Many of the members of the Morris Hills boys’ indoor track team that captured the Morris County championship, the North 1, Group II title and second overall in the Group II championships have graduated.
The close-knit Scarlet Knight group that stuck together to become the best indoor track team in Morris County has been decimated by the pomp and circumstance of last June’s commencement exercises.
But don’t begin to feel sorry for veteran coach Sean Robinson and his perennially strong program. They intend on being just as competitive this year as last.
“We actually have two key members back in Greg Leeper and Travis Ellis,” Robinson said. “Both of them have incredible range in the events they can run. They are deadly on the track. Travis right now is so far ahead of what (former Meet of Champions winner) Liam Tansey was in his senior year. He’s at a different level than what he was last year and he was a Group II champion. I think he’s that much better.”
Robinson also sings the praises of Leeper, who can do a little bit of everything from sprints to hurdles to high jump to relays.
“Leeper is a phenomenal leader,” Robinson said. “He gets it and realizes his importance. With his leadership and Travis’ talent and work ethic, we should be fine.”
The Scarlet Knights have also been aided by the addition of top shot putter Grant Sanchez, who has transferred to Morris Hills from Montville. Sanchez was among the top five throwers in the county last winter and gives the Scarlet Knights some needed depth in the field positions.
“We were fortunate to bring in a classy kid like Grant,” Robinson said. “It makes my job so much easier and enjoyable.”
The Scarlet Knights also have a top pole vault competitor in Jordan Pacheco, quality distance runners Robert Biro and Matthew Weintraub and middle distance runner Connor McLain and they have the makings of another championship contender.
“We’re definitely excited,” said Robinson, who will bring his team to the season opening meet, the O’Leary Lid Lifter tomorrow at Drew University. “We have great chemistry and we’re working hard. I think it’s a special crew who really want it bad. I think people are going to figured that out early that we’re going to be pretty tough. We have a lot of speed. We have a lot of kids who have scoring ability. We have cross country kids who are actually better on the track. It’s a good crew.”
Last year’s top local girls’ indoor track team, Mendham, also appears to be extremely strong once again this season, thanks to the litany of standout distance runners like Mackenzie Barry, the All Daily Record Indoor Track Girl Athlete of the Year last winter, Abby Seel and Reagan Kolakowski, all of whom are coming off phenomenal cross country seasons.
“I think we will be very strong again,” veteran Mendham head coach Roy Hamblen said. “Of course, we’ll be strong in the distance races, but we also have a good pole vault and a good high jumper. I think we’ll be tougher than we were last year.”
Another key performer will be junior Laura Papili, who did run cross country to get ready for the indoor season, but battled illness throughout the fall and never really got on track.
However, Hamblen thinks Papili has recovered and been solid in training.
“She looks great,” Hamblen said. “Being a sprinter, I think it took her a while to get used to distance runner. But she has recovered from her illness and she’s in great shape and looks great on the track. She’s stronger now than she’s ever been. She’ll be a bigger threat.”
Sophomore Audrey O’Neill will be a contender in the middle distance races, along with junior Callie Heffernan, who missed all of last indoor season due to an injury.
Junior Margo Medenbach and sophomore Sierra Tonnessen, half of the county’s best relay team from last winter, also return. Medenbach will also compete in the 600 and 800-meter runs.
Hamblen was encouraged that Papili and Kolakowski have both been working on the high jump as well.
The pole vault threat comes from freshman Julia Mszanski, who has already cleared 10 feet in workouts.
“I think we have a lot more depth than last year,” said Hamblen, whose team won all the local team titles last winter and finished second at the North 2, Group III and third at the overall Group III championships. “If we can dominate the distance races like I think we can, I think that makes us hard to beat.”