Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 23
Wednesday, June 8, 2011
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(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

LAUNCHING PAD: Princeton High girls’ track star Rebekka Vuojolainen flies down the runway in the pole vault at a meet earlier this spring. Last weekend, senior standout Vuojolainen took fifth place in the pole vault at the state Group III meet to qualify for the Meet of Champions (MOC) on June 9 at Lombardi Field in Old Bridge. Junior distance star Elyssa Gensib took fourth in the 3,200 at the meet and will join Vuojolainen at the MOC.

Showing Competitive Fire in Homestretch, PHS Girls’ Track Thrives at State Meets

Bill Alden

After losing a dual meet to Hightstown in late April, the Princeton High girls’ track team didn’t look like a title contender.

“We had a heart-to-heart after that meet,” said PHS head coach Jim Smirk.

“We needed to have the younger athletes take responsibility and not just be bodies out there. We told the girls to have faith in their training and more self-belief in competition.”

Two weeks ago, PHS showed its competitive fire as it took fifth at the Central Jersey Group III sectional meet.

“It was not our highest point total in a sectional meet but it was our most balanced with the distance runners, jumpers, and throwers,” said Smirk.

A trio of the team’s younger athletes, freshman Michelle Bazile, sophomore Amelia Whaley, and junior Maddie Lea, provided some of that balance for the Little Tigers.

“Michelle Bazile is a freshman; we saw what she was doing in training and we challenged her,” said Smirk of the star thrower, who placed in the top six in the sectionals in the shot put and discus.

“We challenged Amelia Whaley. She is a sophomore and she is always behind Jenna, who is a tough competitor. We needed Amelia to step up. Maddie Lea is a very good dual meet competitor but we needed her to step up in the big meets. We saw a glimpse in the counties when she made the 100 final. We usually put her in that to get points and when she did that we said we have something here.”

At the state Group III meet last weekend at South Plainfield, junior distance star Elyssa Gensib and senior jumper Rebekka Vuojolainen got the most points for PHS. Gensib took fourth in the 3,200 while Vuojolainen placed fifth in the pole vault as both qualified for the Meet of Champions on June 9 at Lombardi Field in Old Bridge.

In Smirk’s view, Gensib’s success was the product of a long-term effort.

“Elyssa had a very good day; the 3,200 turned out to be a much faster race than I thought,” said Smirk of Gensib, who posted a time of 11:03.72 in taking fourth.

“Elyssa has put in the training all year. She has really been focused, not only with the training but the secondary things like getting rest, eating right, and staying on top of her school work.”

As for Vuojolainen, Smirk points to her desire to come out on top in pressure situations.

“Rebekka is a competitor; she likes the big moments,” said Smirk. “She does well in big meets. She comes up to coach [Rashone] Johnson and says what is the farthest jump and goes after it. It was great that she made it through to the group meet in all three events (pole vault, triple jump, and long jump).”

In addition to her jumping prowess, Vuojolainen has provided the Little Tigers with good leadership over her career along with classmates Mary Kennedy-Moore, Maggie Sowa, and Crissy Glover.

“Rebekka and Mary Kennedy-Moore have been workhorses for us,” added Smirk. “They are always getting points. They focused more on the pole vault this year but they always showed a work ethic. Maggie and Crissy have been there in terms of working for the team. If we needed them to fill in in a relay, they would do it without question. The team would not have been at that level without their work.”

With some battle-tested young talent returning, PHS appears ready to reach a higher level in the future.

“I am thrilled with how far we have come,” asserted Smirk. “If you would have told me in week two that we would end up fifth in the sectionals, I would not have believed it. It was not a huge group of rookies but they were all committed. They were willing to become better and that inspired the older athletes. We still have gaps to fill but I am really excited.”

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