The Northern Highlands girls have been powerhouses in the indoor state sectional track meets almost from their inception in 2008. The Highlanders have won four indoor titles and have been runners-up four other times at the Bubble in Toms River.
The boys? No sectional team titles, no finishes in the top three teams and just three individual titles in the 13 previous meets.
That all changed Sunday when Northern Highlands earned its first North 1 group 3 title with a hard fought 44-39 over equally surprising Bergenfield with seven-time sectional champ Morris Hills third with 36 points.
“That was nice,” said veteran winter coach Tom Buono after his team survived a near-disaster in the meet’s final event, the 4-x-400 relay.
If Bergenfield, the top-seed in the relay had won the race, Northern Highlands needed to finish in at least fifth place and within two places of Morris Hills to claim the title. It was obvious early that Morris Hills was not a threat, but on the second lap of the second leg with Randolph, Bergenfield and Northern Highlands in a battle at the front, suddenly Zach Madison of Highlands began to wobble, grabbing at his leg.
“I didn’t know what had happened,” said Buono, watching from across the track. “I didn’t know if he stepped on something or sprained his ankle or popped his hamstring and I thought he was going to go down.”
But Madison didn’t fall and somehow finished his leg in fourth place, well behind the leaders. Highlands held their position through the final two legs and Bergenfield ended up just short of Randolph so the victory was secure.”
“Our jumpers really came through for us,” said Buono, complimenting assistant coach Dan Monchek. Dante Lateano and Madison were the only jumpers over 5-10 and Lateano PR’d at 6-0 to win the title. And junior Ian Kearney tied his personal best of 11-6 to win the pole vault.
Add to that points from unheralded Maxwell Gurkovic (5th in the 400), Gabriel Johnson (5th in both 1,600 and 3,200), Harrison Flynn (5th in the 800) and Jackson Vogel (4th in the 3,200) and the Highlanders had just enough to win.
“Zach Madison (an all-North Jersey wide receiver on Highlands’ sectional champion football team) changed the culture of the team and brought us the winning mentality we needed,” said Buono.
“Special, Scrappy” Ramapo girls team dominates and wins first title in eight years
Bill Manzo downplayed the chances of his Ramapo girls team winning its first sectional title since 2014.
“I really didn’t say anything about it until a week or so ago but when I started to check the teams we were going against, it looked like it was possible,” said Manzo. “I didn’t want them thinking too much about it but I just said to them as I always do, ‘run with poise and control.”
And the Green Raiders delivered, winning group 3 easily, 88-50 over Randolph for its fourth overall title.
Izzie Anzaldo lost her first 400 this year to a North Jersey runner, in a tight battle with Molly Bennett of Northern Highlands . But Alexandra Cahill and Natalie Jackson quickly qualified third and fourth in the 55 hurdles. Between the prelim and finals, where the two Ramapo hurdlers finished 3-4 for 10 more points, Brianna Braver won the 1,600 in 5:21.60 and freshman Micaela Chamberlin took fifth.
Anzaldo came back to lead all qualifiers in the 55 meter dash and before she could run (and win) the final, Carly Griffin (2:22.04) and Julia Wowrun (2:23.17) went 1-2 in personal best times in the 800 and the win was all but assured.
“When we got to the 3,200 with a big lead, we knew it was done,” said Manzo, who got a surprise fifth place from Juliana DeFino in the pole vault before Braver and another freshman, Brianna Potaki went 1-2 in the 3,200, again with personal bests, and the 4-x-400 relay, with Anzaldo running a great anchor leg, finished the job.
“”It’s a special group,” said Manzo, “The fun quotient is very high with this bunch and they’re a bunch of talented scrappers who are willing take on all events.”
Allen’s heroics and three big events power River Dell girls to fifth title
Christina Allen wasn’t supposed to run in the 3,200 in the group 2 meet Sunday. The sophomore had already won the 800 and 1,600 and was scheduled to anchor the 4-x-400 relay 15 minutes after the 3,200 concluded.
But Northern Valley/Demarest matched River Dell event by event and with just two events left, the Norsewomen led by a point.
“I hated to do it, but I trust her to get us the points we needed with as little effort as possible,” said River Dell head coach Mike Urso.
