May 31, 2017

Sparked by Sensational Effort From Kwafo, Stuart Track Takes 3rd at Prep B State Meet

FLYING HIGH: Stuart Country Day School track star Michelle Kwafo flies over the hurdles at the state Prep B championship meet last week. Junior Kwafo enjoyed a big day at the meet, winning the 100 meter dash, the 100 hurdles, and taking third in the long jump. She also helped the 4×100 relay to victory. Kwafo’s heroics helped Stuart finish third in the team standings at the meet. (Photo Courtesy of Stuart Country Day School)

Michelle Kwafo was a busy girl as the Stuart Country Day School track team competed in the Prep B state championship meet last week.

Junior star Kwafo won the 100 meter dash, the 100 hurdles, and took third in the long jump. She also helped the 4×100 relay to victory with a blistering opening leg.

Kwafo’s heroics helped Stuart finish third in the meet as the Tartans piled up 87 points to trail winner Villa Walsh (154.50) and runner up Newark Academy (113).

Coming into the May 23 competition, which was held at Newark Academy in Livingston, Kwafo was expecting some big things.

“I knew that our team and myself had a lot of potential to do really well,” said Kwafo.

“Coach [Len Klepack] really motivated us and pushed us; he gave us goals he thought we could meet. He told me told me I had the potential to win the 100 and the 100 hurdles. He was giving us positive encouragement before the meet, which really helped.”

Kwafo had to fight through fatigue as the 100 dash and 100 hurdles were held back-to-back.

“At the end of the day, you have to do what you have to do,” said Kwafo, who clocked a winning time of 12.90 in the 100 dash and then came back to win the 100 hurdles in 15.30

“Going from the 100 meters right into the 100 hurdles was tough. Once you are in game mode, nothing can really stop you from doing your best.”

Kwafo knew she had to do her best to beat runner-up Nicole Borowlec of Morristown-Beard.

“The girl that I ran against in the 100 hurdles actually beat me last year in states so knowing that, I was a little worried,” said Kwafo.

“I knew I had the potential and I knew I could beat her with all of the training I have done all season, indoors and outdoors. Going into the race, I knew that could win the race and I did.”

In the dash, Kwafo was focusing on simply going hard. “Going into the 100 meters, it was completely different because these girls were all fast,” said Kwafo.

“There wasn’t a girl there who stood out and knowing that, especially in the finals, it would be my last hard sprint apart from the 4×100 for the season, I pushed back everything and said to myself Michelle you can do it and went out as fast as I could even though I was tired from the other races.”

Competing in the relay, Kwafo went out fast in the opening leg, giving the group a cushion as it ended up winning with a time of 53.32.

“It is not all eyes on you, it is a team effort,” said Kwafo. “It is a lot of pressure too since I am the leadoff leg. If I don’t run my fastest or hardest, it can affect the other girls. Each one of us has a role to play.”

Despite being worn out from all of that sprinting, Kwafo managed to come up with a long jump of 15’4 to place third in that competition.

“At that point I was exhausted but I knew I would still try,” said Kwafo.

“I didn’t get my best for a long jump which was a disappointment but because of the overall performance that day, I didn’t let that bother me too much. Long jumping is something I know I can improve on so much for next year so I am excited about that.”

For Kwafo, who scored 36 points in the meet, a program record, making such a contribution was less about herself than  the team.

“I was just happy that I could do what I did to help my team finish how we finished,” said Kwafo.

While Kwafo still has another year to help Stuart, she is starting to think about competing at the next level.

“I would really like to continue running track in college,” said Kwafo.

“I am planning on doing some track camps with my coach and thinking about joining an AAU track club this summer to prepare me for the indoor season coming. I know my coach would like me to join cross country in the fall, which I am still thinking about.”

Stuart head coach Klepack tipped his hat to Kwafo’s ability to handle a grueling schedule.

“She adjusted very well, we were very pleased,” said Klepack. “There was a 1,600 in between and the finals of the 100 and the hurdles were back to back, that is what made it more of an exciting and difficult double.”

In Klepack’s view, Kwafo’s progress this year is due as much to a calmer approach to competition as her physical ability.

“She has excellent leg speed and this year, she has applied poise,” said Klepack.

“As you mature, you learn poise, you learn how to make adjustments, and how to relax.”

In reflecting on Stuart’s performance at the Prep B meet, Klepack believes the squad could mature into something special.

“What is good is that all of those girls come back, plus some other freshmen,” said Klepack.

“Stuart looks very good in the future for anything from the 100 to the 800.”

The team’s young performers had a very good day at the Prep B meet as freshman Jasmine Hansford took first in the triple jump and joined Kwafo on the 4×100. The sprint relay also included sophomore Priscilla Francois and junior Kenya Brenya. Sophomore Bey-Shana Clark won the shot put while junior Allison Walsh was second in the high jump.

Meanwhile, senior distance star Casey Nelson ended her career on a high note, placing second in the 3,200 with a time of 12:07.70 and fifth in the 1,600 in 5:28.70.

“She scored in both the 1,600, where she tied her own school record and then broke her school record in the 3,200 so that was a very good double for her,” said Klepack, noting that Nelson is heading to Brown University. “She has got to be pleased to do that before graduating.”

Looking back on the spring overall, Klepack is very pleased with how his team performed from beginning to end.

“We are very happy, they were 10-1 in dual meets and had a very good season,” said Klepack.

“There were 12 different school records broken during the season and most of those youngsters are coming back. We did have good senior leadership with five good seniors but the people behind them look very good. I would consider it one of the best years Stuart has had time-wise and performance-wise.”

Kwafo, for her part, is looking to build on the confidence she developed this year.

“In my freshman and sophomore year, I would always get anxious before every meet,” said Kwafo.

“I don’t know whether it was because I was an underclassman and I thought that everyone was above me. This year, I am definitely more confident in my racing and understanding more about the sport. So going into a race, I know that I have good competition but that I am just as good as them.”