May 15, 2019

Putting It All Together with Youth, Balance, Stuart Track Rolls to 2nd Straight Prep B Title

ENCORE PERFORMANCE: Members of the Stuart Country Day School track team celebrate after they won the state Prep B outdoor track championship meet at Newark Academy earlier this month. Stuart piled up 150 points in winning its second straight Prep B outdoor crown with Villa Walsh coming in second at 98.

By Bill Alden

Things didn’t start well for the Stuart Country Day School track team as it competed in the state Prep B championship meet last week.

Stuart junior star Alex Ottomanelli false-started in the 400 meter hurdles, the first event of the meet, to get disqualified and cost the team some valuable points.

Instead of sulking at that misfortune, the Tartans used it to fuel them to greater heights at the meet, which was held on May 6 at Newark Academy.

“Everybody rallied around the fact that we are going to have to step up,” said Stuart head coach Len Klepack. “It was a rallying point for everyone to do a little bit more.”

Ottomanelli stepped up, taking first in both the 100 meter hurdles and the 800 run.

“She had a personal record in the 100 hurdles (16.26) and went just fast enough to win the 800,” said Klepack.

“She stayed with the girl from Villa Walsh and out kicked her at the end. Sometimes when things go wrong, you find ways and solutions to correct it and you don’t get down on yourself and that is what she did.”

Those first place finishes helped the Tartans roll to their second straight Prep B outdoor crown as they piled up 150 points with runner-up Villa Walsh well behind with 98.

Klepack sensed that this young squad, which includes only one senior in Priscilla Francois, was ready for a break-out performance.

“They are coming along, so it has been a learning and teaching situation,” said Klepack, whose team ended up scoring (getting at least one top-six finish) in 15 of 17 events.

“At certain times, you could see that they were beginning to click, understanding how to better prepare and to see what the future might hold if they keep working hard. They put it together at the prep meet.”

Junior Emerlee Simons put it together, winning the 400 and taking fourth in both the 100 and 400.

“Emerlee broke the school record in the 400 (1:00.37) and placed in the 100 and 200,” said Klepack.

“She had been nursing an injury and had been resting for nine days. We tried to explain to her that the energy will still be there.”

The pair of junior Jasmine Hansford and sophomore Nia Melvin provided some energy with their versatility. Hansford placed second in the long jump and triple jump and helped the 4×100 relay team take second and the 4×400 finish third. Melvin won the javelin and was on the 4×100 relay.

“Jasmine has been on track since her freshman year and Nia came out this year,” said Klepack. “Jasmine scored in both jumps and both relays; they are multi-talented.”

Sophomore Cara Carr was another multi-tasker for Stuart, taking sixth in the 400 hurdles and fourth in the long jump along with junior Heather Kwafo, who won the triple jump and took third in the long jump. The team’s lone senior, Francois, came through in a number of events, taking third in the 400 hurdles, fifth in the 100 hurdles, second in the shot put, and running the anchor for the 4×400 relay.

In the high jump, freshman Audrey Blandford placed second with sophomore Misha Meyer taking third.

The team’s success in the jumps proved critical to the title run. “Our youngsters, even though they weren’t ranked to win in the triple, long, or high jump, took second or third in events we weren’t supposed to like in the long jump,” said Klepack.

“We took first, second, and fourth in the triple jump. Both events definitely made a difference. The meet remained close until they put up the results from the long, triple, and high jump. That is where we pulled away.”

Freshman Noelia Manion pulled off an historic leap for the Tartans, taking fourth in the pole vault.

“We have never had a pole vaulter and now we have a pole vaulter,” said Klepack. “She cleared the opening height (6’4) and she scores.”

The Stuart throwers scored well with Francois taking second in the shot put and junior Taj’hana Tyson coming in sixth. Sophomore Laila Fair placed fourth in the discus, with Melvin coming up with the win in the javelin.

“All of our throwers are coming back except Priscilla,” noted Klepack. “If we can keep them together and if they work hard to improve, it could be a real outstanding group.”

The outstanding performance by the Tartans exceeded Klepack’s expectations.“I didn’t think that we would win by that many points,” said Klepack, whose program has also won two straight Prep B indoor track titles.

“It was definitely a pleasant surprise. It turned out to be an exciting day and they deserve it. They are still learning, they are beginning to come together. You see where hard work and supporting each other can make a difference. That has been our philosophy — don’t say you can’t, you don’t know what you are capable of until you try.”

In Klepack’s view, the program is capable of doing some big things going forward.

“The team has a real bright future, there was balance and youth,” said Klepack.

“They were able to put it together and that is what we feel good about. Stuart offers so much and these girls are true student-athletes.”