And Allen delivered. Running easy 43-45 second 200 laps, Allen was a competitive spectator as Lakeland’s Angelina Perez ran the fastest 3,200 ever in the state series other than the State Meet of Champions, content to run nearly two laps behind in 11:42.90 for a comfortable second place finish, clinching River Dell’s win.
And then she anchored the Golden Hawk’s winning relay team as River Dell scored a 76-67 victory.
But Allen didn’t do it alone.
Demarest took three places in the 55 hurdles to River Dell’s two, but the 4-5-6 finish for the Norsewomen was overshadowed by the 1-3 finish of Abreeana Rilveria and Emily Turschmann. Allen took the 800 in a season’s best 2:16.02. Teammates Ava Ebneter amd Alex Grivas went 3-5 and the Golden Hawks had eight extra points in the bank.
NV/Demarest won all three field events? Amelie Moon got a second with a personal best in the shot and Grace McQueeney tied for third in the high jump, softening the blow.
NV/Demarest lives up to expectations, blows out group 2 boys field
As he always is, NV/Demarest coach Mike Theuerkauf was honest about how he thought his team would fare in the group 2 boys meet.
“The only thing I was nervous was about whether our bus was going to break down,” he said with a laugh. “I knew how strong we were and we’ve got of tradition and a lot of talent and all we had to do once we got here was to get our business done.”
The Norsemen did just that, scoring the second most points in meet history, scoring in every event and winning four, en route to a 98-42 rout of River Dell and the program’s fourth sectional title.
The star for the Norsemen was first year runner Christopher Short, a football/baseball player who Theuerkauf convinced to come out, after seeing his speed on the football field.
Short produced the only Norsemen double win, taking the 55 in 6.74 and the 400 in 52.88, winning from an unseeded heat in the first race of the day. He then anchored the 4-x-400 relay to a win in the last event. Junior Andrew Tandler won the high jump on misses at 5-10.
And then there were the events, Demarest didn’t win, but scored big points to pad their total. Andrew Kleinman took second in the 3,200 and teammate Ethan Kalajian was fifth. Tandler, Elliott Lim and Lincoln Sorenson went 3-4-6 in the hurdles for 11 points. Jack Attali (fourth) and Matt Ruocco (fifth) joined Tandler in the high jump and Ohan Ambartoumian (personal best 49-9 1/2) and Dan Mikay went 2-3 in the shot.
“When you’re wearing a Norseman jersey, you’re not only representing this year’s team but all the teams of the past,” said Theuerkauf. “These guys really represented.”
Perez returns to action, better than ever
Angelina Perez took her longest competitive break during season of her high school career and returned with a vengeance Sunday, winning the North 1, group 2 sectional 3,200 meters in a stunning 10:27.80, the ninth fastest time in New Jersey state history and the ninth fastest race in state history.
“I felt good going into the race and really good afterwards,” said Perez, who earlier in the meet had approached her indoor personal best in the 1,600 by running 5:02.25 for second behind River Dell’s Christina Allen. “Being able to run with Christina in the 1,600 helped me get my pace right for the longer race.”
“I haven’t had too many races this winter and that’s been good for me because it’s letting me get myself in the right head space, mentally.”
Perez will only run the 3,200 at this weekend’s state group 2 championships and will defend her state Meet of Champions title (from 2020) on March 5. She also intends to run at national meets in the Armory and in Virginia Beach on consecutive weekends.
But being able to run together with senior teammates Abigail Horevay and Caitlin Fahy in two races at the sectional was special. All three qualified for both races this weekend.
“It was so nice we were finally able to all be in the same race again,” said Perez. “It’s been a while.”
From running back to centerfield to the starting line
Mike Theuerkauf had Christopher Short in one of his classes and had long admired his performance as a running back on the football field and as a center fielder on the NV/Demarest baseball field.
“You could see how fast he was and I always wondered what he could do in track,” said Theuerkauf, who finally convinced Short to give it a try this winter.
It’s doubtful that either one realized how successful it might be. Short not only was an instant contributor to the always powerful Demarest team, he won two individual sectional titles in group 2 and anchored the Norsemen to a 4-x-400 relay win.
“I knew he had talent but he really exceeded what I thought he could do with us,” said Theuerkauf after watching Short win the 400 from an unseeded heat and upset Tom DeLorenzo of River Dell for the 55 title.
