For nine years, Dave Sulley and Joe Hehn were good friends and more importantly, comrades in track and field.
Sulley was the head cross country and indoor track coach at Mount Olive, with Hehn as his dutiful assistant.
“Joe is very dedicated and loves the sport,” said Sulley, who moved on two years ago to become the head track coach at Delbarton. “People who love track seem to find each other. We still find time to talk about it. We get together to have dinner regularly. We went to the (United States) Olympic trials together (in Eugene, Oregon two years ago). We’ve been all over the place together. I pick his brains all the time and he does the same with me. It’s a reciprocal relationship.”
“We’re still very good friends,” Hehn said. “I help him with his sprint workouts with his team. We go to clinics together all over during the offseason all the time.”
Monday night, the two friends shared a moment and had something very important in common. Both led their respective teams to victory at the Morris County Relays championships at Drew University.
Delbarton held off a late surge from perennial favorite Randolph to win their second straight county relays title, winning by a 48-46 margin. Morris Hills was third and Morristown fourth.
Mount Olive rode the solid performances of the Marauders’ sprinters and distance runners to win its first team title in 17 years, defeating runner-up Mendham by a 47 ½ to 42 margin, with Morris Hills third.
But the two friends were able to enjoy a county championship at the same time.
“It’s really ironic,” Sulley said. “Joe has done a great job. He has a good group of coaches with him and a great group of girls who have been together for a while. They have a world class performer (Keturah Orji). They had all the pieces in place. It’s really great. It’s the best of both worlds for me, because I could still cheer them on.”
Many of the Mount Olive runners got their start under Sulley’s tutelage.
“It’s a great feeling,” Sulley said.
Hehn echoed that sentiment.
“It’s kind of nice that we both won at the same time,” Hehn said.
The Marauders won gold medals in each of the 4-by-200, 4-by-400 and 4-by-800 meter relays. They also finished second in the sprint medley, which gave them 38 of their eventual 47 ½ team points.
Alicia Warren and Suzanne Nimoh joined Orji in the winning 4-by-200 and 4-by-400 meter relays.
The team of Warren, Nimoh, Orji and Micaela Poggi set a new meet record in the 4-by-200 meter relay, crossing the line in 1:49.13, breaking the old record set by Chatham eight years ago. Alexis Reyes joined Warren, Nimoh and Orji in the winning 4-by-400 relay.
Orji also ran the anchor leg in the sprint medley relay team that finished second.
Hehn said that it’s a great advantage having a superstar performer like Orji.
“No question, Keturah is the best athlete on our team, maybe the entire state,” Hehn said. “And it’s definitely an advantage having her as an anchor. She’s very intimidating. You can’t replace that. Not many teams have an anchor leg like that. She makes me feel very relaxed. Even when we’re a little behind, you know she’s going to make it up. Other teams know they need to have a big lead before she gets out there. But we have some other good sprinters and the distance runners are solid.”
The Marauder distance runners like the Christian sisters, the Schafer sisters and Sarah Masukewicz were all part of the Mount Olive cross country team that captured the overall NJSIAA Group III state championship last November.
“All seven of the distance runners are very good,” Hehn said. “That has helped a lot.”
Lindsay Schafer, Erin Schafer, Sara Christian and Masukewicz formed the quartet that won the 4-by-800 meter relay.
“It was good to have three pairs of fresh legs in that relay,” Hehn said. “We didn’t want to tire anyone out. We were close last year. It’s nice to get it. People said that if we didn’t win this year with these girls, we’d never get it.”
Sulley didn’t know if his team had what it took to repeat as champions.
The Green Wave was without two of their top performers. Sprinter Brendan Kenny missed the meet after undergoing an MRI for an Achilles tendon injury and shot put standout Tommy Rhodes has missed most of the season with a dislocated kneecap.
“I didn’t go in thinking we could do it,” Sulley said. “But the seniors who were on the team last year were determined. They said, ‘We’re the champs and whatever happens, happens.'”
Still, the Green Wave managed to score points throughout, making it a collective effort in securing the second straight team title.
“We didn’t necessarily have to win events to win the title,” Sulley said. “We just needed to get enough of those seconds and thirds. Things just kind of fell our way.”
