March 17, 2021

Getting First Competition of Winter Campaign, PHS Track Team Goes Outside Against HoVal

UP AND RUNNING: Princeton High girls’ star distance runner Charlotte Gilmore rounds a curve last Wednesday in the 1,600-meter run ahead of teammates Robin Roth and Lucy Kreipke as PHS hosted Hopewell Valley. It was the first competition of the winter season for the Tigers. PHS is next in action when it competes against HoVal on March 20 at the Bennett Athletic Center in Toms River. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

After having its season delayed for months, the Princeton High indoor track team was fired up to start practice on February 1 only to see the area pummeled by a snowstorm.

Undeterred, the squad pushed ahead and showed some creativity as it worked through the weather issues.

“After everything we have been through, a little snow is no big deal,” said PHS head coach Ben Samara.

“We used the parking lot once it was cleared and we did some sprint work on the sidewalks. We did a lot of strength and conditioning work. We have been doing body weight and med ball workouts.”

Just getting to be together on a daily basis has been a huge plus for the Tiger coaches and athletes.

“Our theme this year and for years to come is going to be treat every day like it could be the last one that you could get to compete or practice because we found out last spring that nothing is certain,” said Samara.

“We truly feel blessed to be out there every day, having fun. Through the stop and start of February, we still had to have some remote practices and stuff. Every day that we are able to be there in person is just a lot of fun. The kids really look forward to coming every day and putting the work in.”

Last Wednesday, PHS had a lot of fun as it hosted Hopewell Valley for a meet held outdoors on its track in sunny, 60 degree conditions.

“We were lucky because there are not a lot of opportunities for competition,” said Samara.

“The kids were really excited to have a beautiful day. It was just nice to see the kids be able to compete in their uniforms. There was no team scoring and a limited event schedule. We did two sprint events, two distance events and the hurdles and that was it.”

Samara was excited by the performance of senior Dora Servil at the meet as he set a personal record of 6.82 in the 55-meter dash.

“Dora has had a stop and start his entire career, we are really hoping that he can stick through to the spring,” said Samara, noting that Servil dealt with an injury last winter that ended his season before the championship meets.

“I think he could do some big things in all three sprint events, the 100, 200, and 400. He has always had a ton of potential and this spring we hope he will finally be able to put that on display.”

Junior Chris Consoli is emerging as a key sprint performer and team leader for the Tigers.

“I was talking to Chris the other day and asked him did he ever think when he started as a freshman that he would be knocking on the door of the times of breaking 7.0 in the 55 getting into the 24s in the 200 and being a captain,” said Samara, noting that Consoli clocked a PR of 7.21 in the 55 against HoVal.

“He was like no, no way. He has worked so hard, not just as an athlete but as a leader. As a junior captain, he is an incredible leader. He is a really great kid. I believe his PR when we first came in was around 29 in the 200 and now he is going to be running in the 24s, which is really, really good time.”

Another junior who is stepping up for the PHS boys is Kento Nakaya, who won the 800 in 2:07.72.

“In the last couple of years on the boys’ side, we have some really fantastic distance runners,” said Samara.

“Kento has quietly been training and studying under them. I feel like now is his time to really shine.”

In the distance events, senior Jacob Bornstein is continuing to shine, posting a time of 4:49.86 in the 1,600 to pace the Tigers last Wednesday.

“Jacob had a fantastic cross country campaign and has really put the work in to build himself into one of the elite runners in the county,” said Samara.

“He is going to continue to develop. Jacob is definitely leading the way, but there are a bunch of guys out there working hard. I think we are going to have a really solid distance corps going into the spring.”

Junior star Kendall Williamson is primed to have a big spring for the PHS girls’ squad.

“Kendall is chomping at the bit to really get some competition and is really diligently training,” said Samara of Williamson, who tied her PR in the 55 with a time of 7.52.

“The distance runners were able to have their cross country season but the sprinters have been training either on their own or through the Rec Department since September. It can get really monotonous but their dedication has never wavered. Kendall has really been leading the way with that. She has developed into a fantastic example for the rest of the team.”

Following that example, junior Megan Rougas and senior Catherine Howard are showing good potential in the sprints.

“They come from two different sides of the spectrum,” explained Samara.

“Megan is also a soccer player. She came in with tons of speed and has fit in really nicely with the team. Catherine is from the other end, she started athletics kind of late and joined us last year as a junior. She has really developed herself into a really good sprinter.”

In the 55 hurdles, newcomer Katherine Monroe made a superb debut, winning the race in a time of 9.79.

“Katherine is a sophomore but she is coming to us for the first time this year and she has just jumped right in with no fear, attacking the hurdles with everything she has got,” said Samara.

Coming off a stellar cross country season, distance stars sophomore Lucy Kreipke, sophomore Robin Roth, and senior Charlotte Gilmore showed good form against HoVal, finishing 1-2-3 in the 1,600.

“The three of them pretty much just ran with each other the whole time,” said Samara.

“Coach [Jim] Smirk is taking a slow and steady approach with the distance group, trying to ease them back into things. That is the right approach. They are always ready when it is time to perform in the big moments and I have no doubt that they will be ready to do that.”

With PHS next in action when it takes on HoVal on March 20 in the bubble at the Bennett Athletic Center in Toms River, Samara believes the abbreviated winter season can lay the foundation for a big outdoor campaign.

“I think between this meet and our meet on the 20th, we are going to get a nice little springboard into the spring season,” said Samara, noting that the Colonial Valley Conference will be holding division meets and a two-day conference meet this spring.

“We are really targeting that CVC championship meet on Memorial Day weekend.”