PHS is a relay champ

Boys capture Group III sprint medley

By: Justin Feil
   It takes more than a couple mix-ups to stop Marcus French and the Princeton High track and field team.
   First, French was supposed to be a part of the highly touted Little Tigers’ 4×200 relay at the Group III state relays Sunday. Except they missed the officials’ call for the event.
   "We were going to be the strongest in that," said French, a PHS senior. "We missed the entire race. We said, we have to give Coach something good for the SMR. We knew we had to put something forward. I didn’t know we were going to win."
   The sprint medley relay gold didn’t come easily. After Thomas Hellstern led off with a strong opening 400 meters, Ralph Nelson followed with the first of two 200-meter legs. But at the end of his, the Little Tigers had a small mishap when Nelson and French had anything but a smooth exchange of the baton to kick off French’s 200 leg.
   "When he handed off to me, there was at least a second-long stop," French said. "I got the baton, and it felt like I was walking off the line. Then, I got going and bolted right out of there.
   "It’s an amazing thing. If we had a good exchange, we would have been even better."
   French got the baton to Dan Cavallaro, who responded with an impressive 800-meter leg to catch one runner and thoroughly pull away for the win in a time of 3:44.77. But because the Little Tigers were unseeded after having never competed this season in the sprint medley relay, they had to wait for two seeded heats to go.
   "I watched," said PHS head coach John Woosdside. "The next heat, their best time was 3:55. They were way behind us. I thought, all we have to do is beat one team in the last heat. When they passed it to the 800, I said, we’re in third place. As they kept going, I kept watching the splits. I said, we’re going to get third, at least."
   Back and forth went Willingboro and Camden, but neither could catch the time put up earlier by PHS. Mike Grier and Jeremy Ong finished tied for fifth in the high jump as the Little Tigers finished sixth in the Group III team standings overall. The Little Tigers were the lone Packet-area team to have a winner though there were a number of other teams to medal. Medals were given to the top six finishers.
   West Windsor-Plainsboro South placed sixth in the 4×200. Joe Brown, Jeff Riemann, Wes Tuck and Stuart Adams finished in 1:36.78. They were seventh in the 4×400. West Windsor-Plainsboro North’s John LiPuma, Evan Walczak, Steve Au-Yeung and Sean McNulty were third in the distance medley relay in 10:54.25.
   "We knew Notre Dame had run a real fast time coming into it," said North coach Brian Gould. "They were seeded around 10:30. Our goal was to win it if they hung back. We were three seconds off the front in that race. We didn’t have any weak legs, and we didn’t have any really strong legs. They ran well.
   "When you’re that close to a big win, I think it’s tough. The guys took it hard. Going under 11 in the middle of January indoors, that’s pretty good. They’re working hard. They’ll get faster."
   Ryan Sleeper, Colin Chudzik, Sagar Velegala and Tyler Corkdale were sixth in the 4×800 in 8:37.98. The Knights were 15th in the team standings. WW-P South was 25th.
   PHS also fared well on the girls’ side. Olivia Johnston, Ashadaya Patterson, Megan Wiseman and Libby Bliss were fourth in the sprint medley relay in 4:27.26. The same four placed fifth in the 4×200 relay in 1:52.49. The Little Tigers were 13th in the team standings with six points.
   WW-P North’s Julia Xu, Kelly Troianello, Caitlin Wilson and Trish Reilly were fifth in the 4×800 in 10:06.19. In the 4×55 hurdles, Ryan Williams, Vivian Chang, Cassie Ireland and Holland Thomas were fifth.
   "They ran a pretty fast time," Gould said. "It was a school record for us. They ran good race.
   "The 4×8 medaled also. They ran a nice race. It was also a school record for us."
   WW-P South placed fourth in the high jump with Sammy Howell and Diana Zhu. The Pirates and Knights were tied for 17th in the team standings. Montgomery High School competed, but did not place any relay in the top six.
   For French and the Little Tigers, winning the sprint medley relay was a highlight to the early season. It was much more than they ever expected at the state relays.
   "I’m way surprised," French said. "The guys we were against, they were huge. It was kind of intimidating. But we ran pretty well. We had to believe we can do it. I didn’t think we’d come out on top like we did. Those guys were amazing, but we can compete with them."
   Even after PHS found out it had won, there was a lot of disbelief. The Little Tigers weren’t sure what to believe after such an up and down day.
   "One of our teammates came up and said, you guys won," French recalled. "We said, stop playing with us. We had missed the whole 4×2, and we thought he was messing with us. We couldn’t believe it."
   It’s quite a start to his senior year of track. French first came out for the team as a sophomore. Woodside is happy that he stuck with it for three years to see him grow into his potential.
   "Marcus has always been naturally talented," Woodside said. "At first, he didn’t work that hard. He was OK. He wasn’t a varsity guy, but he was OK. He scored in the sophomore meet in the spring. Last year, he took a big step up. He did more 400s and scored in the 200. This year, he’s much stronger and he’s figuring out what he has to do to get better. He’s much more focused on working out.
   "His (400) race last Saturday against Lawrenceville, he ran a terrific race. He was battling with this other kid. He never gave up and coming off the last turn he ended up winning. He showed some maturity in battling and not giving up. Last year, he probably would have finished behind him. I feel Marcus has the ability to go even faster. He’s very talented runner. He has a beautiful stride. You see it as soon as he’s running."
   French is looking to continue striding toward a big finish to his scholastic career. He’s hoping it will help put a big name out there for PHS.
   "Hopefully I can bring down some times and for the team, leave a legacy behind like the seniors did last year," he said. "They left something. They set the bar pretty high."
   The Little Tigers have set the bar pretty high for themselves for the remainder of the winter season and the spring. It’s just a starting point for Marcus French and PHS.
   "That should be a big boost for us," he said. "We’ll go into our next meet big. We’re confident we can go in and do it 10 times better. I can’t wait to see what happens. A lot of us will have personal records."