The Green Wave did win one event — the pole vault relay, with Mike Benz (14 feet) and Chris Beute combining to win the gold.
“We were the defending champions in the meet,” Beute said. “We knew that we were down a few guys. We were not sure we could take it. We knew we had a good distance team. We were molding the rest of the team coming in. But we were definitely apprehensive coming in, knowing that other teams in the county were out to get us.”
“I’m actually not too surprised,” Benz said. “Although we don’t have any superstars on our team, each of us is able to carry our own weight. As the meet went on, we realized that we could do this. Sulley is a great coach. He knows what he’s doing.”
When Benz and Beute went to collect their gold medals, the Green Wave had clinched the team title. Still, they had to survive some tense moments as Randolph won both the high jump and the 4-by-400 meter relay to make things interesting.
In fact, the Rams, who had won the four prior county relay titles before the Green Wave won last year, took home gold medals in three events — the 4-by-200, the 4-by-400 and the high jump — yet came up two points short to Delbarton.
Stephen Nalbach, Nick Ciccaglione and Collin McAlmont were all part of both relay wins. The 4-by-200, which also featured James Lienhardt, crossed the line in 1:35.99 and the 4-by-400, which had Dan Leanza with the other three, won in 3:36.08. Anthony Zarro and Ryan Schuren combined to jump 11-5, an inch better than Whippany Park, to capture the high jump gold.
But Sulley credited the efforts of football standout Matt Oplinger, who helped the Green Wave finish fifth in the high jump. Oplinger was nursing an injury himself and was receiving treatment in the Drew training room right before he jumped. Those two points earned in the high jump provided the impetus for the Green Wave’s second straight team crown.
“It was a total team effort,” Sulley said. “Oplinger is such a gamer that he would run through a brick wall if we asked him to. We placed in every event except one. It’s a great feeling to win again.”
It was the third county title for both schools. Mount Olive’s girls won county relay titles in 1990 and 1997, while Delbarton won in 1976 and last year.
TEAM SCORES: Mount Olive 47 ½; Mendham 42; Morris Hills 30; Randolph 20; Whippany Park 16; Chatham 15; Kinnelon 14; Jefferson and Roxbury 13; Parsippany 12 ½; Villa Walsh 11; West Morris 10; Madison and Morristown 8; Morris Knolls 7; Hanover Park 6; Butler 2; Montville 1.
4×200: 1-Mount Olive (Alicia Warren, Suzanne Nimoh, Micaela Poggi, Keturah Orji) 1:49.13 (new meet record, old record, 1:49.72, Chatham, 2006). 2-Mendham 1:50.72. 3-Villa Walsh 1:54.28. 4-Morris Hills 1:55.39. 5-Jefferson 1:55.76. 6-Roxbury 1:56.08.
4×400: 1-Mount Olive (Alicia Warren, Suzanne Nimoh, Alexis Reyes, Keturah Orji) 4:16.01. 2-Mendham 4:17.49. 3-Morris Hills 4:18.65. 4-Parsippany 4:18.98. 5-Roxbury 4:27.09. 6-Morris Knolls 4:27.37.
4×800: 1-Mount Olive (Lindsay Schafer, Erin Shafer, Sara Christian, Sarah Masukewicz) 10:01.99. 2-Randolph 10:07.58. 3-Morristown 10:12.86. 4-Morris Knolls 10:16.24. 5-Roxbury 10:24.13. 6-Chatham 10:26.01.
SPRINT MEDLEY: 1-Morris Hills (Ashleigh Thurston, Rhianna Follett, Chelsea Jorgensen, Casey Lyness) 4:24.14. 2-Mount Olive 4:29.23. 3-Parsippany 4:29.73. 4-Mendham 4:30.56. 5-Morris Knolls 4:33.96. 6-Jefferson 4:35.58.
DISTANCE MEDLEY: 1-West Morris (Brennan Sharkey, Katie Sabatino, Meghan Lloyd, Kylene Cochrane) 12:38.91. 2-Randolph 12:50.30. 3-Mendham 12:53.84. 4-Mount Olive 12:55.10. 5-Morristown 13:05.87. 6-Parsippany 13:20.96.
