The Vineland High School boys’ 4×800 relay squad has felt it had something to prove all year.
But after Monday, there’s nothing more the foursome can accomplish.
The team of Lamar Finney, Zaquell Curtis, Mark Groshev and Leaquan James Jr. ran a school-record time of 7:48.25 to win the Meet of Champions at Carl Sandburg Middle School in Old Bridge. The meet, originally scheduled for Thursday, was held Monday after two postponements due to weather.
“It’s surreal, I still can’t believe it,” Finney said. “All year we’ve been working to go under 7:50.”
The team is the first relay squad from Vineland to win at the MofC and the first Vineland gold medalists since Robert Hargrove won the 100 and 200 in 1996. The old school record of 7:52 was set in 2010.
The team didn’t run at the Penn Relays despite running a time good enough to qualify. Since so many teams ran fast enough to make it into the meet, the standard was moved up. The Fighting Clan then ran fast enough to still qualify but it was too late.
“In our heads, no one knew what we could do,” Curtis said. “So every time we ran the 4×800, we had to attack it.”
James, who qualified in both the 400 and 800 individually, opted out of both races in order to give full effort in the relay.
“I wanted it bad, I dropped those two because this is a team sport,” James said.
James took the baton for the final leg in fourth place and started his kick just after the 200-meters-to-go mark. He passed two runners over the final 100.
“They pushed me,” James said. “All I was thinking was, ‘Win, win, win.’ I wasn’t going to let my team down. I’m the anchor, I can’t let them down.”
James, who had an unofficial split of 1:53.7, even surprised his teammates with how much he had left in the tank for the final part of the race.
“I know he had a kick, but he kicked early,” Curtis said. “But he wouldn’t have caught them if he didn’t kick so early.”
Finney ran a personal-best split of 1:55.9, roughly three seconds faster than his previous best. Curtis ran just over a 1:56 and Groshev crossed in a little over 2:02.
Vineland’s Maria Jimenez capped her sensational season in the javelin with a silver medal at the MofC.
Jimenez threw 143 feet, 9 inches, behind only Garfield’s Shauntierah Douglas, who threw 150-3.
“I feel OK, I can’t be mad,” Jimenez said. “I did what I could do today, and second in the Meet of Champs, I can’t really complain about that.”
Jimenez was in second after the preliminary throws, but uncorked her best throw of the day on her second throw in the finals. She sat about two feet in front of Douglas going into the final throws of the day.
Jimenez was unable to improve on her final attempt and Douglas took advantage, reaching back and hurling a throw of 150-3 to take the gold medal.
Her first throw of the day was only in the 120’s, and while she consistently added to that mark on her ensuing throws, she wasn’t able to come close to the state-record mark of 160-8, which she threw earlier this year.
■ Millville’s Ashli Weems placed third in the girls’ discus with a throw of 125-6. Weems qualified for the meet last year, but didn’t place.
“It feels good, as a junior, to place third at the Meet of Champs,” Weems said.
Weems said she gained valuable experience the year before, which let her relax and throw well this time around.
“Last year, I was real nervous, and I think that’s what got me,” Weems said. “I didn’t know how to compete. Having that experience from last year got me more prepared for this year.”
Weems’ teammate Alexis Kennedy, who was among the top seeds in the shot put and discus, didn’t compete due to an illness.
■ Delsea’s Josh Awotunde threw 169-5 to place fourth in the boys’ discus. Fellow Crusader Sabrina Burrell placed fourth in the girls’ long jump with a mark of 18-2 1/2.
■ The Buena girls’ 4×400 squad of Casey Sturts, Emely Ramirez, Andrea Olsen and Helena Leyrer ran a school-record 3:53.32 and placed sixth.