HHS track athletes poised for big state showing

Coach Refi confident after solid effort at Princeton Relays

By: Rudy Brandl
   The Hillsborough High winter track athletes faced their toughest competition of the year at Saturday’s Princeton Relays at Jadwin Gym. Although the Raiders didn’t win any events, the high caliber of the meet brought out the best in them.
   Hillsborough’s fine performance at the Princeton Relays sets the stage for a big effort at this weekend’s State Group 4 Championships in Princeton, where senior Kristen Meyer begins her quest to repeat as the 3,200-meter state champion. Meyer and her teammates will try to crack the top six to gain medals and a berth in the Meet of Champions, set for Feb. 4 in Princeton.
   Based on his team’s ability to rise to the occasion against top athletes from New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia, HHS head coach Rich Refi is confident heading into Saturday’s state meet.
   "We had our best meet of the season today," Refi said after the Princeton Relays. "It was a very high-powered meet and we set three school records and ran our fastest times of the season in other events."
   The top two girls’ 4×400 relay times in the nation were posted at the Princeton Relays. A boy from Virginia also broke the four-minute barrier in the mile.
   Yes, this was a big-time indoor track meet.
   Meyer finished third in the mile with a season-best 5:10.87, less than two seconds off her personal-best. Meyer, who ran three seconds behind Hunterdon Central runner-up Shannon Hawrylo, will likely triple in the distance events this weekend.
   "I’ll try to run the same three again," Meyer said. "I’ll try to score points for the team and advance to the Meet of Champions."
   Meyer also anchored the 4×800 team to an eighth-place finish Saturday. The unit of Deanna Willard, Daisy Gomez, Lauren Kloss and Meyer set a new school standard with an impressive time of 9:49.73. Hillsborough’s 4×200 team of Kloss, Erica Coletta, Jaci Pfeiffer and Ebony Foster put their names in the record book with a 1:53.56 clocking.
   The HHS boys also set a school record in the 4×800 but didn’t place in the top 10. Cross country standouts Matt Lunemann, Russ Zaleski, Mike Klueber and Nick Vaccaro combined for a time of 8:30.6. Vaccaro has emerged as the leader of that group and has the best chance of scoring in the distance events at the state level.
   Two other boys’ relay teams ran their fastest times of the season Saturday. The shuttle hurdles unit is closing in on the school record set last season by Offie Dennis, Scott Robinson, John Damiani and Ken Betkowski. Tony Flores, Scott Fulop, Mike Barberio and Betkowski finished seventh in 33.10. This group, which combined for a season-best 3:39 in Saturday’s 4×400, also scored at the State Group 4 Relay Championships on Jan. 14.
   "The boys did a great job at that meet," said Refi, referring to the state relays. "I was very surprised."
   Running fast or placing in a relay meet don’t guarantee anything, however. While this weekend’s field isn’t as deep as the six-state Princeton Relays, Group 4 is loaded with big-time athletes.
   "These meets are very hard," Refi said. "You could get a seventh in every event and finish dead last with a great team. You could get a bunch of fifths and sixths and finish near the bottom. You need a few great kids to score points."
   Meyer figures to score in multiple events, but the Raiders are hoping to provide a little company at the big show. Willard has been there before and hopes to get back in her senior year.
   The HHS girls finished third at the State Group 4 Relays, behind Trenton and Hunterdon Central. The Red Devils have continued their outstanding work from the fall season, when they won the team cross country title at the Meet of Champions. Injuries to Meyer and Willard hurt Hillsborough, but both standout distance runners are getting back in form.
   "You have to give them credit," Refi said. "They’re the All-Group champs in cross country and we have two top girls coming off injuries where they missed eight weeks."
   Meyer has been getting faster every week as the competition heats up. She ran her best mile and two-mile times of the season in separate meets last week, so she’s primed to defend her state title.