The Princeton High School track and field team went to the NJSIAA Meet of Champions with hopes of coming away with at least one state champion.
Mission accomplished for the Little Tigers.
Senior Paul Brennan became Princeton’s fourth Meet of Champions winner all-time when he captured the discus with a distance of 186 feet and 8 inches last Saturday during the state championship event that was held at Northern Burlington County Regional High High School in Columbus.
“It was a pretty good day,” Princeton assistant coach Ben Samara said of Princeton’s overall performance. “It’s always nice to get one for sure. Paul really came through. He has been targeting his training all year long for this week. He tapered his training down at the right time and structured his training specifically for this meet and nationals.
“He and his dad and his throws coach here with us (Craig Wood) at the high school all know what they are doing and got it down right. With a season with so many near misses for the team, it as nice to say we got one. Paul gets to add his name to the list of the greats.”
Brennan is one of four individuals who have won Meet of Champions state crowns for Princeton. He joins Peter Sharpless, who won the high jump in 1980 and 1981; Stefan Fletcher, who in 1982 and 1983 won the 55 hurdles indoors and 110 hurdles outdoors; and Nils Wildberg, who won the indoor long jump title this winter.
In addition to the championship in the discus from Brennan, Princeton picked up a second place from Wildberg in the long jump. Wildberg jumped 22-6, just three inches less than the state champion, Stephon Kelly-Gordon of Carteret.
Simon Schenk cleared 15-6 and finished second in the pole vault to Bradley Jelmert of Watchung Hills Regional High School. Jackson McCarthy ran 1:55.09 to finish sixth in the 800 meters. Brennan finished 10th in the shot put (53-10), while Jack Phelan cleared 44-feet for the third straight week in the triple jump with a 44-.25 effort that was good for 16th place.
With a winner and two second-place finishes, it was quite a day for the Little Tigers.
“For Nils, conditions with the wind were not good and it created a situation where anything could happen,” Samara said. “He was disappointed because he was geared up to defend his indoor title. Sometimes things happen that are out of your control. He is ready to move on. His ultimate goal has been to make All-American at Nationals and that is what we’re shooting for.
“Simon was thrilled with his second place given some of the struggles he has had. It was a great way to cap off what will be his final season with us. He is going back to Switzerland after the school year. To get second to a great vaulter like Bradley Jelmert is a great accomplishment. In his three years with us between indoors and outdoors he’s won five Mercer titles, a sectional, a group and five medals at the Meet of Champs. He has done everything short of winning a title.”
In addition to the trip that finished with top-two performances, Princeton also had other athletes with strong efforts.
“Jackson solidified himself as one of the best distance runners in state,” Samara said. “This was a race earlier that he might have run differently. But he is running with so much confidence right now. It was nice to see him really compete with those guys. He ran a really nice race. And for Jack Phelan that’s three weeks in a row over 44-feet in the triple jump, which is great for him.”
On the girls’ side, Colleen Linko was 15th in the 400 meters and Siena Moran finished 19th in the 1,600 meters.
“Colleen took a big risk in the first 200 of her 400 trying to get a PR,” Samara said. “I was proud of her that she took that risk. I think it will pay off for her at nationals.”
Princeton’s contingent that will head to Greensboro, N.C. for the New Balance Outdoor Nationals will also include Tucker Zullo, who will run the mile. Princeton will send individuals and relays to the meet, including a mixed 4x400 relay team of Matt Perello, McCarthy, Linko and Raina Williamson.
Montgomery’s Abrianna Barrett finished sixth in the girls high jump at the Meet of Champs, clearing 5-6. Annie Hathaway cleared 10-6 to finished tied for sixth in the pole vault. Nidhi Hosamane was 26th in the long jump. On the boys’ side, Carter McFadden was seventh in the 100 meters and eighth in the 200 meters. Jason Knight finished 10th in the triple jump.