For Manalapan’s Mary-Grace Monahan, regardless of the venue or season, the Shore Conference Championships has been a stressful endeavor.
“Before today I’ve never really had a good experience at a Shore Conference meet,” explained Monahan. “This past winter I was sick and didn’t have a chance to run, last year I didn’t run a great race and had it get away from me, last winter was a lot of the same.”
“Even thinking about the race yesterday and this morning, I was sort of cringing knowing that it was the Shore Conference meet, and that I never seem to do as well as I can.”
On Saturday’s edition at Neptune High School, all resignations the junior had about this haunting event were washed away as Monahan raced to a 400-meter crown at blistering pace of 56.90, which proved to be nearly two seconds ahead of Neptune’s Phyllis Gordon (58.46).
“I was very skeptical coming into this,” said Monahan. “But when I stepped to the line, I got really calm, and I knew I was ready to run. If I just ran my own race and focused on what I had to do that I would get it done.”
Monahan’s victory came on the back of a Monmouth County title the week before, in which she raced to a personal-best time in the 400 of 57.46, following a pattern that concerned the junior.
“I didn’t want to let first place slip from me this year and the way I came into the race played out a lot like last year when I won Monmouth County with a personal best,” Monahan said. “I think I was a little overconfident last year and the result discouraged me, but it also made me focus more this time.”
As Monahan tends to do, the junior slowly played the race, not making her final push until the 200-meter mark and chasing the pack down from behind, a maneuver she’s now comfortable with and confident in moving forward.
“This result makes me excited for the state meets coming up,” Monahan said. “I’m building off what I did in the winter, and what I did at Monmouth County, and today. I’m excited to see what the rest of the season will bring.”
Ocean’s Brenna Clark showed a huge drop in time from her sixth-place finish of 2:18.67 at the Monmouth County meet to a first-place personal-best mark on Saturday.
“Words can’t really describe how I feel right now,” Clark said. “I’ve been working so hard to get my times down and if I went out hard and trusted the training I’ve been doing that I would have as much of a chance to win as anyone in the race.”
Clark’s primary goal was to chase down the previous school record of 2:17.02 and let the placement land where it may. Rather than simply matching the pace, the senior shattered it, clocking in at a time of 2:16.61.
Prior to Saturday, Clark had never finished higher than fifth at a Shore Conference meet, which came in the 1,600 back in the 2010 spring season.
“This is really my first time winning anything of note,” said the Lehigh-bound harrier with a grin. “It’s my senior year so I was sort of running out of chances. I’m so happy it finally happened.”
The 400 hurdles event saw hometown representative Kadeem Curtis top a field that included Monmouth County champion Carissa Gray (Middletown South, 1:05.42) in second place, and Ocean County champion Halima Diawara (Toms River North, 1:05.60) in third. Curtis’ mark of 1:05.11 earned the senior her first individual Shore Conference crown in both indoor and outdoor competition.
Curtis also ran the second leg of Neptune’s 4×400 relay alongside teammates Destiny Boynton, Phyllis Gordon and Brietta Wilson, in which the group recorded a first-place finish of 3:53.96.
Neptune rode those first-place finishes to an overall team title, mounting 70 points to Southern’s 53.5, and Middletown South’s 28.
Pinelands’ Lauren Zodl continued to assert herself at the head of the next class of Shore Conference distance harriers, building off a 3,200 victory at the Ocean County Championships (11:13.48) by capturing the Shore Conference 1,600 title in 5:06.08, shaving more than four seconds off her previous personal best.
Coming off a victory in the 100 at the Monmouth County Championships, and a fourth-place finish in the 200, Marlboro’s Kimberly McKinnon was back in the winner’s circle again, running 12.36 in the 100, which was five-one hundredths off her title-winning time of 12.31 at Holmdel High School last week.
Manchester’s Chandler Copeland and Kylie Siemanowicz both took home the gold, the former in the shot put after throwing 39-7.75, and the latter earning a win in the discus by reaching 118-10.
Southern’s Brianna Angellella earned a victory in the high jump, upping her personal-best leap of 5-2, set last week when she won the Ocean County championship, to 5-4.
Matawan’s Nicole Macco propelled herself to a mark of 10-9 to top a pole vault field that included Toms River East’s Julia Schuler in second at 10-6 as well as Claudia Dombrowski of Monsignor Donovan and Kelly McKay of Holmdel, both of whom tied for third at 10-0.