“It’s pretty crazy for me to be a sectional champion in my fourth meet,” said Short, who started in center field as a sophomore last year and rushed for more than 800 yards and 10 touchdowns last fall. “I knew I had speed but I’m surprised that the 400 has become such a good event for me.”
Short is likely to return to the diamond in the spring, where he admits his best attribute is his speed in the outfield. “I think this winter has made me a lot faster and I’ll be able to get to more balls and steal more bases.”
Anzaldo earns a day off
Ramapo sprinter Izzie Anzaldo planned to spend a rare day off from training Monday with her family going horseback riding. She and her teammates earned that day off with their impressive win in the group 3 sectionals, where Anzaldo won the 55, took second in the 400 and anchored the 4-x-400 relay to a sensational come-from-behind win.
“Winning this is so nice especially after what we went through for a lot of the last two years,” said Anzaldo, who will run at Quinnipiac next fall. “Virtual workouts at home, polar bear meets in the winter. I never expected we’d be able to win one of these meets.”
Ramapo was so focused that Anzaldo was especially upset after she was beaten for this first time all year by a North Jersey runner in the 400, losing to Northern Highlands’ Molly Bennett.
“I was hoping to win and I was afraid the meet might come down to 1 or 2 points and I didn’t want to be the reason we lost,” she said.
She needn’t have worried. By the time, Anzaldo won the 55 meters, a race she never expected to win, the Green Raiders were firmly in control and that ended up winning by 38 points, a huge margin.
Now after her day off, she’s ready for next challenge, the state group meet and a rematch with Bennett, among others.
“I’m going to try and get back at her next week.”
Allen carries an extra race perfectly
Someone who really needed a day off was River Dell soph Christina Allen. She was always scheduled to run the 800 and 1,600 and anchor the 4-x-400 relay.
But coach Mike Urso knew that Allen might have to be needed in the 3,200 if the meet was close.
“I hate to do that to her but we didn’t want the meet to get away,” said Urso, who warned Allen a few days earlier that he might ask for the extra mile (or 2).
Allen won the 1,600 and 800 as expected, conserving her energy as much as possible in the wins. But as she came off the track and prepared to do her cool down, Urso was there telling her that the 3,200 was a distinct possibility.
A half hour later, the possibility became definite and Allen asked him how long she had before the race.
“He told me 10 minutes tops,” said Allen, laughing. “I took a lap around the Bubble and went to the starting line.”
Allen wasn’t worried because she felt fine and was used to controlling her own pace in dual meets and other workouts over the years.
“I knew I was going to run for the win but just had to stay within myself and take second or third so we could get the points,” she said.
Allen finished second, running very comfortably with a time nearly a minute slower than her best for the event. And she ran the relay about 30 minutes, running hard only for the 50 or so meters necessary for the lead and the victory.
“I feel very sore today,” said Allen. “But it’s not a painful sore, it’s an achievement sore. I like those.”
Other North Jersey sectional champions
The NV/Demarest and Northern Highlands boys and River Dell and Ramapo combined for 15 gold medals, but North Jersey took home a lot more gold from the meet. Here’s a look at the other winners:
Brayden Lowe-Massi, Mahwah: The junior scored his first major win in the group 2 800 with a narrow victory in 2:05.46. He had enjoyed an excellent cross-country season.
Owen Horevay, Lakeland: The junior scored an impressive double win in the group 2 1,600 and 3,200 in personal bests of 4:32.80 and 10:03.36, respectively. He figures to be a favorite for the Passaic County cross-country title in the fall.
Max Weinberg, River Dell: With rival Connor Munson skipping the race for precautionary injury reasons, Weinberg led a 1-2 Golden Hawk finish in the group 2 hurdles in 7.94.
Max Zuckerman, Pascack Hills: North Jersey’s best pole vaulter, cleared at least 15 feet for the sixth time this year at the group 2 meet to repeat his 2020 win. Next he tries to win the group 2 title.
Tanner Christie, West Milford: Christie had a monster throw of 53-10 1/2 in the group 2 shot to set a school record, propel him to a group 2 title and into seventh place in Passaic history with the best throw in the county in eight years.
