A simple piece of jewelry served as the primary motivation for the Buena Regional High School girls’ track and field team on Saturday.
Even down to the final race, the 4×400-meter relay, with the Group II team title essentially already in hand, the Chiefs were pushing to win just one more of the gold watches, which are awarded for first-place finishers at the Woodbury Relays.
Buena went into the 4×400 knowing scoring any points would lock up their first title since 1998. Anchor leg Andrea Olsen, who already had a watch of her own, took the baton in second place and ran a split of 56 seconds to burst into first over Pleasantville and put the exclamation point on the day.
“I specifically remember at the (150-meter mark) today that Mel (Melinda Mangiaracina) needed a watch because she was the only one on the (4×400 team) that didn’t get a watch,” Olsen said. “I put in my head that Mel needed a watch. So really that was my motivation.”
The team of Mangiaracina, Aly Dickson, Casey Sturts and Olsen ran a 4:05.59.
Buena finished with 52 points. Second-place Woodstown had 33. The Chiefs won three events — the 4×400, shuttle hurdles and 4×800 — but they didn’t finish lower than fifth in any race.
“I think it’s definitely a spirit booster,” Olsen, a senior, said. “I think it proves we have good depth on the team and, all-around, we’re just good.”
“It means a lot because I’ve come here every year and we finally won it,” junior Lisa Testa said. “That was one of the goals we had, because we’ve always come so close.”
The biggest difference from previous years was the strength of the distance teams. In addition to the squad of Kristin Siegle, Gina Testa, Janessa Biondi and Lisa Testa winning the 4×800 in 10:12.2, the distance medley and sprint medley (which includes an 800-meter anchor leg) both placed third.
“This year, the distance runners have gotten better,” Lisa Testa said. “Now we’re kind of deep in all the events.”
Olsen, Dickson and Sturts were double winners. They were joined by Tiffany Brown on the winning shuttle hurdles team, which crossed the line in 1:07.71.
“We’ve had a core of four runners in the past and they’ve done well in the shuttles, they’ve done well in the (4×200) and they’ve done well in the (4×400), but this year our distance runners … they were able to make a bigger impact, which made it an entire team effort this year,” Buena coach Stephanie Winkler said.
■ The Millville girls placed second to state powerhouse Columbia in the Group IV standings. The Thunderbolts won the shuttle hurdles in 1:05.99 and the sprint medley in 4:11.32. My’Angel Davis and Rachell Armstead were part of both teams.
“Winning the sprint (medley) was our goal coming in,” Davis said. “We’re trying to qualify for nationals and we’re trying to see what we can run as a team this year.”
According to Millville coach Raffael Craig, the time was good enough for the team to qualify for the New Balance nationals in North Carolina.
“That’s really a big deal because we have girls who have never went to nationals and we’re just trying to broaden our team and get everybody experience,” Davis said.
■ On the boys’ side, Vineland’s Lamar Finney, Chris Atoki, Christian Castro and Leaquan James Jr. continued their dominance of the sprint medley. The quartet was the fastest in Group IV, making it three straight weeks and three straight big meets in which Vineland has won the event. At Woodbury, the team turned in a season-best time of 3:34.03.
“It feels good to keep winning,” Finney said. “We didn’t have many workouts this week because we had dual meets back-to-back-to-back. But knowing we can keep running consistent times and stay up there, it makes us real confident for what we can do this year.”
■ The Buena boys, who scored just two points in the meet last year, compiled 24 and placed fourth overall in Group II this time around. The effort was highlighted by a gold-watch performance in the shuttle hurdles. The team of Nate Niederhofer, Mike Torres, Rayshawn Scott and Kaeshaun Deal turned in a time of 1:05.7.
“Our team really came through today, we really did,” Deal said. “That’s one of the best relay races I ever did.”
Deal, the anchor leg, had to pass a Sterling runner to secure the victory.
“I was scared because I thought we were going to lose,” Deal said. “In my mind, I was like, ‘We want watches, we gotta do this, we gotta get this done.’ I caught him, I was happy.”
■ Delsea’s Josh Awotunde prevailed in the boys’ discus in a battle of three of the state’s top throwers. The senior threw 181 feet, 1 inch to top James Plummer of Egg Harbor Township (174-4) and Bridgeton’s Braheme Days Jr. (167-5).
“Every big meet like this is going to be competition like this with these guys,” Awotunde said. “I’m very happy I came out on top, but now I focus on next week because I know, any week, these guys can get me.”
Awotunde’s throw ended up just three inches short of the meet record of 181-4, set by Ray Wilks of Bridgeton in 1995.
Days came back in the shot put and posted a season-best mark of 62-6 to win. Awotunde was third with a throw of 56-21/2.
“Today, that is the furthest I’ve thrown this season, so I can’t be too upset,” Days said. “This week, we practiced really, really hard. We were expecting to do pretty well. If all that hard work got me a foot, I’ll take it because it’s a foot further than I threw last week. And if you keep working hard, those feet are going to add up.”