Wilberforce Track Capped Breakthrough Season, Making History in Non-Public State Meet, MOC
FOR THE RECORD: Members of the Wilberforce School girls’ 4×800 relay team show off the medals they earned for placing eighth at the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) Meet of Champions last month. The quartet posted a time of 9:50.26. A week earlier at the Non-Public B championship, the foursome clocked a school-record time of 9:44.3 in placing first, besting the previous meet record of 9:46.45 set by Villa Walsh in 2016. Pictured, from left, are Adeline Edwards, Gwen Mersereau, Sophia Park, and Laura Prothero. (Photo provided courtesy of Lois Szeliga)
By Bill Alden
While the members of the Wilberforce School girls’ 4×800 relay team were thrilled to place first at the Mercer County championship meet in late May, they outdid themselves two weeks later at the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) Non-Public B championship meet.
The quartet of freshman Adeline Edwards, freshman Gwen Mersereau, junior Sophia Park, and senior Laura Prothero not only placed first, they set a school and meet record of 9:44.3, besting the previous meet record of 9:46.45 set by Villa Walsh in 2016.
In reflecting on the fab four’s historic effort, Wilberforce head coach Lois Szeliga sensed that they were primed to do something special.
“All of those girls who came in third (Mersereau), fourth (Edwards) and fifth (Park) were really fired up for this 4×8,” said Szeliga, noting that the three runners just missed making the Meet of Champions individually.
“It is the end of the season and they want those fast times. They were so motivated to go out there, even though they were all by themselves. Each of them wanted to run the fastest leg that they could. They won and they were so excited but then to find out that they broke the meet record was great. It is great to have something on the books like that.”
The Wilberforce 4×400 relay of Edwards, Mersereau, junior Georgianna Pandolfo, and sophomore Maria Madigan also made some program history as they placed first.
“That time was 4:09.81, which was also a school record,” said Szeliga. “That was a very exciting race to close it all down.”
In the team standings at the meet, tiny Wilberforce, which has about 100 students in its upper school, placed a strong fourth with 52 points with St. Rose taking third with 52.50, Villa Walsh taking second with 56 and Morris Catholic piling up 83 in finishing first.
“The most important thing that represents is that more athletes are contributing to the team now,” said Szeliga.
“We had our first sprint qualifier for the MOC with Maria Madigan in the 400. We ended up having our first state medal in the throws with Jenna Fischer taking fifth in the discus. Laura got sixth in the 3,200. We had those three girls medal in the 800. It is just having more events represented.”
Two of the major individual highlights came with Park taking second in the 1,600 in 5:25.65 and Madigan’s runner-up finish in the 400 with a time of 1:00.62.
“Sophia was coming after the 4×800; she knew she had to push the pace on the third lap in order to get second and automatically qualify,” said Szeliga. “She ran a perfect strategic race, she went when she had to go. Madigan has dropped her time by four seconds this year which is huge for such a short race. She is a very strong leg on the 4×4. She is really coming into her own and she is young.”
The Wilberforce boys also produced some strong performances at the Non-Public meet. Junior Jeremy Sallade took second in both the 800 (1:56.81) and 1,600 (4:32.63) while sophomore Caleb Brox was third in the 800 (1:59.92) and fifth in the 1,600 (4:40.50). The boys’ 4×800 relay of sophomore Matthias Damrau, senior Andrew Madigan, Brox, and Sallade placed third in 8:36.01 and qualified for the MOC as a wild card.
“Caleb broke two minutes in the 800 which is huge, he was really happy about that,” said Szeliga, whose boys’ squad placed sixth in the team standings at the Non-Public meet. “Then he and Jeremy did well in the 4×800 as we qualified for the MOC with that race. It is always a balance with the individual events and the relays. We were really focused on the individual events with the boys and then we looked at the times and we said we had a chance of qualifying in the 4×800.”
Concluding its season by competing in the Meet of Champions on June 18 at Franklin High, Wilberforce made some more history.
The quartet of Prothero, Park, Edwards, and Mersereau placed eighth in the 4×800 in 9:50.26. In addition, sophomore Maria Madigan took 11th in the 400 in 1:01.51 with Sallade finishing 11th in the 800 in 1:59.01.
“That relay was our first medal at the MOC (a top 8 finish), that was the cherry on top,” said Szeliga.
“It is just amazing, it is one of those things. It is a privilege to be there. It is exciting to be there, it was exciting to have so many kids. We had 11 from our team.”
The squad felt privileged to keep training after the school year concluded.
“We are at practice every day because everybody has been home for weeks,” said Szeliga. “It really has a camp feel. We are the only ones practicing at school. We had a beach day where we ran at the beach.”
“It was historic for our school,” said Szeliga, noting another first for the program as two of her senior athletes are going on the compete in college with Prothero headed for Wheaton and distance runner Andrew Madigan going to Franciscan.
“Especially coming off the girls winning the Non-Public state cross country championship to add to more state championships in the 4×8 and 4×4 for the girls. To have so many athletes represented on the highest level of track is a blessing and a gift. It is very exciting and inspiring.”
In Szeliga’s view, Wilberforce’s success this spring can the spark program’s athletes to reach a higher level going forward.
“That is what I like about the relays,” said Szeliga. “It gives an opportunity to some of these younger kids to make it. I can see it inspire them. The ones who were at the MOC last year were inspired this year. There is something about it that really makes you aware of what you can do.”
The inspirational performances of the Wolverines are making people around the state aware of them.
“It was a fantastic season, even the NJSIAA officials were saying to us last year was your first year here and now you are back,” said Szeliga. “There is definitely name recognition, people are starting to know who and where we are.”