They were dancers and gymnasts – flexible, detail-oriented and willing to learn. Now they’re triple jumpers for Middlesex High School’s girls track team, and those old disciplines helped open the door to success.
“When they get ready in warm-ups, you can tell,” Blue Jays coach Darren Lewis said. “They do a muscle memory routine. The gymnasts bounce up and down, like they’re getting ready to vault. The dancers do a curtsy.”
As a Group I with a limited athlete pool, Middlesex is an unlikely candidate to thrive in an event as specialized as the triple jump. Yet the Blue Jays enter today’s Greater Middlesex Conference Relays as the defending champ in the three-girl event. A victory 10 days ago at the Raider Relays indicates they’re primed to keep the feel-good story going.
“The bigger teams might have one superstar who jumps 35, 36 feet, but our girls are consistent,” Lewis said. “They’re not going to pop those huge numbers but that’s the benefit of a relay – we don’t have that fall-off.”
Last year Ashley Brower, Melissa Brower and Amelia Jennings combined for a winning distance of 99-1. Melissa Brower and Jennings are back, although Jennings has been fighting through a hip flexor injury. At the Raider Relays, senior Giana Guarino teamed with Brower for 65-6 triumph.
“Giana has been a workhorse for us for the past four years,” Lewis said. “Last year she had some injuries so I pulled her out of the triple jump (at the GMC Relays) and put Melissa in. That meet basically gave Melissa the confidence she needed. It felt great that we won, but I felt bad Giana wasn’t a part of that. At the end of the season Giana popped a 33 so that put her close to where Ashley was.”
Success is contagious, and first-year Middlesex boys head coach P.J. Jankowicz is hoping it spreads to his program. Jankowicz knows what it takes, having served as an assistant in model programs at Hillsborough and South Brunswick. As an assistant football coach at Middlesex, he’s gotten some players out for the throws. As a teacher of world cultures and personal finance, he’s talked some of his soccer-playing students into lacing up spikes.
The biggest thing he learned at South Brunswick and Hillsborough, Jankowicz said, was to give every kid on the roster equal attention because, “they may not be able to help you today or tomorrow, but later in the season or in their careers, if they keep working, you never know who will.”
Exhibit A is the girls program, where gymnasts and dancers are collecting gold medals in the sand pit.
“That’s been a tremendous example for our guys,” Jankowicz said. “As a Group I school at county relays or championships we’re going against a ton of big schools, but they show it’s possible. Is it going to happen every year? No. But that’s certainly something we’re going to strive for.”