April 26, 2023

With Senior Star Kenny Getting Back Up to Speed, PHS Track Shows Progress at Mercer County Relays

First PHS finisher

FINISHING KICK: Princeton High boys’ distance running star Andrew Kenny, right, edges Shaurya Srivastava of WW/P-South at the Mercer County cross country championship meet in 2021. Last Saturday, senior star Kenny helped the PHS distance medley relay quartet place first at the Mercer County Relays. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Justin Feil

Andrew Kenny helped the Princeton High boys’ distance medley relay win at the Mercer Count Relays last Saturday, thrilled to finally be contributing again to the Tiger squad.

It’s something that the PHS senior has been missing the most while sidelined for the cross country and indoor track and field seasons due to a hip injury.

“I know my teammates won’t want me to say this – but feeling like I let down my teammates because we were in such a good spot to do such great things in cross and winter track and I just wasn’t there for them,” said Kenny.

“Obviously whenever I bring that up to them, they’re like ‘no, you’re good, it happens.’ But obviously I’m going to have that guilt.”

Kenny is back on the track and looking to finish his senior year well before he continues running cross country and track at Northeastern University. It’s been a long wait for his return. Kenny reached the Meet of Champions in outdoor track last spring after placing sixth in the 800 meters in the Group 4 meet with a personal-record 1:55.71. But it wasn’t long after that he had to stop training due to tendinitis in his hip, and the subsequent parade of imaging and diagnosis and physical therapy cost him the first two seasons of his final PHS year.

“It was super frustrating,” said Kenny. “One of the biggest things keeping me motivated was knowing my teammates were there for me and when I was coming back they were going to help me. Every day at practice is super fun with them. It’s kept me going.”

Kenny led off the distance medley relay with a 3:17 split for the 1,200-meter leg. Josh Barzilai, Marty Brophy and Charles Howes followed as the Tigers won handily in 10:49.37. The race was another step forward for Kenny, who wanted to go faster but is excited to be competing again.

“Honestly it feels amazing,” said Kenny. “I’m not really too worried about my times right now because it’s kind of a funny feeling just racing in the first place. And I’m really only on two weeks of solid training. It feels great.”

The race was part of a solid day for the Tigers boys and girls in the competition held at Lawrence High. The DMR was one of three relays that won from the school.

“We did a lot of things that we wanted to do at the relay meet,” said PHS head coach Ben Samara.

“We had some nice surprises, some good performances and some things we want to work on, which is typical of an early season meet. But we were happy with how the day went.”

Henry Zief and Devin Levy won the boys javelin relay. Zief had the top throw of the day, 145’ 10, and Levy threw 133’3, the second best overall throw of the meet.

“Something that might not be readily visible in the results was the top throw from Henry Zief was off three steps because he has a groin injury that he’s working through,” said Samara.

“By far, the furthest throw, coming off only three steps, shows what his talent is and how he’s far and away the best javelin thrower in the county right now. We’re hoping he can get healthy and really let it rip soon.”

The PHS girls won the 4×100 shuttle hurdle relay in 1:10.15 with its quartet of Katherine Monroe, Chiara Lavino, Grace DeFaria and Ava Tabeart. Macaela Wilton and Isabella Ospina Posada took second place in the girls shot put. Wilton’s 34’4 throw was second best individually. Grace DeFaria and Chiara Lavino combined for third in the girls high jump. The girls DMR of Robin Roth, Brielle Moran, Ava Tabeart and Lucy Kreipke took fifth in 13:30.33. Macaela Wilton had one of the top throws in the girls discus of 86’9.

“The girls shuttle hurdles was a nice surprise,” said Samara. “Then we had a couple second-place relays and a couple third-place relays. It was a pretty good overall performance. Most of the spots where we put our A relays out, we were able to place pretty highly. We were happy with that. We’re looking in terms of our athletes’ development for themselves, not as much against the other teams. That will come later on.”

