The Princeton High boys’ track and field team came agonizingly close to repeating at Group 4 state champion last weekend at the state meet held at Franklin High School.
Princeton, which had won the state title a year ago by a five-point margin over East Orange Campus High School, fell just one point shy of Franklin at this year’s Group 4 state meet. The Little Tigers finished the meet with 43 points, just one behind the host school from Somerset County. The Montgomery High School boys finished in 32nd place with six points.
In the girls' Group 4 state meet, Montgomery finished 17th with 13 points. Millville and Rancocas Valley shared the Group 4 state title with 54 points each.
For Princeton, the loss in the boys meet was a narrow one. Franklin needed six points in the final event, the 4x400 relay, to pull out the team championship and the Warriors got those six points with a third-place finish in the event.
“We were all really upset that it was so close and we just missed winning again this year,” said Princeton senior Paul Brennan, who won the discus and was third in the shot put. “I think it is a testament to our program we were so close. We had our star javelin thrower from last year (Ben Kioko) tear his ACL. We had some other guys battling injuries. I think it is a testament to our program that from the injuries maybe our depth wasn’t as good as last year, but we showed our talent off.”
Brennan won the discus with a distance of 181-feet, 3-inches, while finishing third in the shot put with a 56-11 effort. Nils Wildberg also had a big day for the Little Tigers, winning the long jump at 23-11 and finishing fourth in the 100 meters and the 200 meters.
Princeton also picked up points from Jackson McCarthy, who was fifth in the 800 meters, Simon Schenk, who was third in the pole vault, and Jack Phelan who was sixth in the triple jump.
McCarthy, who was seeded 10th in the 800, set a school record with his 1:53.15 to move up to fifth place.
In the end, the Little Tigers came up one point shot in their quest for another state title. But that can’t diminish all that this team has accomplished over the last two years, including winning an outdoor Group 4 championship last year for the first time since 1981.
“It’s been absolutely amazing,” Brennan said. “It’s a testament, first of all, to Coach (Ben) Samara and the entire coaching staff. They wind up recruiting all of these kids and seeing the potential. Seeing the potential in all of us is a big help. We have built a program and a tradition that a lot of people want to be a part of. Since my freshman year we have always found success and a lot of that is the coaching staff and having solid teammates and a culture where all feed off of each other.”
Brennan is closing out his career with the Princeton High on a high note. Not only did he have success last weekend at the Group 4 meet, but on Sunday at a meet in Wallkill, N.Y. he qualified for nationals in the hammer throw with an effort of 198-8 He has also qualified for nationals in the discus and hopes to get the needed mark in the shot put on Saturday at the Meet of Champions a Northern Burlington County High School in Columbus.
“I was in really heavy lifting cycles for the first four week cycles of the season,” said Brennan, who will be a member of the track program at Princeton University beginning in the fall. “Now I am focusing a lot more on speed and explosiveness. That involves a lot of jump squats and a lot of things to work on my speed. Now I am definitely tapering off and can hopefully get some big throws out of it.
“The stress being off of school right now, I don’t really have much to do so I can focus on my training. That’s a huge benefit. I don’t have to focus on five APs and stressing about those and not having enough sleep. Hopefully it all comes together in the next couple days.”
He, along with his Princeton teammates, is looking forward to one last Meet of Champions.
“It’s the last one and most likely my last high school meet in the state of New Jersey,” said Brennan, a Cranbury resident. “I just want to go out with a bang. I’ve been there before and I know what mindset I need to have coming in.
“I’ve noticed that competition usually brings out the best in me. There are a lot of guys that have had much bigger marks than I have. But I just go out there and say I want to compete with these guys. I wanted to try my best to win it and that is the mindset I have carried on this entire year.”
Brennan’s older brother, Tim, was a standout for the Princeton High program before a successful career at Dartmouth. Paul will graduate this year from Princeton, but another brother is waiting in the wings.
“Everyone is always like, ‘It’s the Brennan kid again.’ And now I have a younger brother (Oleg) coming through and he’s going to be a freshman,” Brennan said. “He throws the discus at Cranbury School. So he’ll be here next year.”
In addition to those who finished in the top six, Princeton also advanced Colleen Linko (400 meters), Siena Moran (1600 meters) and McCarthy (1600 meters) to the Meet of Champions as wild cards.
For Montgomery, Annie Hathaway was second in the pole vault, Abrianna Barratt was fourth in the high jump, Sarah Witt finished sixth in the 400 meters. Nidhi Hosamane qualified as a wild card in the long jump.
For the Cougar boys, Carter McFadden was fifth in the 200 meters and seventh in the 100 meters, qualifying as a wild card in the 100. Jason Knight was fourth in the triple jump.