Tagatac wins meet record 800 as Cougars repeat

At District track and field championships

BY TIM MORRIS Staff Writer

Staff Writer

TIM MORRIS Freehold Township's Janel Parker (l) and Freehold Borough's Elise Tagatac (r) are stride for stride as they near the finish line of the girls 800 meter run at the Freehold Regional District Track and Field Championships at Howell High School. Both girls broke Lindsey Gallo's meet record with Tagatac winning in 2:15.7.TIM MORRIS Freehold Township’s Janel Parker (l) and Freehold Borough’s Elise Tagatac (r) are stride for stride as they near the finish line of the girls 800 meter run at the Freehold Regional District Track and Field Championships at Howell High School. Both girls broke Lindsey Gallo’s meet record with Tagatac winning in 2:15.7. Elise Tagatac stepped out of character and into her first Freehold Regional District title.

It was not a surprise to see Tagatac leading the girls 800 run at Thursday’s District Track and Field Championships, but what no one expected was that she would still be there at the end, turning in the best performance of the day, a meet record 2:15.7.

“I ran negative splits, which is not my style,” said the Freehold Borough runner. “I was just racing. I had Janel [Parker] on my right, and I wanted to stay with her. One thing I do have is good racing instincts.”

Those instincts told her not to burn up the track for the first 400 meters like she might have in the past. As is her style, she did go straight to the lead, but passed the first 400 in 70, a pace comfortable enough to leave her with a finishing kick. The question, however, was would she be able to hold off the most talented 800-meter field in the meet’s history? Waiting to jump on her were defending champion Kellee Hand of Howell, a two-time District champion in the event; Colts Neck’s Ashley Higginson, the double indoor MOC champion at 3,200 meters who has run 2:18; and Freehold Township’s Parker, who had turned in sparkling splits in the 2:16 range during the relay season and was the best finisher in the race.

It didn’t seem possible that Tagatac would be able to hold these runners off from the front, but this time she didn’t waver. She had learned something during workouts that made her realize she could run faster over the second 400 if she held the accelerator back.

“I’ve gotten quicker,” she said. “I know I can go out slow and have a kick at the end.”

She needed that kick and more in the final 200 meters when Parker moved into another gear and pulled alongside Tagatac. For a second, it looked like her momentum would overtake the Colonial. They were stride for stride down the homestretch with both runners throwing all they had at each other, which is what makes the sport so compelling. That’s when something else, perhaps the X

factor called desire, came into play.

“I wanted it so bad,” Tagatac said. “I’ve been second every year.”

There would be no second this time, as she fought off Parker’s challenge and smashed Lindsey Gallo’s meet record from 2000 of 2:20.1. A 65-second last 400 kept the challengers at bay. Runner-up Park’s 2:161 was well under the old mark, as was Higginson’s 2:18.6, which was run after winning the 1,600 earlier in the meet. Hand, in fourth, was just off the mark of the ex-Rebel star at 2:20.2.

Tagatac’s meet record allowed her to share Track Most Valuable Player honors with Colts Neck’s Meryl Wimberley, who had a first and two third places on the track, in helping the Cougars easily defend their championship with 137 points. Howell was second with 97 just two ahead of Freehold Township.

Wimberley won the 400 in 59.1 and was the only sprinter under 60 seconds. She was third in the 100 (12.5) and 200 (26.0).

Higginson took a stroll, winning the 1,600 in 5:19.7, pulling Allison Linnell to a third place and Kristen O’Dowd, sixth. A charge on the homestretch took Howell’s Lauren Rome from fourth to second (5:22.8).

Manalapan’s Kristen Andrews won her showdown with Howell’s Jamie Leacock in the battle of the area’s two best intermediate hurdlers. Andrews’ 65.2 topped Leacock’s 65.9.

Leacock came back and won the 100-meter hurdles in 15.8.

A nice rivalry is developing in the sprints between Marlboro freshman Ada Unachukwu and Freehold Township sophomore Tanika Peart. Unachukwu made her District meet debut a big splash as she won the 100 on a lean in 12.5. Peart was fourth in 12.6.

In the 200, Peart got the edge at the line, 25.5-25.8, over Unachukwu.

Unachukwu would share the Field MVP honors with Colts Neck’s Jessica Pagaliano, after setting a meet record in the triple jump. Her 33-8 1/3 bested the old mark of 32-8 1/2 set by Colts Neck’s Jackie Austin last year.

