Higginson, Unachukwu head All-District track

BY TIM MORRIS Staff Writer

Staff Writer

When a national champion is crowned, any sports season is a success.

In the case of the girls indoor track and field season, Ashley Higginson’s victory in the two-mile run at the National Scholastic Indoor Championships was the highlight of what was a tremendous season in the Freehold Regional District. New District standards fell periodically as the area’s best athletes stood out, one meet after another.

Higginson’s national championship and the state record that went with it (10:16.75) trumped everything, of course, including her record-setting third straight indoor Meet of Champions title in the 3,200. But there was so many other highlights. Most of them, however, did involve the Princeton University-bound Cougar and Colts Neck.

In addition to her individual national title, she anchored the Colts Neck 4×1-mile relay team to its second straight NSIC national title, turning in a state record 20:36.41 (also No. 9 all-time in the nation). Allie Flott, Allison Linnell, Kristen O’Dowd and Higginson were the championship quartet.

At the Eastern States, Higginson anchored the distance medley relay team that turned in the second fastest time in the country (11:56.24) for the season, and No. 6 all-time in state history.

Colts Neck won the Monmouth County Championship for the second straight year and captured the Monmouth County Relay title as well.

Freehold Township’s Allyson Moskal leaped out of the pack to break 5:00 for the 1,600 (4:59.20) and win the Eastern States mile run.

It was a big year for Marlboro with sprinter/jumper Ada Unachukwu, pole vaulter Jenna Meagher and thrower Kristen Batts all setting District records.

Manalapan’s Kristen Andrews chimed in with a new standard in the seldom-run 600 meters.

Higginson, of course, heads the News Transcript’s 2007 All-Freehold Regional District Girls Indoor Track and Field Team.

Unachukwu (55-meter dash), Andrews (400), Wimberly (800), Howell’s Jamie Leacock (55-meter hurdles), Moskal (1,600) and Colts Neck’s 4×400 relay team round out the track performers. Batts, Meagher and Colts Neck’s Lindsey Rappleyea (high jump) head the field portion of the team.

Her coach, Jim Schlentz, has referred to Higginson as the quietest great runner we’ve seen. She may have been just that, but with a record-tying three straight indoor MOC titles and that national championship, people are certainly going to have to stand up and take notice of the finest girls distance runner that the District has seen.

Where to begin? First, we could make a case for her taking the 800 (she was only the county champion in the District then-record 2:16.59) and 1,600 slots (she ran a District record 4:53.70 in taking second at the State Group IV championships and ran the mile in 4:57.77), but we’ll leave her at the 3,200, which she dominated like no other, going undefeated. At the Group IV championships, she broke the meet record of the legendary Janet Smith of J.P. Stevens. She added the MOC meet record as well with her national-leading 10:26.53. This record was her own (10:36.74 in ’06).

That was all a prelude to her anchoring the Cougars to a repeat national title in the 4×1-mile relay with a 4:49.1 split that puts her light years up on anyone else.

Higginson’s final indoor race of her career was the two-mile at the NSIC, where she won her first individual national title and took the state record with her.

Since September when the cross country season started, Higginson hasn’t missed a beat. Who knows what records will fall outdoors when she takes to the track?

While Higginson was solidifying her place among the best the state has ever produced, Moskal emerged late in the season as one of the runners to watch for the rest of the season and the future. It all started innocently enough with some solid 800 and 1,600 times during the year. Then came her breakout at the MOC, where she joined Higginson and former Howell great Lindsey Gallo as the only runners to break 5:00 for 1,600 meters. The Patriot sophomore posted a 4:59.20 in taking third. She followed that up with a victory at the Eastern States mile, and an eighth place at the Nike Indoor Nationals in Landover, Md., in the one-mile. She has put herself in the company of the best.

Unachukwu improved on what was a sensational freshman year as she again ranked among the best sprinters in the state. She had a Shore area nemesis in Ocean Township’s Georgina Nembhard, who beat her at the county and conference championships. Unachukwu was second in the State Group IV meet and seventh at the MOC. Her best time of the season was 7.23.

She was able to run a couple of 200-meter races and tied the District record with a 25.7.

Unachukwu did get to put her versatility on display. She set District records for the long jump (15-10) and triple jump (36-10), which is a new Shore Conference standard. The sophomore moved up to the 400 meters, where she was a part of the Mustang team that was third in the county and fifth in the conference.

Wimberly set a new District mark for the 400 (59.10) in winning the Monmouth County title, then moved up to the 800, where she took that District record down as well with a speedy 2:16.0 at the Armory. The senior was sixth at the Group IV championships and 13th at the MOC.

Wimberly anchored the best 1,600-meter relay team. Kathlyn Herrick, Samantha Santos and Julia Tomaro were the other members of the team that was second in the county, sixth in the Group IV state championships and 13th at the MOC. Their best time was 4:05.08.

Andrews was third in Monmouth County (59.90), fourth in the conference and 13th in Group IV. Outdoors she will add the 400 intermediate hurdles to her events.

Leacock had a solid hurdling season, always finishing ahead of her District rivals. The Rebel senior was runner-up to Nembhard at the county championships and fifth in the conference (9.08). She ran her best time of the season at the State Group IV championships (8.94) in finishing 14th.

Batts certainly made the most of her first and only indoor campaign. The senior, whose best event is the discus, which is only contested outdoors, steadily improved with each meet, reaching a personal best 40-11. She won the country championship, was third at the conference, fifth at State Group IV and sixth at the MOC.

Batts gave the 20-pound weight throw a try and set the District and SC standard with a 40-5, which is the second best in state history.

Meagher raised the indoor pole vault record to 10-0. The senior didn’t have many opportunities to compete, but made the most of them. She was sixth at the Group IV championships and tied for ninth at the MOC.

Rappleyea earned her spot on the team via her consistency throughout the season. She was second at the county and fifth at the conference. Her best jump of the season, 5-2, tied the best mark of the campaign.

Those earning honorable mention for this season were: Allison Linnell, Allie Flott, Kristen O’Dowd, Briana Jackucewicz, Jesse Pagliano and Abby Stewart, Colts Neck; Meagan Patterson, Freehold Borough; Janel Parker and Crystal Mahoney, Freehold Township; Anna DiPaolo and Lindsey Lambert, Howell; and Suzanne Raspa, Brittany Pietrosh, Lauren Pietrosh, Jackie Karlovich and Emily Cellini,