Barnegat 4x100 Crew Sets Record, Wins First County Title

Track and Field Roundup
By DAVID BIGGY | May 15, 2019
Photo by: David Biggy Barnegat freshman Valencia Gosser heads for the finish line to secure the 4x100-meter relay team's first county title on May 11.

Surf City — The handoff from Kayla Carter to Valencia Gosser wasn’t pretty. Fortunately, there are no style points considered as part of the scoring for the 4x100-meter relay. The bottom line is simple: outrace everybody else to the finish.

“I don’t know what happened on our handoff. I just got the baton and focused on catching the girl in front of me,” said Gosser, who not only caught the Jackson Memorial speedster in lane 4, but with just 10 meters left, passed her to give the Barnegat 4x100 relay its first Ocean County championship with a school-record of 49.59 seconds on May 11. “I felt like I had a shot to catch her. And when I started catching up to her, I pushed harder. I was confident I could win.”

Jillian Jankowski lead off the race. She zipped through the first 100 meters and handed off the baton to Reannah Cooper, who blazed through the backstretch in second before handing off the Carter, whose priority at that point was to give Gosser a chance to win it during the final 100 meters.

However, as Carter reached out to deliver the baton, the pair had difficulty making a clean exchange. As Gosser started taking off, Carter lunged forward to complete the handoff and fell to the track. Surprisingly, Gosser didn’t break stride and instead ran down the competitor to her left side with about 40 meters to go. For the next 30 meters, they ran side by side, before Gosser inched ahead as they sped toward the finish line.

The crew’s previous mark was 50.35 seconds. The victory also marked the first county crown for a girls’ 4x100 team, since it was the first year the event has been included in the county meet.

“Typically, we’ve had trouble with our handoffs and that’s been our downfall,” Jankowski said. “We knew we could beat the Jackson team, that we had the speed to win, and we’ve worked to improve our handoffs. Even though Kayla’s handoff wasn’t great, Valencia’s speed made up for it.”

Cooper said the goals now are to maintain consistency with the handoffs and run with a purpose, particularly as the Bengals – who scored 57 points to finish fourth in the county as a team – draw closer to the NJSIAA meets, which start with the South Jersey Group II sectional a week from Friday.

“We have to run fast and get mad if there’s somebody in front of us,” she said. “We have some bigger races coming up, but we believe we can run with anybody. We just have to keep improving and get after it.”

Of course, getting after it in the county meet was totally what Southern Regional’s girls had in mind. The Rams cruised to the team championship with 145.5 points, as senior Caitlin Hambor, junior Karagan Bulger and sophomore Maria Mezzo led the way.

Hambor was particularly impressive, blazing through both the 200- and 400-meter dashes to capture first-place points. She also took sixth in the long jump with a leap of 16 feet, 4 inches.

“It was nice weather and I was in a good mood,” said Hambor, after she won the 200 in 25.44 seconds. “I felt really good going into the race. My start was really good and I went out strong. This was the last race of my career for this meet, so I wanted to finish big. I got the 400 Thursday and I really wanted the 200 today. It’s a nice way to start capping my career at Southern.”

Hambor took off from the starting blocks in lane 5 and immediately got to the front while still on the first turn. Once she cleared the second turn and hit the final 110 meters, the senior steadily increased her lead and easily won. Two days earlier, Hambor scored the victory in the 400 with a time of 57.41 seconds, as she led a train of locals to solid finishes, Bulger not far behind in second with a time of 58.02 seconds as well as teammate Hailey Hockstrasser, who took fifth in 59.68 seconds.

“This season, I wanted to prove to myself that I’ve gotten better,” said Hambor, who sometimes has had difficulty maintaining consistency in big meets over the years. “I didn’t want the things in the past to get into my head. Being a senior, knowing I’m going to college, I’m really just having fun. There’s no pressure anymore, so I can let it all go and not be so nervous.”

Interestingly, while she has felt a bit more of the pressure this season, Bulger continued to wreck the competition in her premier events late last week – easily winning the 400-meter hurdles in 1:04.51 and the 800-meter run in 2:17.93.

“I usually hang near the back of the pack on the first lap and then go really hard for the second lap, but I knew I couldn’t do that because everybody in the race is so talented,” Bulger said after she went into the second lap of the 800 in second, before accelerating into the lead on the second turn and then blowing away the field along the backstretch. “Everybody knows I kick at the end, so I have to change my race plan. I’m not a secret to anybody, anymore. But I was confident.”

Of course, Mezzo isn’t much of a secret, either. Everybody who competes in the pole vault knows she is likely to be near the top of the standings. She was again this time around, taking second for a second straight year after clearing the bar at 10 feet. But what has remained a bit of a secret has been her improvement in the 100-meter hurdles.

“I tripped coming out of my start in the prelims, but I still did well,” said Mezzo, who got off to a clean start in the finals en route to the county title in 15.15 seconds. “In the final, I probably had the best start I’ve had all season. And as long as I started well, I felt like I had a shot to win it. I knew who I had to watch out for, but I was confident because I’ve gone sub-16 and I knew I could do it again.”

