Lady Dawgs retain state relay crown

Hopewell Valley indoor track

By: Jim Green
   The Hopewell Valley Central High School girls track team wins the Group II state relay team title every year, but it seldom, if ever, is easy.
   It was about as tough as it can be on Sunday, as the Lady Bulldogs used a fourth-place finish in the final event to capture a two-point win, 54-52 over second-place Pope John XXIII at Princeton University’s Jadwin Gym. It was the fifth straight title at the meet for Hopewell.
   "Our big thing was the drive for five, and this is our first year without (graduated) Natalie Mapp, who was such a staple — to keep it going without her," Hopewell coach Aaron Oldfield said. "Those were the two motivating factors."
   Of the five titles, only once have the Lady Bulldogs won by more than six points. In fact, last season, they tied for first with Woodrow Wilson at 34-34, so Hopewell certainly was accustomed to tight finishes.
   "Four out of the five have been real close," Oldfield said. "There’s so many teams, and you don’t know what teams are going to go after what events. It’s always so close. Only once ever did I feel comfortable before the last event. They’re all very nerve-wracking, all very emotional."
   On Sunday, Hopewell led Pope John 50-42 heading into the final race, the 4×400. Since the best Pope John could do was get 10 points for winning the event, the Lady Bulldogs knew they would clinch the outright win with a fourth-place finish, which would net them four points. And the HoVal team of Kristen Volpe, Jackie Barrett, Julie Alexander and Miriam Khan, did just that, placing fourth in 4:14.14 wrap up the win, despite Pope John’s victory in the event.
   "Our kids are students of the sport," Oldfield said. "We let them know what the situation was before the event."
   While the 4×400 was the clincher, it was far from the only important performance. Emily Sherrard, Sarah Gustafson, Clare Buck and Megan Fitzpatrick teamed to win the 4×800 in 9:52.47, and Sherrard, Volpe, Gustafson and Fitzpatrick took the distance medley in 12:48.15. Barrett, Volpe, Alexander and Khan were third in the 4×200 at 1:49.13, Alexander, Barrett, Khan and Fitzpatrick were second in the sprint medley relay at 4:19.90, and Abby Harris-Shea, Liz Mamer, Khan and Katelyn Pagano were third in the 4×55 shuttle hurdles at 36.60. Harris-Shea was third in the high jump at 5-2, while Cathy Bigelow was 11th in the event at 4-8. Allison Fletcher (31-5 ½) and Daniela Mottle (30-0) had strong throws in the shot put.
   On the boys side, Paul Wagner (fifth overall at 48-10 ¾) and Dave Anderson (40-10) teamed to place fifth in the shot put, while Chris Anuzis, Rob Alicea, Dan Russell and Matt Hilderbrandt placed eighth in the sprint medley at 3:48.79. Alicea, Marc Kilstein, Russell and Anuzis ran the 4×200 in 1:39.64, and Alicea, Russell, Kilstein and Matt Cook finished the 4×400 in 4:12.19. Tom Marsh, Leif Baumbach, Evan Kita and David Siuta ran the 4×800 in 9:18.76, and Marsh, Cook, Siuta and Hilderbrandt finished the distance medley in 11:37.58.
   For the girls, this was the meet where Fitzpatrick stepped up to claim her place as the latest in a long line of go-to girls for the Lady Bulldogs, as she anchored two winning relays.
   "She’s running with a lot more confidence," Oldfield said. "She’s been doing really well in the workouts, and that’s carrying over into the meets. She’s just so confident right now."
   Two other big keys were the fact Hopewell placed in three events for the first time — the shuttle hurdles, pole vault and high jump — while three freshmen scored points.
   "There are so many kids — they’re all so special," Oldfield said. "We had so many kids contribute in so many different events.
   "There are a lot of people behind the scenes that have always contributed. This was their time to really step up big time. The entire team came together. I was really proud of them. I couldn’t be prouder of their commitment and hard work."
   And, of course, there was Sherrard, who has assumed the mantle of senior leader that was left behind by Mapp.
   "Emily was a big part in both of her relays," Oldfield said. "She was the leadoff runner. She’s a kid that the other kids can look to for advice. She’s just a great leader."
   The Lady Bulldogs now will turn their attention to trying to defend their team title at the Group II individual championships Sunday at Jadwin.
   "There’s probably four-to-six schools that can win," Oldfield said. "You don’t know who’s going after what events. If you have one really outstanding athlete, they can single-handedly win a team title. All our kids have to be on their ‘A’ game. It’s so hard to predict."