Williams takes center stage in North track win

New triple jumper helps Knights end Ewing streak

By: Justin Feil
   For just the last couple of weeks, Vance Williams has been working on a new event, the triple jump, for the West Windsor-Plainsboro High North boys’ track and field team.
   "I had been looking around to see about getting someone else to do it," said North head coach Mike Jackson. "I’m standing there watching the hurdles and here comes Vance bounding by me. I saw he’d be perfect. It was like an oversight on my part at the beginning of the season. He’s worked tremendously hard at it. And he’s been itching to compete."
   Williams finally got his chance in the Knights’ biggest dual meet of the season. When rain forced the postponement of WW-P North’s meet against Ewing last Tuesday, it made the stage even grander. One of the three events yet to be contested was the triple jump where Williams made like a top-secret weapon revealed in front of the world.
   In the final event of the meet, with teammates and Ewing opponents alike crowded around the triple jump, he helped the Knights end Ewing’s 42-straight dual meet win streak by finishing second to teammate Albert McCullan in a 71-69 win Thursday.
   Said Williams, a senior who Jackson says is like another assistant coach: "He kept telling me, ‘You’re going to do something big. You’ve been working with the younger guys and something going to come back for you.’ I guess it did."
   Williams and the Knights were second in the 4×400 relay Thursday, and after completion of the long jump, North needed Williams’ triple jump debut to be a big one as he and the favored McCullan held the chance to end the streak.
   "We found out that we needed me to get second right after the relay," Williams said. "Coach Jackson told me that there was no pressure, but I knew the whole meet was on my head. I tried not to think about it like that. I just had to focus and forget the pressure."
   McCullan did his part, adding a foot onto his school record to win and establish himself further as the premier triple jumper in the Colonial Valley Conference. Williams didn’t jump as far, but he was just as impressive in finishing second with a best of 39-feet, 9½ inches.
   "He’d been hitting 37-high in practice," Jackson said. "We knew Chris Jones (Ewing’s top jumper) was jumping 38-0, and we knew that Vance would have to jump six inches farther than he ever had.
   "The thing was, I was confident we’d win the relay. This was a meet those guys were looking to run PRs. But they ran it first and they just weren’t warmed up. Vance ran 57-high and he runs 60-flat in the intermediates. For him to come back after that was a tremendous example of focus."
   Williams needed all the focus he had, and needed to pull from all his two weeks of practice to finish second, particularly with the competition heating up so quickly.
   "It ended up coming down to the last jumps," Jackson said. "The Ewing guy started with a 38-7 and that’s seven inches beyond what Vance thought he could do. He responds with a jump of 39-1. It was great. He was center stage.
   "Then the Ewing guy comes back and on his second attempt, he goes 39-4. The Ewing crowd is going berserk. They think the win streak is intact, and Vance jumps 39-9. That’s a lot of pressure to put up that jump. He tacked on two feet to his best. This was the most inspirational thing any of our guys has done in our program history."
   Williams credits his teammates as well as being in that moment with his dramatic improvement.
   "It had a lot to do with adrenaline," Williams said, "and I knew what was at stake. I pushed myself to go farther. I knew it depended on it."
   WW-P North came into the season talking about doing big things this season. Unbeaten at 6-0 this year, the Knights have thus far lived up to the billing, in part because they’re embracing their new role. That attitude was evident even going into the meet at Ewing.
   "I think we’re all pretty confident we could win," Williams said. "We didn’t expect it to be that close. Everyone was pretty nervous during the meet about what was going to happen.
   "Our coach has been telling us that we’re no longer the underdogs," he added. "We’re known as an elite team and we have to carry ourselves that way. So far, it’s gone that way."
   Williams has continued his personal improvement this season and is looking to finish his scholastic career strong before heading to Maryland-Eastern Shore next fall.
   "Each season, I’ve kind of improved," said Williams, who reached the semifinals of the high hurdles at the Bernards Invitational on Saturday but couldn’t compete in the intermediates due to tweaking his knee. "Hopefully I can break 40 in the triple jump. I’d like to break 60 in the intermediates and get better in the highs."
   North’s season heads into the championship portion quickly. After today’s scheduled meet at Hopewell Valley, the Knights hope they can win their first Mercer County championship on Saturday. Coming off the win over Ewing puts the Knights in a legitimate contender position.
   "It probably opened up a lot of people’s eyes who weren’t really paying attention how good we are," Williams said. "A lot of teams will be gunning for us now."
   It’s a role that Williams, already a top hurdles threat, may have to adjust to as a new contender in the triple jump. His big second-place jump Thursday shows he’s more than just a supporter to McCullan.
   "I like it," he said. "It’s fun. I’ll do anything.
   "Albert helps a lot. We watch his form. He’s so fluid with his running and jumping. We try to help each other. And we joke around. I tell him I’m going to take his school record."
   That’s still a tall task, but one that’s pursuit can only help the Knights as they continue to try to establish themselves as the best in the county. And after what he did Thursday, no one’s counting out Vance Williams in his new event.
   "He went above and beyond to get it done," Jackson said. "He was a legitimate hero (Thursday). For that to happen in his senior year, to end a four-year streak in that way with one jump was inspirational. That’s leadership. That’s just what we talk about needing."