It was a great day for both the Mount Olive boys and girls track team Saturday at the Pietrewicz Polar Bear Invitational meet at Drew University.
First, Eddie Garcia paved the way in the 600-meter run, crossing the line in 1:26.35, almost a full second ahead of runner-up Nigel Burgess of Passaic County Tech.
Garcia is beginning to realize that he is among the premier middle distance runners and not just a middle of the pack competitors.
“It’s impressive how much I’m doing this year compared to last year,” Garcia said. “I kept getting a lot of seconds and thirds, but I never won. I kept working hard in the off-season and now, I’m at the top.”
Garcia said that he’s doing more track workouts instead of doing distance work.
“It’s really helped, because I feel I’m sprinting against the distance runners,” Garcia said. “I’ve been working on my speed and my kick.”
It was Garcia’s tremendous kick that carried him to victory Saturday. He also helped the Marauders take second in the 4×200-meter relay with a time of 1:37.32, running the anchor leg in that relay, showing immense versatility in the process. Garcia was never known to be a sprinter, but now he’s running any race from 200 meters to 1,600.
“I can do the 600, the 800, the 1,000, the 1,600,” Garcia said. “My goal is to win the county in any of those events. I still need to get my times down, but I’m definitely happy with the win today.”
As well Garcia should be proud. He’s now catapulted himself into the mix of the county’s top middle distance competitors.
As for Orji, everyone knows that she’s the premier sprinter and top versatile performer in the county. She got the chance to do so last spring, when she was named the All Daily Record Outdoor Track Athlete of the Year.
But it was last indoor season when Orji went from the girl with the name no one could say or spell to a true queen of the sport. Now, everyone watches her and follows her every move. That’s what happens when you become a superstar.
“I don’t change my approach at all, but there’s definitely pressure on me now,” said Orji, who won two gold medals Saturday, capturing the 55-meter dash and helping Mount Olive to blaze through the 4×200-meter relay, running the anchor leg and closing the deal much like Mariano Rivera has done countless times for the Yankees.
“Everyone knows me now,” said Orji, still only a junior. “That puts the pressure on me. It’s not really tough, but it does motivate me, because people now expect so much from me.”
Orji said that she spent the fall season playing volleyball, a sport that really didn’t enhance her immense running skills.
“I was pretty good in volleyball,” said Orji, who was an outside hitter for the Marauders. “I enjoy playing volleyball a lot, but during the season, I don’t do much running.”
However, Orji, who ran a sizzling 7.45 seconds to win the 55-meter dash and enabled the Marauders’ 200-meter relay team to post a 1:50.59 winning time, feels that she’s a better runner this year than last.
“I’m definitely feel like I’m better, even though my times don’t say so,” Orji said. “I have to work more on my starts. I know my potential and I know I can do better. I feel like I’m strong and I like the way I’m running.”
Orji was joined on the winning relay team by Alicia Warren, Kelli Sagi and Suzanne Nimoh.
Other Marauder girls to fare well Saturday includes Sarah Masukewicz, who was second in the 600-meter run in 1:42.96 and Marissa Karl, who was second in the 1,600-meter run in 5:16.62, just behind winner Claudia DiSomma of Sparta.
Besides Garcia, the Mount Olive 4×200-meter relay team of J.J. Moore, Joseph Ulbrich, Justin Maksimow and Robert Shannon finished fourth behind winner Hunterdon Central, Montville and Morristown.
Randolph senior Sam Kaplan, the defending county champion in the shot put, unleashed a personal-best of 55 feet even to capture the gold medal in that event.
“I’m definitely thrilled,” said Kaplan, who just threw 51-4 on Thursday at the Passarelli Invitational. “I know I can do more. I feel that with the holiday break, I’m getting so much more practice time and that has helped. I wasn’t feeling good Thursday, but today, I just felt great.”
Kaplan knows that the shot put event locally is heavily contested.
“We have about five, six, maybe seven guys who I’m in a bunch with,” Kaplan said. “It’s going to be a battle. That motivates me even more. I’m just fine tuning things now. I’ve also been hitting the weight room hard, putting in the extra time. I’m hoping I can do a lot more.”
Kaplan, who is an excellent student (3.6 grade point average, 30 on the ACT), is hoping to go to Bucknell, Penn or Lehigh and compete in track rather than football, even though he was a standout two-way lineman for the Rams in the fall.
“Hopefully, I will know more about college in the next two weeks,” Kaplan said.
He’s not settling at 55 feet.
“I know I can do more in the next couple of weeks,” Kaplan said.
Grant Sanchez of Morris Hills was second with a throw of 53-2½.
Dan Barreira was sick and tired of being a runner-up.
“I’ve finished second, third, fourth, what have you,” said the Hanover Park senior. “Ever since my sophomore year, I’ve been settling for anything, even sixth. My goal this year is to go to the county and do something great there to prove that I’m one of the best.”
Saturday, Barreira finally got his chance to collect a gold medal. He won the 55-meter hurdles in 8.19 seconds, ahead of runner-up Justin Gale of Roxbury.
But there was a twinge of ambiguity in Barreira’s voice after he collected his first gold medal.
“This one doesn’t feel as good, because the best competitors weren’t here,” said Barreira, mentioning that Jules Hislop of Delbarton and Greg Leeper of Morris Hills didn’t enter yesterday’s meet. “I didn’t run a PR and the others weren’t here.”
However, Barreira backpedaled a little after he collected the medal.
“It does feel good to get first for once,” Barreira said. “It would have been better if they were here and I got it, but I’ll take it. It’s better than any bronze I’ve gotten. It definitely pushes me to do more. I’m pretty pumped right now. If I can get to 7.9 seconds, then I’ll be up there with them.”
The victory Saturday definitely opens that door.
“It’s a good day,” Barreira said. “I’ll settle for first place.”
Roxbury’s Kyle Young continued his mastery of the 55-meter dash. The track newcomer is getting more and more comfortable with winning, as he took home the gold Saturday in 6.86 seconds. Kamau Dumas of Morristown was third.
Morris Hills senior Travis Ellis looked sensational in winning the 1,000-meter run, sprinting to the finish line a full five seconds ahead of the rest of the field. Ellis crossed the line in 2:37.15, just a few hundredths of a second off the meet record.
Randolph’s Liz Wellman won the 1,000-meter run in 3:06.16. Teammate Samantha Karl was second in the 55-meter hurdles in 8.89 seconds.
Sophomore Monica Benz of Villa Walsh won the pole vault, clearing 8-6.
The Whippany Park relay team of Katherine Cantrell, Rose Nixon, Lauren Schanz and Gina Dello Russo finished second in the 4×400-meter relay in 4:30.20, behind winner Hunterdon Central.