May 30, 2018

Adding Another Chapter to Historic Campaign, PHS Boys’ Track Wins Outdoor Sectional Crown

HISTORIC EFFORT: Members of the Princeton High boys’ track team celebrate after they won the Central Jersey Group 4 championship meet last Saturday at Howell High. Displaying its depth and talent, PHS cruised to the title, piling up 105 points with runner-up Franklin coming in at 63. It marked the first outdoor sectional title for the program since 1989. The Little Tigers will go for another title when they compete in the state Group 4 meet from June 1-2 at Franklin High.

By Bill Alden

Earlier this month, the Princeton High boys’ track  produced a breakthrough performance when it won the Mercer County outdoor championship meet for the first time since 1982.

Last Saturday, PHS added another chapter to its historic 2018 campaign, cruising to first place at the Central Jersey Group 4 championship meet, earning the program’s first outdoor sectional crown since 1989.

“As much success as we have had in cross country and winter track, up until counties and sectionals this year, we have never done anything outdoors,” said Ben Samara, the associate head coach of the PHS boys’ and girls’ teams, whose boys’ squad piled up 105 points with runner-up Franklin coming in at 63.

“We had nothing to brag about outdoors. I think it helped focus the guys. We need to do our work and get the job done, just like with counties. Ever since we didn’t get the job done last year, our motto has been ‘do work, get the job done,’ and that’s it.”

Coming into the sectional meet, PHS knew it has to work hard from the start to emerge as a champion.

“It is over two days, so we knew what we were expected to get on day one and we knew if we exceeded that we were going to be in a really good position,” said Samara.

“We just tried to meet or exceed our expectations in every event one by one. On the conservative side, we thought maybe 28 points on day one would be a solid day for us and put us in a good spot, and we ended up with 36. Going into day two, we really thought, unless there was a catastrophe, that we had things well in hand.”

PHS ended up in a very good spot, easily overcoming
a six-point deficit to Franklin entering the final day to swamp the competition. Individual champions for PHS included Paul Brennan in the discus and Will Hare in the 3,200. In addition, the Little Tigers swept the three relays, the 4×100, 4×400, and the 4×800.

In all, 9 PHS boys advanced to the upcoming state Group 4 meet in two or more events with top-six finishes including Nils Wildberg (100-3rd, long jump-6th, 4×100, 4×400), Varun Narayan (long jump-2nd-4th, triple jump, 4×100, 4×400), Acasio Pinheiro (1,600-3rd, 3,200-3rd, 4×800), Jackson McCarthy (800-4th, 4×800, 4×400), Matt Perello (200-3rd, 4×100), Brennan (shot put, discus), Hare (3,200, 4×800), Nick Delaney (800-5th, 4×800), and Jack Whetstone (4×100, 4×400). Simon Schenk (pole vault-2nd) and Ben Kioko (javelin-2nd) also qualified for the Group meet.

In the view of Samara, the 4×800 relay of Delaney, McCarthy, Hare, and Pinheiro set the tone on the first day of competition by not only taking first, but setting a school and sectional record of 7:50.36.

“You start with the 4x 800 and those guys coming together and setting that all sectional record,” said Samara.

“They wanted to put a cap on the day and really make a statement at the end of day one.”

The 4×400 of Wildberg, Narayan, Perello, and Whetstone capped the meet with a school record of their own as they clocked a 3:22.31.

“We loaded up that 4×400 because we said to ourselves it would be a mistake if we were down one or two points at the Group meet and not have that 4×400 in a position to win the meet,” said Samara, noting that the 4×100 relay of Wildberg, Narayan, Perello, and Whetstone also set a school record with their time of 43.07.

“Those guys took that audible and they smashed it for the school record. It was totally unexpected and a thrilling moment for the team to end the day.”

Narayan produced a 23-11.5 long jump for a school record but missed out on a sectional title as A’Nan Bridgett of WWP-South matched that mark and had a better second jump.

“Obviously, with that jump, Varun continues to exceed everything we ever thought was possible for him,” asserted Samara of senior Narayan, who is headed to Carnegie Mellon. “He is absolutely on another level at this point.”

Senior star and Penn commit Hare showed imperious form to clock a 9:23.11 to win the 3,200, nearly seven seconds better than runner-up Sameer Das of WW/P-South.

“Will has been able this year, with the emergence of our sprint crew, to put his head down and do his work instead of having the spotlight on him all of the time,” said Samara.

“I think that has really benefitted him. He is just putting in work, that is the best way I can put it. He is ready to make a run at a state title and do well.”

Another distance runner who put in some good work over the weekend was junior Pinheiro.

“Acasio showed tremendous heart this weekend. He didn’t feel well from the beginning of day one and he pushed through time and time again,” said Samara.

“He pushed through to fight in that 1,600; he was in 12th place. In the first lap of the 4×800, he kicked us into first, and that is what helped us blow open the race and then came back dizzy in the 3,200 and just fought. His heart is going to serve him well going forward.”

Junior McCarthy and senior Delaney also showed heart at the sectional.

“Jackson McCarthy and Nick Delaney were big in that 800; it was a fast race and they hung in there,” said Samara.

“McCarthy showed a lot of grit to get fourth. He was one of the guys that came back in the 4×400 and just put the team on his back.”

Samara is looking for sophomore sprinter Perello to keep producing fast races.

“Going into next week, I think Matt Perello is a guy to look at; he was able to help us get through in the 4×100 and 200,” said Samara.

“By taking Nils out of the 200, we tried to ensure that he would have a much better spot for next weekend. He has a good chance to make it through to the 200 at the Meet of Champions.”

Looking ahead to the state Group 4 meet next weekend at Franklin High, Samara beleives that PHS has a chance to make more history.

“We really feel it is us against us at this point,” asserted Samara, noting the Little Tigers will need a huge effort to overcome perennial powerhouse East Orange at the meet.

“If we do our job, I think we have a really good chance to come out on top. East Orange doesn’t have as many events where they get points but the events they do have, they have three guys in them. We are confident. We made two or three strategic decisions this weekend in terms of our lineup and in terms of where we put guys that were specifically designed to go after East Orange. It has been our goal all season, and we are going to take our best shot.”