The teams of Toms River North coach Mike Salvaggione and Southern Regional mentor Brian Zatorski have been rivals for many years.
Small wonder there is a mutal admiration society among those involved.
“I go into every season fearing Southern the most,” said Salvaggione, the Mariners’ fifth-year coach. “Brian and I are great friends. We have a great time competing against each other. The first thing I think of as the season starts is, ‘What is Southern bringing back? What can we do to combat the points they will throw at us?’
“It’s always a chess match with them. We always look forward to competing against them and doing the absolutely best we can.”
Zatorski made it clear he has plenty of respect for the team the Mariners will field this year.
“It begins and ends with Toms River North,” the Rams’ 15th-year coach said. “They have several quality athletes in every event. Their depth makes them one of the most complete teams in New Jersey.”
Zatorski said the Rams will be young this season.
“After graduating a talented senior class, we are in a rebuilding year,”he said. “We have a young, but talented, group of nearly 100 athletes. We should be competitive at the Ocean County, Shore Conference and state levels as a team and with our individuals.”
One of the Mariners’ leaders is Karah O’Halloran, who will compete in the 3200-meter run and the 1600. She’s in her fourth season on the team.
“She is a very, very dedicated girl,” Salvaggione said. “She’s outspoken. She can speak for the team. She’s someone who can back it up in the meets. She is someone I can trust.”
Salvaggione said O’Halloran’s strongest event is the 3200.
“She’s an extremely smart, very consistent runner,” he said. “If the pace is too quick, she will never take it out past her ability.”
The Mariners look for junior Tiffany Byrd to score points in the 55 hurdles.
“She is among the top hurdlers in the Shore Conference and South Jersey Group IV,” Salvaggione said. “You can tell she is a natural. She is not scared. She attacks the hurdles very quickly. She has worked out with squats and dead lifts to build her strength and hopefully her speed under Rob Cocci, our strength and throwing coach.”
Another solid North athlete is junior Halima Diawara, who hopes to sparkle in the 400.
“She ran cross country during the fall for the sole purpose of getting in shape for winter track,” Salvaggione said. “She has built a great distance base.”
North junior Sarah Zollner hopes to make an impact in the pole vault after clearing 9-6 last season.
“She has a goal of clearing 10-6,” Salvaggione said. “She picked it up for the first time late last year and ran with it. Despite only competing for a couple of months, she qualified for the Group IV meet. She’s not scared. She’s getting better and better.”
North junior India Jackson looks to score points in the shot put and discus.
“We want her to be a top scorer in the shot put,” Salvaggione said. “She has been working hard on her spin and getting her strength up.”
Salvaggione said the Mariners should field a solid team.
“We have a good mix of older and newer talent,” he said. “I feel we are one big cohesive group. We pride ourselves on always being a team that is competitive and puts its best foot forward in every meet. We want people to see us and say, ‘North is not going to roll over and die.’ We always want people to fear us as a team no matter what the year is.”