junior teammate Joaquin Narucki scored a seven second personal best, running 2:04.82 for second place which all but clinched the title.

The Bulldogs then capped their title win with a come-from behind win in the 4-x-400 relay.

"Now we have a shot at winning the (North 2) sectional on Feb. 4,'' said O'Hanlon.

Cresskill junior Joshua Yoon was clearly the individual standout at the meet. In his first meet since suffering a serious leg injury last May, he won the 55 meters handily in 6.68, set a meet record in the long jump, sailing 21-10 1/2 to win nearly three feet and won the triple jump in a North Jersey leading 43 feet. Yoon was third in last year's State Meet of Champions in the triple jump.

Saddle Brook's Jake DeJulia set the other boys meet record, running 50.71 to win the 400 and breaking the record set by Keeneth Ross of Secaucus (50.9) in 2013.

Hasbrouck Heights breezed to its fifth girls title in six years, with near records in both scoring and margin of victory. The Aviators outscored runner-up Emerson, 97 1/3-44, coming short of the records of 108 points and 61 point margin of victory set by Eastern Christian in 2014.

The Aviators managed their rout with only one victory, Elliot Eddy's win in the shot put with a personal best of 36-5. But Heights had top three finishes in seven other events.

"I was really proud of what we did in the conference,'' said Hasbrouck Heights coach Rob Brady, whose team had won the small schools Bergen Relays three days earlier. "We had several girls out with the flu the previous week and we had to be careful with everyone at conferences because we didn't want to lose them for the rest of the season.''

Sixteen different Aviators scored in the individual events with Gaea DePass (16 points), Alexandra Samperi (12), Mackenzie Bua (12) and Dea Jera (9) leading the scoring.

Most of the individual fireworks came from six girls from schools other than the champions. junior Kylie Castillo of Ridgefield won the 55 meters in North Jersey's top time of 7.42 and took the meet record in the 400 in 58.12 seconds, one of the top five times in New Jersey this season. Amandine Fernandez of Bogota became the Bucs' first ever league champion, winning the 3,200 in 12:01.80, just missing the meet record.

Cresskill's Danielle Tilp won both the 800 and 1,600 races. She was the only athlete in the meet to win an event as a freshman the last time the meet was held in 2020. Cali Terranova, Elmwood Park's first ever entrant in the meet, became the first Crusader to win a league title, edging Emma Keating of Pompton Lakes in the race of the meet, both clocking a meet record 8.76 in the 55 hurdles in what was the race of the meet.

Elmwood Park's Cali Terranova competes in the 400 meter hurdles during the first day of the Bergen Track and Field Championships in Hasbrouck Heights on Friday May 13, 2022.
Elmwood Park's Cali Terranova competes in the 400 meter hurdles during the first day of the Bergen Track and Field Championships in Hasbrouck Heights on Friday May 13, 2022.

Keating, the state's best pole vaulter, won her event in a meet record 12 feet, and now has the top six performances in the state this year with a best of 12-6, 15 inches higher than any other vaulter in the state.

Lyndhurst junior Julia Tozduman won both the long (17-8) and triple jumps (35-6 1/2) was seasonal bests in both and a North Jersey leader in the latter event.

This article originally appeared on Winter Track: Highlights from a Championship-laden week