In the long Jump, Unachukwu was second to Pagliano by just a half-inch, 15-3 1/2-15-3.

Two firsts and two seconds – not a bad start for the promising Unachukwu.

Pagliano did in the field what Wimberley did for the Cougars on the track, piled up the points. In addition to her long jump win, Pagliano won the high jump at 5-4 and was sixth in the triple jump.

Back on the track, Colts Neck’s Briana Jackucewicz won her first Freehold District title in 11:26.2 as the Cougars went one-two with Allison Donaghy, second (11:54.7).

Colts Neck’s 4×400 relay team added its name to the record book as Nicole Vaccarella, Samantha Santo, Julia Tomaro and Kathlyn Herrick clipped more than two seconds off Freehold Borough 2004 mark on 4:09.5 with their 4:07.2. Victory wasn’t secure until the final 100 meters, when Herrick completed the come-from-behind win. The Cougars were pushed to the win by second-place Freehold Township, which was also under the old mark at 4:07.4. Further back, Howell was also under the old standard with its 4:09.1.

Marlboro’s Jenna Meagher was the other record setter on the day as she equaled the pole vault record of 9-6 set last year by Colts Neck’s Gretchen Volherbst.

Kristen Batts of Marlboro defended her discus title with a 119-6. Howell’s Brittany Napoli won the javelin (114-7) and Freehold Township’s Crystal Mahoney won the shot put (37-2).

It was a total team effort for the defending champions, as in addition to their winners, they got points everywhere. Among the other scorers were Morgan Clark (800), Rachel Morris (3,200), Nicole Decker (discus) and Lauren Rappleyea (high jump). Herrick, Santos and Tomaro got points in the hurdles and sprints.

Freehold Regional District Girls Track & Field Championships at Howell High School, May 4

Team standings

1Colts Neck137


3Freehold Township95



6Freehold Borough 28



1Ada Unachukwu- MAR12.5

2Linda Gonzales- FT 12.5

3Meryl Wimberley- CN12.5


1Tanika Peart- FT 25.5

2Ada Unachukwu- MAR 25.8

3Meryl Wimberley- CN26.0


1Meryl Wimberley- CN59.1

2Allyson Moskal- FT61.3 3Lauren Pietrosh- MAR63.8


1Elise Tagatac- FB2:15.7

(new meet record, old meet record, Lindsey Gallo, Howell, 2:20.1, 2000)

2Janel Parker- FT 2:16.1

3Ashley Higginson- CN2:18.6


1Ashley Higginson- CN5:19.7 2Lauren Rome- HOW 5:22.8 3Allison Linnell- CN 5:24.9


1Briana Jackucewicz-CN 11:26.3

2Allison Donaghy- CN 11:54.7 3Jenna Brock- FT11:57.3


1Jamie Leacock- HOW15.8 2Kathlyn Herrick- CN 16.0

3Julia Tomaro- CN16.8

400-intermediate hurdles

1Kristen Andrews- MAN 65.2 2Jamie Leacock- HOW 65.9

3Kathlyn Herrick- CN67.5


1Colts Neck4:07.2

Nicole Vaccarella, Samantha Santo, Julia Tomaro, Katlyn Herrick (new meet record,

old meet record, FB, 4:09.4


2Freehold Township4:07.4


shot put

1Crystal Mahoney- FT 37-2

2Anna DiPaolo- HOW 35-31/2 3Kristen Batts- MAR32-11/2


1Kristen Batts- MAR119-6

2Brittany Napoli- HOW104-7 3Nicole Decker- CN100-9


1Brittany Napoli- HOW114-7

2Samantha Moran- MAN102-11

3 Anna DiPaolo- HOW102-8

high jump

1Jessica Pagliano- CN 5-4

2Charlotte Walsh- FT4-10

3Lindsey Rappleyea- CN4-10

long jump

1Jessica Pagliano- CN15-3 1/2

2Ada Unachukwu- MAR15-3

3Desiree Reese- FT14-11

triple jump

1Ada Unachukwu- MAR33-8 1/2

(new meet record, old meet record, Jackie Austin, CN, 32-81/2, 2005)

2Kim Dale- MAN32-6

3Jessica Johnson- HOW31-1

pole vault

1Jenna Meagher- MAR 9-6

(meet record set by Gretchen Volherbst, Colts Neck, 2005).

2Caety Tolerico- MAN7-2