Souleymane Fall, Bergenfield: The breakout season continued without a bump for Fall as the senior captured a pair of group 3 sectional crowns, the 55 in 6.56 and the 400, from an unseeded heat in 51.91.
Ryan Pena, Wayne Valley: Pena, who qualified for the Meet of Champions as a soph at Hackensack, returns to the group meet in a new uniform and a new group, after winning the group 3 title in 2:01.84.
Alex Horgan, Ramapo: Building off a wonderful run in the Bergen 1,000, Horgan, a senior, doubled the 1,600 and 3,200 in 4:33.38 and 9:57.25, respectively as he gets better with each race.
Sanai Bryant, Dumont: The senior made it 3-for-3 in the group 2 55 comfortably in 7.42 seconds. Her first win was at Dwight Morrow in 2019 and she became a Huskie in 2020.
Siena Kannenberg, Mahwah: The sophomore stepped up to become the Thunderbirds’ first girls sectional champ in a decade when she won the group 2 400 in 62.43 seconds.
Gretchen Haray, NV/Demarest: The Lehigh-bound senior had a solid victory in the group 2 high jump with a clearance of five feet.
Michelle Lee, NV/Demarest: The Columbia-bound senior has been an outstanding pole vaulter for her entire career and earned a group 2 sectional vault title with a leap of 10-6.
Casey Sullivan, NV/Demarest: Sullivan gave up her senior season in basketball to do winter track for the first time and the 2021 outdoor shot put state champion started her quest for an indoor title with a 41-11 1/2 win in the group 2 sectional.
Molly Bennett, Northern Highlands: The Notre Dame-bound senior avenged her loss to Izzie Anzaldo just four days earlier in the 400 at Bergen Counties by overtaking her rival with about 80 meters to go in the group 3 race.
Norina Khanzada, Tenafly: Four days after taking the state lead in the high jump, Khanzada, a junior, repeated her group 3 2020 win, and set a sectional record at 5-4 1/4.
Syed’s win leads North 2, group 2 qualifiers
It didn’t figure to be close. But when pre-race favorite Jessier Soriano of Passaic Valley felt his balky hamstring weaken on the final lap, Ridgefield Park senior Saim Syed took advantage. Syed, who had nearly won the 400 earlier in the meet out of an unseeded heat, was running fourth midway through the race, about 15 meters behind Soriano.
But he started to close just as Soriano started to fade as the bell for the final lap sounded and after Lucas Lattimer of Caldwell grabbed the lead, Syed blew by him on the backstretch to take over.
Lattimer didn’t give up and answered off the final turn. The two runners battled side by side and crossed the finish line almost as one. Minutes later, the photo confirmed a Syed win in 2:03.88, just .01 ahead of Lattimer.
Syed was the only North Jersey winner in North 2 and he also qualified for next week’s 400 final with a second place finish. Soriano, who had earlier taken third in the 400, barely hung on for sixth in the 800 and will likely pick that race next week to get some redemption after a disappointing finish.
Other boys to qualify were Eddoniel Gonzalez of PV, fifth in the high jump, Brandon Rivera of Lyndhurst, sixth in the same event, Giancarlo Peluso of Passaic Valley, sixth in the shot and the sixth place PV 4-x-400 relay.
No North Jersey girls won in North 2, but the Lyndhurst girls sent six entries to the state meet and placed fourth in the team standings with 26 points.
Julia Tozduman and Kayla Carrino earned two spots apiece, as Tozduman was third in the 55 (7.83) and fourth in the 400 (62.08), while Carrino was fifth in the 1,600 (5:39.36) and fourth in the 3,200 (12:23.30). Other Golden Bears moving on were Stephanie Mizeski (5th in the 55) and Rola Mustafa (2nd in the high jump)
Katharine Cottone was Passaic Valley was fifth in the 400 in 62.38, Mackenzie Beazley sixth in the high jump, Alessia Marotta sixth in the shot and the PV relay finished sixth.
Paul Schwartz covers high school track and field for NorthJersey.com. For full access to live scores, breaking news and analysis from our Varsity Aces team, subscribe today. To get breaking news directly to your inbox, sign up for our newsletter and download our app.
This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Winter track: Highlights from the Group 2 and 3 state sectionals