Heading down to the NJSIAA Non-Public B indoor track and field state championships at the Bennett Center in Toms River, veteran Villa Walsh head coach Rick Synold thought his team had a chance to do well, despite never having captured an indoor state title before.
“I always told our kids that to get better, you have to compete against the best,” Synold said. “Well, we compete against Morris County teams all season, so that gets us right.”
Synold also had a good feeling about his team’s chances after winning the NJSIAA Non-Public B state relays on Jan. 18.
“We started looking at it that day and realized that we had enough horses to get it done with our ‘Pack Attack,'” Synold said of the Vikings, who look to train and compete together in a pack. “We have the ability to score in practically every event.”
It was that mentality that helped the Vikings secure their first-ever indoor track state championship, easily outdistancing runner-up Eastern Christian by a 72-44 margin.
It was truly a team effort by the Vikings, spearheaded by the efforts of Mary Lynch, who secured three medals on the day, finishing third in the 800-meter run and second in both the 1,600-meter and 3,200-meter runs.
“She’s willing to do anything,” Synold said. “If we asked her to throw the shot (put), she would. I asked her, ‘How would you like to run all three (races)?'”
Synold didn’t have to wait for Lynch’s reply.
“She said, `You bet,'” Synold said. “That’s the kind of kid she is.”
Lynch’s performance enabled the Vikings to secure 22 of Villa Walsh’s 72 team points.
Another key contributor was Monica Benz, who won the high jump by clearing five feet even and finished second in the pole vault by clearing 11 feet. Benz’s performance gave the Vikings an additional 18 points, so between Lynch and Benz, the Vikings almost had the meet clinched on the results of their two top competitors.
“But we got contributions from a lot of girls,” Synold said. “Julia DiGirolamo is what I call a ‘plugger.’ She just keeps plugging away and gets us points here and there. She’s Mary Lynch, but a miniature version. She comes to practice every day and works so hard.”
DiGirolamo was fifth in the 1,600-meter run and sixth in the 3,200-meter run.
Grace Penders, one of the team’s captains, was sixth in the 55-meter dash, fourth in the 55-meter hurdles and ran a leg on the Vikings’ 4×400-meter relay team that placed second, so Penders earned three medals as well as adding 13 points to the Vikings’ team total.
“Grace volunteered to hurdle this year,” Synold said. “She really helped us out.”
Nicole First was fourth in the 400-meter run and ran a leg on the relay team, along with Penders, Patricia Maheras and Emily Boylan. Alana Harrington, another captain, was fifth in the 800-meter run and fifth in the 55-meter hurdles.
Gemma Henderson was third in the shot put with teammate Delia Hellander sixth. Maura Hager was sixth in the pole vault. Like Syndold said, it was a total team effort.
“We have such a good group of kids,” said Synold, who also credited captains Kaitlyn Murphy and Lindsay Medd and assistant coach Bella Galvez, the former Parsippany Hills and Penn State thrower, for their help in the state title. “They’ve been through a lot with us. I’m just excited for them to be rewarded for their hard work. A lot of people don’t pay attention to Non-Public B too much, but we’re right there, thanks to competing against Morris County schools.”
The other local team to fare well at the Group indoor state championships over the weekend was Whippany Park’s girls team, which on the strength of its field events, placed third overall in Group I on Sunday afternoon.
Nickolette Dunbar won the shot put with an awesome throw of 47 feet, ¼ inches, her best throw of the indoor season. It placed the talented Dunbar in position to come away with a gold medal next Saturday at the overall NJSIAA Meet of Champions, also at the Bennett Center.
Kathryn Matrisciano finished fourth in the Group I shot put with a throw of 34-6 ½.
Danielle Cozzarelli was second in the pole vault and teammate Gina Dello Russo was tied for third, so the Wildcats got 14 points in the shot and 13 in the pole. Cozzarelli was also fourth in the 55-meter hurdles. Kristen Hall was second in the high jump to round out the Whippany Park contingent headed to the M of C.
Mykalah Curry of Butler was third in the 55-meter hurdles, ahead of Cozzarelli and Hall, who finished seventh, just missing a medal.
Delbarton had some strong individual performances in Non-Public A Saturday, with Brendan Kenny finishing second in the 55-meter dash, Ian Lodge finishing third in the high jump, Luke Mayer finishing fifth in the 55-meter hurdles and the team of Lodge, Mayer, Kenny and Shawn Ohazuruike placing fifth in the 4×400-meter relay.
In the Group II and Group III championships held Friday night, Olivia Viparina of Roxbury earned a gold medal in the Group III 1,600-meter run, crossing the finish line in 5:04.65. Liz Lansing of Randolph was fourth behind Viparina, who has a chance to earn M of C gold next Saturday.
Margaret Thomson of Randolph was fourth in the 3,200-meter run, just ahead of Christine O’Kane of Morristown.
Elly Scherer of Randolph was second in the 55-meter hurdles with Tymia Joseph of Morris Knolls fourth.
The Mendham relay team finished seventh in the 4×400-meter relay, but may earn an at-large berth in the M of C based on times. Julia Mszanski of Mendham was third in the pole vault.
In the boys Group III meet, Greg Stickle of Randolph won yet another battle in his rivalry with Christian Kildal-Brandt of Mendham. Stickle won the gold medal in the 400-meter dash in 50.36, besting Kildal-Brandt by just a single tick on the clock, as Kildal-Brandt, the defending M of C winner in the event, was second in 50.37. It should lead to a very interesting finale at the M of C next Saturday.
Stickle was also third overall in the Group III 800-meter run in 1:58.90.
The Mendham relay team of Kildal-Brandt, Sam Curtis, Colin Hall and Dylan Heraghty was second in the Group III 4×400-meter relay. Mitch Anderson of Mendham was sixth in the 1,600-meter run.
In Group II boys, Isaiah Turner of Morris Hills earned two medals, finishing fifth in the high jump and sixth in the 55-meter hurdles. Edward Dennerlein of Chatham was third in the shot put with a throw of 51-5 ¼, his best of the indoor season. The Chatham relay team finished sixth. Standout distance runner Will Mitchell was seventh in the 3,200-meter run, but may earn an at-large berth to move on to the M of C.
In Group II girls, Jordan Wildermuth of Jefferson won the gold medal in a competition that was highlighted by local performers. Wildermuth was first with a throw of 38-9 ¼, followed by Chioma Eluemunor of Morris Hills and Helene Rowland of Madison, who were second and third respectively.
Casey Lyness of Morris Hills earned two medals, finishing third in the 55-meter hurdles and sixth in the 55-meter dash.
Laura Walsh of Chatham was fourth in the 1,600-meter run, followed closely by Ally Schlosser of Parsippany, who finished fifth with Ashleigh Thurston of Morris Hills not too far behind in seventh.