May 15, 2019

Despite Falling Short of Team Titles at Counties, PHS Track Produces Some Stellar Performances

SEE HER RUN: Princeton High runner Siena Moran shows her form in a cross country race. Last Saturday, senior Moran came up big at the Mercer County Championships last Saturday at Steinert, winning the 800-meter run, the 1,600, and helping PHS win the 4×400 relay. The Tigers finished second in the team standings to WW/P-North. The PHS boys also had a big meet, taking a close third behind champion Nottingham and runner-up WW/P-North. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Although neither the Princeton High girls’ or boys’ track squads placed first in the team standings at the Mercer County Championships last Saturday, PHS produced some of the finest performances of the meet.

The unheralded Tiger girls’ team placed a strong second to powerful WW/P-North in the meet held at Steinert High, paced by junior Colleen Linko, the winner of the 200 and 400-meter races, and senior Siena Moran, who prevailed in both the 800 and 1,600. The pair also helped the 4×400 relay to victory.

PHS totaled 101 points in the competition with WW/P-North piling up 120 in winning the title.

“We came out just on fire from the first race,” said Ben Samara, the associate head coach of the PHS boys’ and girls’ teams. “We couldn’t be prouder of them. Colleen Linko and Siena Moran were the two best runners on the track.”

Linko has not only reached new heights on the track, she is emerging as a leader for the team.

“Colleen has broken out as a superstar this year, she really took it to another level at counties,” said Samara.

“It not just her times, you can see her influence, even on the way Kendall Williamson is competing and how she comes out as a freshman and gets third in the 100. The way that the girls are working together is something special.”

Moran, for her part, enjoyed a special day, utilizing her savvy. “What was impressive about Siena at counties was her composure and her race strategy that she worked out with coach [Jim] Smirk,” said Samara.

“She was just totally locked in. She timed all of her moves perfectly. They came up with such a great strategy for each race and she executed. She is a true veteran.”

The 4×400 relay executed, as usual, with PHS earning is seventh title in the its last eight finals at the indoor and outdoor county meets.

“The girls wanted to keep that streak going; we brought Siena in and we knew we were going to be the favorite,” said Samara of the quartet, which also included Raina Williamson and Kendall Williamson.

“The only question was the fact was that this was everybody’s fourth event. The girls were exhausted but we still ended up winning by a big margin and keeping our streak alive.”

Sophomore Charlotte Gilmore also produced a big meet, winning the 3,200 and taking fifth in the 1,600.

“It has always been about Charlotte believing in herself,” said Samara. “Over the last few weeks, she has really found that belief in herself to be able to do what she did. Coming out and winning the 3,200 against an incredible field is going to be a real springboard for her, She has a couple of years left. It is going to be really exciting to see what she can do.”

Showing her self-belief, senior Nicole Richardson excelled in her final county meet, taking fifth in the 100 hurdles and third in the 400 hurdles.

“She had a school record in the high hurdles with her 15:69 was a school record,” said Samara.

“Less than a 10th of a second separated her from getting a place higher in both events. She has really done great. Her work with coach [Thomas] Harrington has really taken the hurdlers to another level.”

With the Central Jersey Group 4 championship meet slated for May 24-25, Samara believes the girls’ squad can build on its performance at counties.

“I think we are going to get as many girls through to the group meet as we have ever gotten before,” said Samara.

“We have a couple of contenders who can really make some noise. I think we are going to have some really good representation at groups and Meet of Champions (MOC). It has been a really great breakout year for the girls.”

While the boys fell short of defending their title as they placed third behind champion Nottingham and runner-up WW/P-North, they also had some really good moments.

Junior star Schenk placed first in the pole vault with senior standout and Dartmouth-bound Nils Wildberg winning the long jump and senior thrower and Princeton commit Paul Brennan prevailing in the discus and taking third in the javelin as PHS scored 81 points with champion Nottingham piling up 88 and WW/P-N getting 84.

“It is nice that we can lock those points in; there was a little adversity for both Simon and Nils,” said Samara.

Schenk got off to a shaky start in his event, but ultimately came through.

“Simon was down to his third attempt at 14’0 and made it over with a huge clearance,” added Samara. “He would have actually gotten second if he missed. He then went on to clear a height higher (14’6). He faced some adversity and overcame that. He continues to step up, which is nice. The meets get bigger, his heights get bigger.”

Wildberg, for his part, had to play a waiting game before knowing that he won the long jump.

“Nils had some other events to run,” said Samara. “He took his jumps and he was about a foot ahead, but he had to take all three of his jumps in the final before anybody else did so then we had to wait to see what happened. He jumped phenomenally as he always does and was able to take it home so we are real proud of him.”

In addition, Brennan had to work through some adversity in taking the discus title.

“Paul had a misstep in the shot put, but we were really proud of him to come back with the second best discus throw he has ever had (183’10),” said Samara.

“He also stepped up in the javelin in an event he has only done a few times. Knowing that Nottingham had the really good javelin guys, he said he would do anything to help this team win points. He went in and got a third place with a huge throw. That was something really important to him and to the team.”

Senior distance stars Jackson McCarthy and Tucker Zullo made an important contribution as well. McCarthy took third in the 800 and fifth in the 1,600 while Zullo placed third in the 3,200 and fourth in the 1,600.

“Jackson and Tucker have been real steady all season,” said Samara. “They continued to make steady progress this weekend and I think they are getting ready for a really big breakthrough at the right time.”

Two other seniors, Jack Whetstone and Kevin Linko, came through as well. “Jack kicked off our county meet on a high note; he took the baton in fourth place going into the anchor leg in the 4×800, an event which is new to him this spring,” said Samara.

“He kicked us into second, we put him in that spot because we knew he could do that and he delivered. He showed a lot of grit coming back to run the 400 and the 4×400. Kevin has really been working hard to get himself back into form. He ended up with a third place in the pole vault and actually worked his way within one spot of scoring in the 400 hurdles. He finished seventh, taking almost five seconds off his 400 hurdle time.”

Looking ahead to the sectional meet, Samara views it as a stepping stone for the boys’ team.

“We were disappointed to not have a few things go our way with the county meet,” said Samara.

“This is probably our best chance to win something as a team. We are really going to focus on getting our key players advancing to groups and Meet of Champs. The way that our team is set up, we are so top heavy that we actually have a better chance to win the group meet than we do the section. Once we can get our key players to groups, we are going to let the chips fall and see where we stand.”