PHS Boys’ Track Ties for 3rd in Sectional Meet; Has Star Power to Challenge for Group 4 Crown
IN THE FAST LANE: Princeton High boys’ track star Nils Wildberg heads to the finish line in action last weekend at the Central Jersey Group 4 sectional outdoor track meet at Howell High. Dartmouth-bound Wildberg starred at the meet, winning the long jump and taking second in both the 100 and 200-meter dashes. Wildberg’s heroics helped PHS tie Freehold for third in the team standings. The Tigers are next in action when they compete in the state Group 4 meet at Franklin High from May 31-June 1. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Bill Alden
Competing in the Central Jersey Group 4 sectional outdoor meet at Howell High last weekend, the Princeton High boys’ track team found itself in a four-horse race for the team title.
While PHS ended up tying Freehold for third with 70 pointe behind winner Franklin (78) and runner-up South Brunswick (71), Ben Samara had no qualms with the effort he got from his athletes.
“We fell short in just a couple of places but pretty much across the board everyone performed really well,” said PHS associate head coach Samara. “We were so proud of the team.”
Senior star and Dartmouth-bound Nils Wildberg performed at a very high level, winning the long jump and taking second in both the 100 and 200-meter dashes.
“Nils is getting ready to do some big things; if we are going to win the group meet, it is going to be on his back,” said Samara.
“This past weekend, he had the eighth fastest 100 time in the state and the fifth fastest 100 time in the state, not to mention what he does in the long jump. He has blossomed into an all-around stud.”
PHS boasts another stud in senior and Princeton commit Paul Brennan, who placed first in both the shot put and discus.
“Paul was able to come through with two sectional titles, that is not an easy feat, it doesn’t happen often,” said Samara.
“He had a mishap in the shot put at the county championships. It is a continued testament to him that, whenever there is a setback, he is able to come back with an increased focus and clarity for his events. He didn’t miss a beat. Paul is a big key for this coming weekend.”
One of the big moments of the meet for the Tigers came when senior Jack Phelan pulled off a stunning win in the triple jump with a personal best of 44’5.
“Jack Phelan was the star of the weekend,” asserted Samara. “We had a little bit of trouble in the mile and we thought we were pretty much out of the meet at that point. Jack Phelan comes out of nowhere with a 2-foot PR and puts us right back in the meet and becomes a sectional champion.”
While Samara acknowledged that he was taken aback by Phelan’s triumph, he saw it as a fitting reward for the senior’s efforts over the years.
“There are a lot of things I could tell you that I think might happen in a meet, this is one I never saw coming,” said Samara.
“Maybe we should have seen it coming because there is nobody who has worked harder over the last three years than Jack. It could not have happened for a nicer kid or a more hard working kid. He is the epitome of what we want our program to be. He is an incredible kid.”
Another senior stalwart, Jackson McCarthy, gave PHS some good work, taking third in the 1,600 and fifth in the 800.
“McCarthy has been steady the whole way; there were a lot of interesting races this week and he weathered the storm in the mile and the 800 like a pro,” said Samara.
“He is our steady hand; he has been a great leader for us. He is really good at rallying our guys together when we need a big performance. He is one we are going to miss a lot; I am glad that we get to see a little bit more of him.”
Taking sixth the 400 and eighth in the 800, senior Jack Whetsone had a solid performance at the meet.
“Jack Whetstone is a warrior; he will do anything for the team and to improve himself,” said Samara.
“He had the two best races of his career over the weekend. He battled and was able to win the unseeded heat of the 400 to advance in sixth place.”
The PHS girls’ team, for its part, was paced by two warriors, junior Colleen Linko and senior Siena Moran, as it finished eighth overall in the meet won by South Brunswick. Linko placed second in the 400 and third in the 200 while Moran took second in the 1,600 and fifth in the 800. The two helped the 4×400 relay place third.
“Colleen and Siena are just remarkable; I can remember seeing Colleen’s face as a freshman and a sophomore when I would tell her that she has to run a 200 and a 400 in the same meet and now she is doing the unthinkable,” said Samara.
“Siena had the opportunity to pick and choose the events she wanted to do this weekend and she chose to do everything. That is just the kind of kid she is. Even knowing that the last two events of the quad are literally back to back, she didn’t care. She is fearless.”
Senior Nicole Richardson showed no fear in taking sixth in the 400 hurdles and ninth in the pole vault.
“Nicole has really worked hard in the hurdle and the pole vault,” said Samara.
“It has been nice to have those events covered. Those are events we are typically not strong in on the girls’ side. It is nice to see us having some success there. To get a Group 4 qualifier in the hurdles is a testament to the hard work everybody has put in.”
With the Tigers next in next in action when they compete in the state Group 4 meet at Franklin High from May 31-June 1, Samara believes that Linko, Moran, and the 4×400 team have what it takes to place in the top six and advance to the Meet of Champions.
“We want to try to get as many people as we can through,” said Samara. “The order of events at groups sets up a little bit better for us to get the 4×400 through, that will be a goal of ours. We would like to see Colleen get through in the 400 and the 200. We are confident Siena is going to get through in whatever event she chooses to run and knowing her, it is probably going to be all of them.”
On the other hand, the boys have the star power to be in the hunt for a team title at the Group meet.
“We have said all along that we are a real top-heavy team,” said Samara.
“We don’t have a lot of back points but we have guys up top who can really do some big things. If Paul could pull out a top two finish in the shot and the discus, and if Nils can stay where he is on the depth chart and pull out top three finishes in the 100 and the 200 while winning the long jump, we are going to be right in the mix.”
With PHS having finished a strong third in both the county and sectional meets, Samara believes the squad is due to finally put it all together.
“There have been a lot of high points for the boys this year but on the whole coming off of last year, it has been a really tough season for the guys,” said Samara, noting that the boys’ team won the outdoor county, sectional, and group crowns in 2018.
“There has been a lot of injuries, a lot of close calls, and a lot of heartbreak. This weekend has been where our eyes have been all year. They really deserve to get something this year. I think the difference between all of the other meets that we have tried to win and this group meet is that nothing out of the ordinary needs to happen now. Everyone is where they need to be to perform so the pressure is a little bit off at this point. I really want this group to go out on a high note because they deserve it.”