April 27, 2022

Transfer Hutchinson Making Impact for PHS Girls’ Track, Helping 4×100 Quartet to 1st Place at Mercer County Relays

FAB FOUR: The Princeton High girls 4×100 and their coaches are all smiles after the quartet placed first in the Mercer County Relays at Lawrence High last Saturday. Pictured, from left, are head coach Ben Samara, Samirah Hutchinson, Megan Rougas, Sophie Gono, Kendall Williamson, and assistant coach Thomas Harrington.

By Justin Feil

Samirah Hutchinson didn’t run for the Princeton High girls’ track and field team after she moved to the area last year, but she’s excited for the rest of the season after seeing the strength of the 4×100 relay.

Hutchinson, a senior, ran the third leg for the Tiger team that included Sophie Gono, Megan Rougas, and Kendall Williamson as they won the 4×100 relay at the Mercer County Relays at Lawrence High last Saturday in 50.77 seconds. The school record is 50.27 seconds.

“Honestly it was very ecstatic and proud moment,” said Hutchinson. “We put the work in at practice. It was our first relay of the year. We were very happy about it.”

PHS also won the girls’ 4×200 with Gono, Katherine Monroe, Alysse Kiesewetter, and Williamson going 1:47.48, and the foursome of Lucy Kreipke, Robin Roth, Florica Eleches-Lipsitz, and Kyleigh Tangen won the girls’ 4×1600 in 22:09.51. The boys also picked up a win in the distance medley relay with Charlie Howes, Zach Della Rocca, Kento Nakaya, and Andrew Kenny finishing in 10:46.94.

Five PHS teams also garnered second-place finishes in relays. The girls’ 4×800 of Eleches-Lipsitz, Brielle Moran, Maeve Motto, and Tessa Thai took silver. Monroe, Grace Defaria, Chiara Lavino, and Kiesewetter were runners-up in the girls shuttle hurdles. In the field events, Isabella Ospina Posada and Macaela Wilton placed second in girls’ shot put, and Ospina Posada and Brittany Newman were second in girls’ discus. Zach Della Rocca, Blake Bergman, Kento Nakaya, and Addison Motto were second in the boys’ sprint medley.

“We were pleasantly surprised,” said PHS head coach Ben Samara. “It’s been slow going at the start of the season. We had an ill-timed spring break in terms of training and competing. We’re just getting people back, and this is the first real weekend for competing. The kids came out and performed really well.”

Hutchinson and the Tigers lowered their season best mark to 50.30 seconds in the 4×100 on Monday in a meet against Nottingham to pull within hundredths of a second of the record. They will get another shot at it on one of the biggest stages in the country at the Penn Relays in Philadelphia on Thursday. It’s the first running of the Penn Relays in two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’m just looking forward to beating the school record by a lot,” said Hutchinson. “I know we’re capable of it. Even though it’ll be the biggest crowd yet, I’m excited to go perform with my team.”

It’s a new team for Hutchinson, who came from Hightstown where she had competed since she was a freshman. She’s joined a PHS team that does things a little differently, and they’ve welcomed her addition which strengthens the depth of their sprint corps.

“It’s great,” said Samara. “Coming in, we knew Samirah was talented. She spent a large part of winter injured and she hadn’t competed in a long time. She’s still working through shin issues and leg pain. For her to be a contributing part of this group and to be able to get out there and be able to compete at Penn Relays is really exciting for her. It’s exciting for us too. We have a pool of six girls that we’ve been doing handoffs with. We have depth that we don’t always have. It takes some pressure off.”

Samara allowed Hutchinson and Rougas to sit out the rest of the relays while nursing their aches and pains. It gave others an opportunity to compete and showcased PHS’s speed.

“I definitely see a lot of potential in everybody,” said Hutchinson. “We’re continuing to build an elite group of sprinters. I like that we have variety. We can always see who can be put in. I was recovering from shin splints and with what Megan was going through, it was good to know your back-up can go just as good as what we would do.”

Hutchinson will be focusing on the 100 and 200 meters this spring. She’s always favored the shorter distances, and were it not for her shin pain she might also be hurdling. She is gearing up to compete in college, and this year has been important to get back on the track after missing last spring following her move and transitioning to a new school and team.

“It had to be one of the hardest things I’ve done,” said Hutchinson. “Coming from the high school I was previously at, building that relationship and having the chemistry, and to move into a new environment with whole new people and not be able to show off my skills was tough. But everyone welcomed me with open arms. Honestly it turned out really good.”

Training through the winter with the team helped her establish connections with her new teammates. The first race of the spring showed a budding togetherness. It’s made the transition for Hutchinson a little easier and she appreciates the talents of her new teammates.

“As a group, our girls are truly great athletes with Sophie getting out fast with a great start and a beautiful handoff to Megan to get it to me,” said Hutchinson.

“And being third leg to chase the competition down to then hand it off to Kendall who finished strong, I’m so very proud of them and us as a whole.”

PHS came out of the winter looking for major accomplishments this spring. For the first significant meet of the season and coming off spring break, PHS was excited about the potential its athletes showed. It gave the team a good starting point for the outdoor season.

“Almost to a person, everybody really executed race plans and strategies and just performing up to the best of their abilities,” said Samara. “We were firing on all cylinders.”

Samara came into the season confident that the 4×100 relay could be good. Of the quartet that ran Saturday, seniors Rougas and Williamson are veterans for the Tiger relays and Gono is a talented freshman while Hutchinson brings in experience and a passion for track.

“They went out and their handoffs were flawless,” said Samara. “We want to be more aggressive with that and have a chance to go under 50. They went 50.77. With that Penn atmosphere, I definitely think they can.”

The return to racing has brought a familiar feeling back for Hutchinson. She was thrilled to be back on the track competing in the sprints.

“With any race you’re going to have those butterflies and adrenaline,” said Hutchinson. “As a team we were working to stay positive. It all happened so fast. Once it happened, you have to go for it. That’s what we did.”

Hutchinson did her part. She ran the turn to give the baton to Williamson, who’s been one of the top sprinters in the county for years. Once rivals on the track, now they are teammates pulling for the same record goals.

“I feel like a did a really good job running the rest of the teams down to get the last handoff,” said Hutchinson. “I knew she’d come through.”

It was just the way that Samara had envisioned the team looking as they worked together for the first time. Hutchinson filled her role perfectly.

“She was the third leg,” said Samara. “She’s steady and consistent and Kendall is anchoring. We need somebody in there who is able to get the baton to Kendall. Samirah is very, very reliable.”

PHS won’t be resting on one good race. The Tigers see plenty of opportunities ahead and are confident that they can continue to go faster.

“There’s always room for improvement,” said Hutchinson. “We do better every time we run. We try to aim higher and better. As a whole, I was proud of us, for winning or placing top three, whatever the teams got. I was there cheering everybody on. We did such a good job.”

Hutchinson is looking forward to the next chance to race. She was scheduled to compete in Penn Relays her sophomore year when the pandemic shut down one of the biggest meets in the country. She is looking to make the most of her first trip there with her new teammates who are lined up for a big spring after an outstanding showing at the Mercer Relays.

“I think it gives us a huge confidence boost,” said Samara. “Coach [Jim] Smirk and I were talking on Saturday about the mindset we need going into the rest of the season and how much this meet is going to buoy us for the rest of the season confidence wise. It’s clear we have athletes in pretty good shape. We’ve been talking about the mental aspect and to get a good meet in is a good springboard into the bigger meets coming up.”