May 1, 2019

PHS Track Enjoys Historic Weekend at Penn Relays As Senior Stars Wildberg, Brennan Come Up Big

BIG-TIME PERFORMANCE: Princeton High boys’ track star Nils Wildberg displays the watch he earned for being the top U.S. finisher in the boys’ long jump at the famed Penn Relays last weekend in Philadelphia. Wildberg had a best jump of 23’8 as he came in fourth overall. Fellow PHS senior Paul Brennan was the top U.S. finisher in the boys’ discus with a personal best, school record, NJ #1 of 186’11, taking third overall in the event.

By Bill Alden

Entering the Penn Relays last week at Franklin Field in Philadelphia, Princeton High track stars Paul Brennan and Nils Wildberg didn’t appear poised to make a major impact at the world famous competition.

“Paul was really sick last weekend and actually lost in the discus to the kid from Lawrence High school at the county relays,” said PHS coach Ben Samara.

“I think that was a huge wakeup call, it was like ‘oh my god, I am mortal, I can lose.’ Nils has been doing some short run jumps at the beginning of the season. He did some long run jumps at the county relays and it didn’t go well. He was having a lot of trouble getting off the board and getting up in the air.”

The Princeton-bound Brennan and Dartmouth commit Wildberg proved to be up the challenge last weekend as they excelled against an international field.  Brennan threw a personal best, school record, a New Jersey top-ranked throw of 186’ 11 to finish third in the Boys Discus while Wildberg took fourth in the Boys Long Jump with a 23’ 8 leap, also good for a N.J. #1 ranking. Ending up as the highest finishing U.S. performers in their events. Brennan and Wildberg both earned coveted Penn Relays gold watches.

“It is a really difficult thing to get a watch there,” said Samara. “For both of them to do it in the same year is a testament to those guys and our program.”

The success of the senior stars was a testament to their diligence. “Paul took the last week to work on his technique and to really lock himself in,” said Samara.

“We did a lot of drills this past week with Nils on getting him high off the board. It really paid off over the weekend.”

The PHS girls’ relay quartet of junior Colleen Linko, sophomore Gabby Goddard, freshman Kendall Williamson, and junior Raina Williamson also had a big weekend at Franklin Field track on fire. The fab four reset their school record from earlier this season in the 4×100 relay, running 50.27 and followed that by creating another school record and N.J. #3 time of 3:54.23 in the 4×400 relay. Linko (57.19) and Goddard (57.54) both recorded sub-58 splits on the day.

“There is a great camaraderie between the girls. They have so much fun on the track and off the track,” said Samara.

“It is like four sisters out there; they laugh, they joke, they fight and they poke fun at each other. They have grown so close. It is going to be really exciting to see what they do because. now that they have run this time in April, there are no limits to what they can do over the next two years. I don’t think a state title is out of the question in the 4×400.”

With PHS competing in the Mercer Coaches Classic on May 4 in its final tune-up before the Mercer County Championships on May 11, Samara knows that a run of injuries will make it hard for the boys’ squad to earn a second straight county crown.

“There is no margin for error,” said Samara, whose team is without the services of throwing star Ben Kioko and distance standout Acasio Pinheiro with sprinter Matt Perello on the mend.

“In any other year, we would probably win going away. Unfortunately this year, our all-time team is going up against another all-time team in Nottingham. They are on fire, they are able to spread it around. To match them, we are going to have to be perfect but that is something I have seen these guys do before. I don’t put it past them.”

PHS boasts a clutch performer in junior star pole vaulter Simon Schenk who had done great things in big meets.

“Simon does a thing where he likes to step up as the season progresses,” added Samara.

“He will be at 13’6, 14, 14’6 but we always know that by Meet of Champions, he is going to be there.”

The Tigers are developing a corps of young sprinters who should step up in the future.

“We have a 4×100 group with guys like Donaldinho Servil, Nahim Modeste, Everett Murray, Adam Berner, Lahemoo Pwee, and Henry Cook,” said Samara.

“Those guys got to run at Penn Relays and they are going to run the 4×100 at the county meet. We are trying to keep that group together for two or there years and see what we can do.”

As for the PHS girls, Samar believes they should be in the mix. “We can cover some of the events,” said Samara. “Again, there is another all-time team there in WW/P-North, who is a juggernaut. The 4×400 girls are going to score their points. Nicole Richardson is a hurdler and pole vaulter and she can score some points. Some of our throwers who are going to need to step up and get those points. If they can do that, we are going to be in that meet too.”

Samara is hoping that senior distance star Siena Moran will be in form as she get backs up to speed. “Siena is coming off a a non-track related foot injury,” said Samara. “She is doing well but the question is can she double in the 800 and the mile. That will be her first time doubling this season but we are confident that she will be ready.”

In the final analysis, PHS will have to stretch its resources and hope for the best.

“It is really how we can spread the kids that we have around to the different events,” said Samara.