Ava Tillman has spent a majority of her high school track and field career focusing on the 400-meter run.

Last weekend at the final state sectional meet of her high school career, the Hopewell Valley Central High School senior excelled in a couple of other events that helped land her a spot in the upcoming Group 3 state meet, which will be held this Friday and Saturday at Central Regional High School in Bayville.

Tillman finished second in the 400-meter hurdles in 1:07.60 and was part of the fourth-place 4x800 relay team that also consisted of sophomore Kate Jackson and freshmen Sophia Venezia and Milan Couillens at the Central Jersey, Group 3 state sectional meet at Jackson Liberty High School last weekend. 

“For a majority of my high school career I have focused on the 400,” Tillman said. “I worked on that a lot last year and sophomore year. This year I sort of switched over team wise to where I could score the most point and could help the tam more and score. So I have been doing a lot of hurdles and also the 800.”

Tillman helped the Hopewell Valley finish 12th in Central Jersey, Group 3 with 18 points. Colts Neck High School won the sectional title and Wet Windsor-Plainsboro High School North finished second. Also scoring for the Bulldogs were Lillian Wurtz, who was third in the javelin and Couillens, who finished fifth in the 400 hurdles.

The Hopewell Valley boys finished fourth in the Central Jersey, Group 3 meet with 54 points. Nottingham High School won the meet with 74 points, while West Windsor-Plainsboro North placed second and Hamilton West High School finished third.

Senior Sean Dolan was a double-winner for the Bulldogs as he won the 1,600 meters in 4:22.59 and the 800 meters in 1:53.01. Chukwuka Obidike, also a senior, won the discus with a throw of 163-feet, 9-inches and also finished second in the shot put. 

Will Titus finished fourth and John O’Connor was fifth in the 1,600. Titus was also fourth in the 800 meters. John Muoio was fifth in the shot put. The 4x400 meter relay team of Dolan, Gabe Lefebvre, Titus and O’Connor finished fourth. 

For Tillman, advancing to the Group 3 meet in multiple events was a great way to have her final sectional meet end.   

“It was super exciting with the 4x8 because it is a really young team,” said Tillman, who was also seventh in the 800 meters and part of ninth place 4x400 relay. “It was good to see we were able to pull through with two freshmen and a sophomore running it. I was the more experienced one in our relay. I think it is really important that we were able to fight through that inexperience and do well.

“The first day on Friday we had the hurdles and the 4x8. I was seeded second in the hurdles and we were seeded fifth in the 4x8 so I knew we had a chance of advancing. I was kind of nervous because the hurdles can be unpredictable.”

Tillman and the other Bulldogs who placed will now advance to the Group 3 meet, with a shot at earning a spot in the state Meet of Champions. She’s enjoying the events she’s learned later in her high school career and is looking forward to another meet where she will get to do the 400 hurdles and the 800 as part of the relay.

“I started the 800 last year so I have not done it that much,” she said. “I usually train with the sprinters. When I run it I think it is more to kind of see how I can do. I think I am learning now how to pace it. With the hurdles, there is the added technique part that makes it a challenge. I started that sophomore year as well. I think I am probably more comfortable with the 800 because there is less technique.”

For Hopewell Valley, the past weekend overall was success.

"All of the coaches were very pleased at how thing went this past weekend," Hopewell Valley girls' coach Aaron Oldfield said. "On the girls side, we have a very young team with a couple of freshman and sophomores advancing to next week so the future looks very good."

The state Meet of Champions will be held on June 8 at Northern Burlington Regional High School in Columbus.

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