Ishaq Inayat had the fifth best boys’ triple jump of 37’1.5 and Drew Pianka jumped 36’3 to help PHS place third in the relay. The boys 4×100 of Pianka, Benjamin Gitai, Sawyer Quallen and Zach Della Rocca was fifth in 44.19 seconds. Michael Bao threw 105’1 and Sean Wilton threw 104’9 to combine for fifth in the boys discus. Bao and Wilton were sixth in the boys shot put. It was enough to build confidence for the bigger meets later in the spring.

“I think we learned that we have a real shot of doing well in the 4×8 at states,” said Kenny.

“I think I learned that I have a good shot at something at groups. The boys 4×1 ran great. And the thing about a state championship is you really only need one guy for a sprinter. Zach can run the 1, 2 and 4 and get us 25 points. He got third last year in the 4, so he has a pretty high ceiling there.”

Kenny has been forced to relearn form to avoid reinjuring his hip. He explains that he was externally rotating his hip and landing on the outside of his feet, which caused too much external rotation in his hip and the injury. The physical therapy did not go quickly for him.

“The first two months, I didn’t see any progress,” said Kenny. “I was doing form drills, I was run/walking, I was trying my hardest, I was super focused on my runs trying to fix it, and I really wasn’t seeing that much progress. About two months in, suddenly something just clicked and all the work I’d done that I didn’t realize would work, worked. It started to feel good and I quickly ramped up my mileage from there.”

Kenny returned to the track for the first time with a 4:41.30 clocking in the 1,600 meters in a batch meet with West Windsor-Plainsboro High South earlier this month. At their next batch meet, he ran 2:01 in the 800 meters on an especially gusty day.

“It was honestly a huge confidence booster because I did not think I was that fast already,” said Kenny.

Kenny is getting back into full training and racing and the Mercer Relays helped him continue to gear up.

“My splits honestly were not that good at all, but it was a confidence booster in a way,” said Kenny. “I went 63-70-62 which is horrible, but closing in 62 in super strong headwinds, and without them it’s probably like 58-59, I’ll take that. I’m still learning how to race again. There wasn’t any competition either.”

Kenny’s return to competition gives the Tigers a boost. PHS had hoped he would be able to return sooner this year, and they are happy that he will be able to help the distance runners this spring.

“He’s definitely the leader of that group, and I know they’ve been waiting for him to come back,” said Samara.

“It puts that top line guy on, we add the depth on, and if everybody can stay healthy – which is a big if – I think we can make a run at the county title on the guys’ side.”

Kenny is more focused on the team goals than his individual marks, but knows that he will have to run well to help the Tigers meet their aspirations. The team goals are a big part of his motivation now as he works himself into shape.

“I would say I’m probably only at about 60 percent right now,” said Kenny.

“I hit 40 miles last week, and I’ll hit 30-something this week. I’m still honestly not fully up to speed yet but I think I’ve learned as a runner. I’ve grown with a lot of PT stuff. I lifted all throughout being injured so I’m stronger now. I think goals for this season would probably not be any time goals because I don’t know what I can do, but probably make Meet of Champs. As a team, we really want to make Nationals in 4xmile or the DMR, or make Meet of Champs in the 4×8.”

If his training goes well, Kenny hopes to be able to run similarly to last year. He would like the chance to finish his season on the biggest stage.

“I don’t want to set a time goal or specific place, but I think I have a true shot at a really great place at groups,” said Kenny. “I got sixth last year so I can’t see why I don’t repeat that.”

Kenny’s return has given PHS a lift as it heads into May. He’s one of their main pieces who can impact how well the team does this season.

“That hip injury was really difficult for him,” said Samara, who will be entering the 4×100 and 4×400 relays at Penn Relays later this week before hosting Nottingham in a meet at Princeton University on May 1.

“He spent so much time breaking down every little part of his running form. He’s really recreated his running style to avoid these injuries again. It’s taken so much discipline and so much hard work on his part, we’re really proud of him. He should be proud of himself. There are not a lot of athletes that would be able to stay the course with something like that for so long during their senior season. I think he’s really going to start popping off soon.”