January 25, 2023

Ospina Posada Wins Girls’ Shot Put with PR As PHS Track Teams Step Up at County Meet

OFF AND RUNNING: Princeton High boys’ track star Ben Gitai, center, takes off in the Mercer County Championships last Sunday at The Bubble in Toms River. Gitai took fourth in the race, helping the PHS boys place seventh in the team standings at the meet. (Photo by Nick Niforatos, provided courtesy of Ben Samara)

By Justin Feil

Izzy Ospina Posada always considered discus her best throwing event, but significant improvement in the shot put this winter had her dreaming big.

The Princeton High junior threw a personal record 33’10½ to win the girls’ shot put by just over three inches at the Mercer County Indoor Championships at The Bubble in Toms River on Sunday.

“It just doesn’t feel real,” said Ospina Posada. “I thought I got second place. Finding out I got first place was amazing. It’s an amazing feeling to win. I’m really proud of myself. It’s amazing.”

Ospina Posada was 10th in the same event at last year’s county meet and never threw over 30 feet in that season. This year, she’s thrown at least 31’7½ in each of four meets and twice thrown over 33 feet now, something she credits to throws coach Brandon Williams.

“Coach Williams became in charge of the winter throws this year and it just completely turned me around because he taught me how to put on good form,” said Ospina Posada. “I was always told, ‘great form,’ but coach Williams corrected it and that’s what got me throwing higher numbers. And we always are in the gym dead lifting and working out really hard. He posts workouts that have shown a lot of progression for all of my teammates.”

Ospina Posada was the lone girl champion for PHS as the squad placed sixth in the team standings at the meet. On the boys’ side, Charlie Howes won the 800 meters in 2:04.40. The senior ran more than two seconds faster than his closest competitor to uphold distance coach Jim Smirk’s prediction.

“On Charlie’s end, we weren’t really sure what he was going to be running as of a couple days before,” said PHS head coach Ben Samara. “Coach Smirk was targeting this 800 and told Charlie he was going to go out there and run 2:04 and win the whole thing. Charlie goes out and runs 2:04 and brings it home. Great job to him for executing that race plan and running a really smart race.”

Robin Roth took third in the girls 3,200 meters in 11:47.89 while Katherine Monroe was fourth in the girls 55-meter hurdles in 9.04 seconds. The girls 4×400 placed sixth in 4:34.47. Macaela Wilton placed sixth in the girls shot put at 30’9.

Zach Deng took fourth in the boys 3,200 meters in 10:14.87 and ran 4:45.41 for sixth in the boys 1,600 meters, the only PHS athlete to medal in two events at counties. Ben Gitai placed fourth in the boys 200 meters in 23.45.

Sawyer Quallen established a new personal record of 42’ 9½ for second in the boys triple jump competition that was held last Thursday. Quallen also ran 6.81 seconds for seventh in the boys 55-meter dash on Sunday, a huge drop from a 7.12
clocking a year ago. PHS placed seventh in boys’ team standings with 27 points.

“The counties is always an important meet for us,” said Samara. “It’s a meet we like to win when we have the chance. It gives our kids championship experience. Right now we’re squarely at the midpoint of our season so we have some big meets on some faster tracks coming in February that we’re really looking forward to. A bunch of people took a step today towards those big meets at the Armory and Ocean Breeze in February.”

PHS will host a regular season meet January 30 at Jadwin Gym at Princeton University before competing in some big meets in February. The Ocean Breeze Invitational is February 4 and the North Shore High School Pre-National Invitational is February 17 and gives PHS a chance to run at the Armory rather than compete in the indoor sectionals this year.

“Numbers are always a little bit down in the winter, but we feel good about the people we have on our team,” said Samara. “Our goal really for the spring is to get everyone healthy, to get Zach Della Rocca back and Andrew Kenny back on the guys side. We have a nice young core of girls that we just want to keep healthy and let them have a successful season through June.”

Ospina Posada is inspired by her shot put success to aim even farther this winter. She was able to overcome a slow start on Sunday to win the competition. She didn’t come in expecting to be the favorite, but she performed like a seasoned athlete.

“Coming into today, I honestly had a lot of energy from the beginning,” said Ospina Posada. “I guess I just woke up in a good mood. But I didn’t think that I was going to get first place. My mindset when I throw is just to throw, like coach Williams says, ‘just focus on your form and your technique and put some strength into it.’ Especially since I fouled my first throw, I thought it was going to be a bad day. But it turned around immediately.”

Ospina Posada spoke to her coaches after her first throw. They got her re-focused on throwing well and she responded well.

“I have a lot of support from coach Williams,” said Ospina Posada. “He gave me a motivational talk, as well as coach Samara. They’re both amazing coaches. They just put me back into the zone that I had to be in. At first, my first throw I was really nervous. My heart was just pounding. I knew it was just a special type of meet, counties and all that, and I also had a lot of support from my teammates. That centered me back. I just focused on my form and focused on getting a mark in.”

Turning her fortunes around quickly is a testament to her development as a complete competitor. She’s gotten stronger in every way, and it paid off in the county meet with significant pressure on her.

“Izzy has come such a long way since she was a freshman,” said Samara. “She’s worked a lot physically and also mentally on her mindset and how she approaches competition. I know myself and the other coaches are so proud of her development as an athlete and as a person. She’s able to really focus now and get big throws when she needs them.”

Ospina Posada has seen progress through her career. She was new to the Cranbury School when she joined the track and field team with a friend in sixth grade. After trying some running events, Ospina Posada gravitated to the throwing events and surprised herself with her potential.

Since coming to PHS, she considered herself a better discus thrower. She placed second in discus at last year’s Central Jersey Group 4 sectional meet. She may look at the shot put more fondly now after experiencing success as a shot putter indoors.

“I am very happy that I won counties,” said Ospina Posada. “It’s a great feeling, but I don’t want it to be my only personality. I want to do more. I want to throw better. Even though I won today, I may not win tomorrow. I want to just keep improving myself.”

Ospina Posada credited the coaching and the group of PHS throwers for helping to motivate and encourage her. The Tigers are helping to push each other to new bests and have the potential to score significantly for the team.

“The group that we have is great,” said Ospina Posada. “Micaela Wilton, she throws a 34. Unfortunately she didn’t throw it today, but she’s an amazing shot put thrower. And she just started last year so it’s insane. We have a sophomore, Sean Wilton, who throws 45,
and that’s just amazing because he’s just a sophomore. He’s going to be throwing over 50 by his senior year. And [Oleg] Brennan, he’s been progressing so well. He finally hit a PR last meet and that’s a great feeling. I think coach Williams has turned everything around. And now there’s more people joining the team so we’re going to be seeing a lot more progression, especially as we go into spring. It’s going to be great.”