SHUTTLE HURDLES: 1-Chatham (Elizabeth Malatesta, Erin O’Connor, Elaine Weaver, Simone Kirton) 34.98. 2-Morris Hills 35.30. 3-Mendham 35.64. 4-Randoloph 36.07. 5-Butler 36.16. 6-Villa Walsh 36.69.
HIGH JUMP RELAY: 1-Whippany Park (Kristen Hall, Gina Della Russo) 10-0. 2-Roxbury 9-2. 3-Kinnelon 9-2. 4-Villa Walsh 8-11. 5-Parsippany and Mount Olive 8-11.
SHOT PUT RELAY: 1-Jefferson (Jordan Wildermuth, Caitlin Noonan) 69-0 3/4. 2-Madison 66-0 1/4. 3-Hanover Park 61-8. 4-Mount Olive 59-4. 5-Morris Hills 58-4. 6-Montville 54-5.
POLE VAULT RELAY: 1-Mendham (Julia Mszanski and Kelly Duggan) 17-6. 2-Kinnelon 17-6. 3-Whippany Park 16-6. 4-Chatham 16-0.
TEAM SCORES: Delbarton 48; Randolph 46; Morris Hills 38; Morristown 30; Madison 24; Mendham 22; Mount Olive 20; Hanover Park 16; Chatham 14; Whippany Park 10; Parsippany 5; Montville 3; Morris Knolls, West Morris and Kinnelon 1.
4×200: 1-Randolph (Stephen Nalbach, Collin McAlmont, Nick Ciccaglione, James Lienhardt) 1:35.99. 2-Hanover Park 1:36.64. 3-Delbarton 1:37.58. 4-Mendham 1:37.99. 5-Madison 1:38.52. 6-Parsippany 1:39.49.
4×400: 1-Randolph (Stephen Nalbach, Dan Leanza, Nick Ciccaglione, Collin McAlmont) 3:36.08. 2-Hanover Park 3:37.64. 3-Mount Olive 3:39.35. 4-Parsippany 3:40.94. 5-Mendham 3:40.96. 6-Morris Hills 3:41.59.
4×800: 1-Morristown (Greg Arabagian, John Vallachi, Evan Quinn, Sean Lyons) 8:22.21 (new meet record, old record, 8:23.25, Morristown, 2010). 2-Delbarton 8:26.97. 3-Chatham 8:34.93. 4-Morris Hills 8:36.78. 5-Randolph 8:45.64. 6-West Morris 8:54.13.
SPRINT MEDLEY: 1-Mendham (Dylan Heraghty, Ian Graham, Sam Curtis, Christian Kildal-Brandt) 3:42.99. 2-Randolph 3:43.13. 3-Delbarton 3:49.04. 4-Madison 3:51.02. 5-Morris Hills 3:53.04. 6-Montville 3:55.40.
DISTANCE MEDLEY: 1-Morristown (Greg Arabagian, John Vallachi, Rudy Torres, Sean Lyons) 10:43.28 (new meet record, old record, 10:46.5, Morris Catholic, 1977). 2-Delbarton 10:55.84. 3-Mendham 11:06.91. 4-Mount Olive 11:07.09. 5-Madison 11:10.11. 6-Morris Hills 11:13.19.
SHUTTLE HURDLES: 1-Madison (Dylan Anderson, Abe Gertler, A.J. Ding, Mat Richards) 31.31. 2-Morris Hills 32.04. 3-Randolph 32.84. 4-Chatham 32.92. 5-Delbarton 33.20. 6-Morristown 33.85.
HIGH JUMP RELAY: 1-Randolph (Anthony Zarro and Ryan Schuren) 11-5. 2-Whippany Park 11-4. 3-Morris Hills 10-11. 4-Chatham 10-10. 5-Delbarton 10-9. 6-Morristown 10-0.
SHOT PUT RELAY: 1-Mount Olive (Ethan Weiss and Matt Kraemer) 100-8 1/4. 2-Morris Hills 92-3 3/4. 3-Delbarton 89-11 3/4. 4-Morristown 89-7. 5-Montville 84-7 1/2. 6-Kinnelon 81-6 3/4.
POLE VAULT RELAY: 1-Delbarton (Mike Benz and Chris Beute) 25-0. 2-Morris Hills 25-0. 3-Madison 23-0. 4-Morristown 21-0. 5-Whippany Park 18-0. 6-Morris Knolls 17-0.