Beyond Hambor, Bulger and Mezzo, their Southern teammates had little trouble racking up points. Tiffany Ortner finished tight behind Bulger in the 400 hurdles with a time of 1:07.20, while Shannon Flaherty took fourth in 1:07.86. Flaherty also was second to Bulger in the 800 with a time of 2:22.56. Meanwhile, Hailey Hochstrasser was fifth in both the 400, in 59.13 seconds, and the 800, in 2:25.04. Jaelyn D’Amelio was fifth in the 1,600-meter run with a time of 5:25.83. Rachel Short finished sixth in the 3,200-meter run in 11:47.58.

Southern’s Brookelle Kline was second in the triple jump with a distance of 35 feet, 4 inches, and also grabbed fifth in the 400 hurdles in 1:02.91. Gianna Crawford swiped sixth in the high jump by clearing 5 feet. Gabby Conforti finished third in the triple jump with a distance of 35 feet, 2¼ inches. Kari Klimek fired the javelin 105 feet, 10 inches to place fourth. The Rams’ 4x400 and 4x800 relays also scored first-place points.

As for the rest of Barnegat’s best results, Gosser placed third in the 200 in 25.95 seconds, while Jankowski was third in the long jump at 16 feet, 8 inches and sixth in the 100 with a time of 15.12 seconds. Zanayah Harris placed sixth in the shot put at 33 feet, 7 inches. However, the big surprise for the Bengals was freshman Madison Cappuccio, who not only captured the county title in the high jump by clearing 5 feet, 4 inches, she also took second in the long jump at 16 feet, 11 inches and third in the 400 with a time of 59.13 seconds.

Of course, no stranger to the top of the standings is Pinelands junior Liz Makar, and the Wildcats’ premier thrower didn’t disappoint again. She captured the county title in the shot put with a school-record toss of 40 feet, 9¾ inches. She also took second in the discus with a distance of 111 feet, 9 inches.

“Finally breaking 40 feet and placing tops in the county is special,” she said. “I’ve worked really hard for this, and I have such great support from my family, coaches and friends that it really drives me to do as well as I can so they can be proud. Anytime you wake up, it’s a good day. So anytime you place, it’s a good day. Now it’s just a matter of keep breaking that 40-foot mark and trying to go higher.”

On the boys’ side of the track and field, the older Makar sibling, Jonathan, continued to have success this season, finishing second in the discus with a top throw of 135 feet, 5 inches, before taking sixth in the shot put with a toss of 49 feet, 4 inches. He may have finished higher in the shot put standings, except for a foul on his third throw in which it appeared he cleared 50 feet, which would have been a first for the senior.

“I’m happy to know that I can hit it, so it’s not that big of a loss for me,” he said. “I had a bad day and was still able to place, so that’s fine by me. Going into the state meets, I’m hitting my peak and throwing well, so I just need to make a few adjustments and keep trying to break 50 feet. I’d like to win the shot and discus in the sectional meet, but my biggest competition is me. The last month is here, so this is where the fun begins.”

Barnegat’s Sean Morris had a lot of fun during the county meet. In Saturday’s shot put, the senior placed third with a high mark of 51 feet, 4½ inches, before he headed over to the javelin field and fired the spear 149 feet, 5 inches to win the county title.

“I’m throwing the best I have all season right now,” he said. “I’m hitting my peak just at the right time, and our coaches are doing a great job of keeping on all of us to make sure we’re doing all the little things right. We’re right where we need to be, and I’d really like to place in both events at the state meets. With the coaches we have and the guys around me pushing me, I believe I’ve got what it takes to do that.”

Unfortunately, Southern senior David Springstead didn’t have quite the meet he was hoping for. Nonetheless, he placed third in the 110-meter hurdles in 15.19 seconds, fourth in the high jump at 5 feet, 10 inches and fifth in the pole vault at 12 feet, 6 inches to help lead the Rams’ scoring efforts.

“I won the hurdles in the prelims and then didn’t get out the way I wanted in the final, but third is good,” he said. “I did pretty good in the high jump and not too bad in pole vault, but I wanted to go a little higher. Going into the last few weeks, I just want to clean up the little things so I can get the results I want. I’d like to make the Meet of Champions again, but I have to fine-tune some things.”

Also for Southern, Liam Andersen was solid in all the throwing events, placing fourth in both the shot put (50 feet, 1 inch) and javelin (140 feet, 1 inch) and sixth in the discus (127 feet, 10 inches), while teammate Angel Santiago took fourth in the pole vault at 12 feet, 6 inches.

Additionally for Barnegat, Peter Dizon swiped third in the 3,200-meter run with a time of 9:57.87, while Justin Gomez grabbed fifth in the 100 in 11.48 seconds, and Ryan Fisher finished fifth in the 200 with a time of 22.94 seconds. Pinelands’ Andre Simmons placed third in the 100 and fourth in the 200 with times of 11.36 and 22.83 seconds.

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