Featuring Some Breakthrough Performances, PHS Boys’ Track Finishes 3rd in Sectionals
While Franklin Township High dominated the Central Jersey Group 4 sectional boys’ track meet last weekend, as expected, the Princeton High squad produced some landmark performances.
In taking third with 54 points behind champion Franklin (124) and runner up Old Bridge (68), the Little Tigers showed strength across the board, garnering a number of top six finishes needed to qualify for the state Group 4 meet taking place on June 2-3 at Egg Harbor.
In the field events, freshman Simon Schenk won the pole vault while sophomore Paul Brennan prevailed in the discus and placed fifth in the shot put, junior Varun Narayan took sixth in both the long jump and triple jump, and sophomore Nils Wildberg was fifth in the long jump.
On the track, senior Alex Roth won the 3,200 while junior Will Hare was second in the 3,200 and third in the 1,600. In addition, Roth and Hare helped the 4×800 relay to take fourth.
In the view of associate head coach Ben Samara, a lot of positives came out of the meet for PHS.
“We felt like we had a really strong weekend, we were really proud to see the boys finish third,” said Samara. “It was another step forward for our program.”
Schenk took a huge step forward in the pole vault, setting a personal best and school record of 14’7.
“It was huge, it is No. 1 in the state and he is a freshman so that is pretty wild,” said Samara, noting that Schenk’s previous personal best was 13’0.
“He and coach [Joe] Gargione have been talking about getting on some bigger poles, holding a little higher and making some adjustments after county meet where he struggled a little bit. The process started on Tuesday, he really got back on track and cleared 13 at the freshman/sophomore meet. It was a huge breakthrough, he went a foot and a half higher than before and we really think there is more there.”
Throwing star Brennan produced a breakthrough performance of his own, winning the discus with a heave of 173’5 and taking fifth in the shot put with a best throw of 50’5.5.
“He was very encouraged because he bounced back in the shot and broke 50 feet again,” said Samara.
“That was springboard for the discus; his first throw was a personal best so it was all easy from there. He is the favorite going into groups, I think he is the state No. 3 or 4 right now, top 5 for sure.”
The team’s top jumpers, Wildberg and Narayan, didn’t have an easy road as they battled against some elite competition. Wildberg jumped 21’6.5 in taking fifth in the long jump while Narayan had a top jump of 21’5.25 to finish sixth. In the triple jump, Narayan soared a personal best 43’3.25 for his sixth place finish.
“Things were dicey for a while, it is the toughest section in the state and they really proved it,” said Samara.
“Our guys rose to the challenge. Varun had another fantastic personal best in the long jump. The guys always seem to do what is needed.”
In the distance events, senior star Roth rebounded from an eighth-place finish in the 1,600 to clock a time of 9:27.21 in winning the 3,200. Junior standout Hare was a model of consistency, running 4:23.29 to finish third in the 1,600 and then going 9:29.50 as the runner up to Roth in the 3,200.
“Alex got lost a little bit in the mile, it ended up being a kicker’s race; he really bounced back in the 2-mile like he always does,” added Samara.
“Those two took control and did their job and they are two of the favorites going into groups. Will really battled in that mile to get through and showed a lot of heart. On day one, Will and Alex stepped into the 4×800 and helped get it through. They had a really heavy load this weekend and they really stepped up to the challenge.”
PHS had some other athletes who battled hard and just missed qualifying for the Group meet.
“We had three really close calls in seventh,” said Samara. “Nick Delaney ran the best time he has run in an open race in the 800 [1:57.14] but still finished seventh; that was a tough one. Oliver Hamit has been working really hard in the 400 all year and just missed a spot in groups by two-tenths of a second [50.59]. A nice surprise was the boys 4×400 finishing seventh [3:30.14], just barely out of it. Those guys fought with a lot of heart.”
The PHS girls’ team showed heart in placing 17th overall as junior standout Jackie Patterson led the way by taking fifth in the 400 with a time of 58.03 and helping the 4×400 relay come in fifth in 4:00.61.
“Jackie got through in the 400; the huge highlight was the girls’ 4×400 which had another season best,” said Samara of the quartet, which featured Patterson along with freshmen Colleen Linko, Justice Taylor, and Michelle Vassilev.
“You have those three freshmen in there. Colleen broke 60, she had a 59.9 split. Michelle went 60 flat. These freshmen girls are really starting to round into shape here. I think this group should be able to break four minutes on Saturday so we are really excited about that.”
Samara is excited about the prospects as PHS competes in the Group 4 state meet this week.
“We want to qualify as many people as we can for the Meet of Champions, that is the goal,” said Samara, referring to the final meet of the season, which is slated for June 10 at Northern Burlington Regional in Columbus. “I think every boy who qualified has a chance to get through.”