May 16, 2018

PHS Boys’ Track Dominates County Meet, Earning First Triple Crown in Program History

CROWNING ACHIEVEMENT: Members of the Princeton High boys’ track and field team celebrate last Saturday after they dominated the competition on the way to winning the Mercer County Championships. PHS won 10 of 18 events in the meet held at Steinert High and piled up 136.50 points with runner-up Trenton far behind with 57. In so doing, the Little Tigers achieved the “triple crown” of county titles as they have won the boys’ cross country, indoor track, and outdoor track crowns this school year. PHS will go after another title when it competes in the Central Jersey Group 4 sectional meet on May 25-26.

By Bill Alden

Last May, the Princeton High boys’ track and field team was bitterly disappointed when it fell one point short of winning the Mercer County Championships.

“The moment we lost that meet by one point, the guys looked at each and said we are not letting this happen again,” said Ben Samara, the associate head coach of the PHS boys’ and girls’ teams.

Competing at this year’s county meet last Saturday at Steinert High, PHS didn’t let anyone get close to it, crushing the competition on the way to its first outdoor title since 1982.

PHS won 10 of 18 events, piling up 136.50 points with runner-up Trenton far behind with 57.

In so doing, the Little Tigers achieved the “triple crown” of county titles as they won the boys’ cross country, indoor track, and outdoor track crowns this school year. It marks the first triple crown in program history and second ever in the county.

“That day was the catalyst for everything that has happened this season,” asserted Samara, referring to the loss in the 2017 county meet..

“We said in the weeks and days leading up to the meet, leave no doubts. Those are the words we used. It was pretty special and the way we did it was a complete and total destruction of Mercer County.

The 4×800 relay left no doubts, starting the meet with a win as the quartet of Acasio Pinheiro, Tucker Zullo, Jackson McCarthy, Nick Delaney clocked a time of 8:12.75.

“We loaded up that 4×800 we made sure that we set the tone for the meet,” said Samara. “From there, it was just like a snowball downhill.”

The momentum continued in the sprinting events as Matt Perello placed first in the 100 in a personal best of 11.07 and fourth in the 200 (22.60), Nils Wildberg won the 200 in 22.02 while Perello and Wildberg combined with Varun Narayan and Jack Whetstone to win the 4×100 in a school record time of 43.28.

“We have never traditionally been a strong sprint program,” noted Samara. “We have been building ourselves into a dominant sprint program for the last couple of years. It is just showing that now we are the dominant sprint team in Mercer County, and that is a really good feeling.”

In Samara’s view, that success is the product of the sprinters developing some deep bonds.

“Matt has really latched on to guys like Varun and Nils,” said Samara. “Those guys have really connected with each other and connected to each other. They just continue to develop together that is the big thing about his development and their development as a whole.”

Narayan had a very big day as he won the long jump in 22’6 and took first in the triple jump with a personal record leap of 43’9.

“Varun was the MVP, he scored the most points on our team,” said Samara of the Carnegie Mellon-bound Narayan.

“I still remember this time his freshman year and there is no way that he or I could have known what he was going to become. He is monster. To be a double champion is something he really deserves. There is nobody that has earned it more than he has through hard work and just sheer will. The thing about Varun is that he is technician. He watches videos after every meet and  spends hours studying his events.”

PHS continued its dominance in the throwing events and pole vault as Paul Brennan took first in both the shot put (52’ 5.75) and discus (162’ 2) while Simon Schenk won the pole vault (14’6).

“Paul is just our old reliable and it is nice to add Simon to that mix this year,” said Samara.

“With Simon and Paul, we just mark the 30 points down and we move on and we are able to focus on other stuff because they have just been so dominant. That is a really nice luxury to have.”

It is also nice to have Will Hare heading up the Little Tiger distance crew as he won the 3,200 in a time of 9:11.13, the top time in the state so far this season.

“Will made a really smart decision; he went out running the mile early in the meet and he made a tactical decision that it was going to be a kicking race and he wasn’t going to be in it,” said Samara.

“He shut it down about halfway through and saved himself for that 2-mile. He made that decision to save that energy and he laid down a tremendous time in the 2-mile. It was personal best for him.”

The squad’s collective energy helped PHS pile up the third most all-time points at the meet behind only Trenton’s 151 in 1984 and 139 in 1987. 

“Everybody just fighting for every point, Jackson McCarthy ends up tying for sixth place in the 800, I had never seen a tie like that before,” said Samara.

Jack Phelan is a guy who has been working his butt off to get a sixth in the triple jump. Kevin Linko gets a fifth in the pole vault. They got all the little points we didn’t necessarily need as a team score. But these guys were laying themselves on the line just in case; that is what we are trying to embody.”

In reflecting on the triple crown, Samara said it has resulted from a group effort,

“It is tremendous; it is about the guys, it is about the coaches, and the parents,” said Samara.

“It is about the guys believing that they can do things that weren’t possible before. We said to the guys after the meet, just enjoy this moment, because this a moment that they are never going to forget. As we said to them before the meet, this is the greatest team in PHS track and field history, and that is saying a lot, but no one is going to know it unless you get the job done, and they got the job done.”

The Little Tigers are in the hunt to achieve another triple crown as they look ahead to the upcoming in the state sectional and group meets.

“I would say at this point, we are the favorite in the sectional with the way that the sprints have rounded out and the way that our field events have rounded out,” said Samara.

“I don’t think there is a team in the state that is going to count us out at this point. The group meet is always tough, East Orange is always really tough. Group 4 is by far the toughest group in the state but
I think if we are ever going to do it, this is the year.”

No matter what happens, it is going to be a year to remember for Samara and his athletes.

“It is a really special time.  I am finding myself thinking about track 24/7 right now,” said samara.

“It is so much fun and you can see it on the guys’ faces how much fun it is for them.”