Another meet record falls to Forys, MOC next

Higginson, Andrews also win state Group track titles

BY TIM MORRIS Staff Writer

Staff Writer

Colts Neck's Craig Forys (above) and Marlboro's Ada Unachukwu (l) were among the top local performers at this past weekend's Group IV championships in Egg Harbor Township. Colts Neck’s Craig Forys (above) and Marlboro’s Ada Unachukwu (l) were among the top local performers at this past weekend’s Group IV championships in Egg Harbor Township. Tonight will be the last chance to see one of the greatest distance runners in state history competing on New Jersey soil.

Colts Neck’s Craig Forys will close out his unparalleled career at the NJSIAA Meet of Champions in South Plainfield.

At last weekend’s State Group IV championships, Forys had the crowd at Egg Harbor Township High School on his side when he turned the 1,600-meter race into a coronation and not a competition.

Forys had signaled the Group championship as the meet in which he would try and put down a fast 1,600. He was hoping to run between 4:04 and 4:05, which he had previous run on relay splits. His opening quarter in 59 seconds had already laid waste to the field as it became obvious it was going to be a solo effort from then on. It was a race against the clock.

PHOTOS BY TIM MORRIS PHOTOS BY TIM MORRIS “After one-and-a-half laps, I knew it wasn’t there,” he said. “I wasn’t feeling that great. My legs didn’t have that flowing feeling like at Penn [Relays, where he ran a 4:04.2 split].”

Forys marched on, however, with the chase pack melting farther into the background. Passing the 800 in 2:02 and the 1,200 in 3:05.4, he was still on course for a fast time. A sub-62 last quarter brought him home in 4:07.36, smashing the old Group IV meet and All Groups record (9:09.19 by John Richardson of Ocean City) and setting a new Shore Conference standard (the old record was 4:09.80 by Matt Mitchell of Christian Brothers Academy back in 1986) in the process. It didn’t mean that much to Forys, who had set his goals higher. Still, he had to concede that he was “happy” running 4:07 on a day when everything didn’t click.

Forys came back on Saturday concerned only with getting a win, which he got, running the 3,200 in 9:14.93. It was his 12th State Group title, including cross country and indoor and outdoor track.

At the MOC, Forys may try to do the 1,600-3,200 double. He did it indoors last winter and would be the only runner to achieve it indoors and outdoors if he is successful. The decision will depend on a variety of things: how well he recovers from the State Group meet, and the weather. The decision won’t likely be made until the day of the races. One thing is certain: according to Forys, he hasn’t run his best times yet

“I’m in better shape than ever before,” he remarked. “No way I’m done yet.”

Manalapan’s Robby Andrews was one of the runners in the background during Forys’ 1,600 record. The Brave finished with a strong kick to grab sixth place (4:23.55) and achieve his goal of qualifying for the MOC (the top six finishers at the Group meets all advanced to South Plainfield).

If the sophomore had just done that, it would have been a good weekend for him. But on Saturday, he pulled off one of the biggest surprises of the meet, winning the state title at 800 meters. He caught defending state champion Jason Apwah of Roxbury 70 meters from the finish line and held on to turn in a personal best 1:54.37. Apwah faded to third (1:54.99) and Absegami’s Ford Palmer took second (1:54.98) as all three broke 1:55.

“I was in shock,” said Andrews. “Going in I thought that Apwah would be 10 or 15 meters ahead of the second pack. I wanted to be in contact with the pack.”

Although he was in last place at the bell after a 56.1 opening 400, Andrews had achieved his goal: he had not let a gap develop. At 200 meters, the Brave began his drive for the finish line and quickly moved to the front of the back with only Apwah and Palmer ahead of him. He shortly ran down Palmer, and rounding the turn had Apwah in his sights.

“I didn’t know if I had anything left,” Andrews said.

He did have enough to beat the defending champion and the field to win his first state championship.

“The race set up perfectly for me,” he said. “It’s an exciting feeling. It’s nice to know that I can run that fast at the start and still have something left.”

Andrews now has a decision to make – which race to run tonight. He had anticipated running the 1,600, but after winning the Group IV title at 800 meters. He’ll make his decision on race day as well.

Colts Neck’s indoor two-mile national champion Ashley Higginson, who has built up a résumé that stacks up with the best in state history, will be looking to win her first outdoor MOC title after winning a record three straight 3,200 titles indoors.

Higginson added the State Group IV 3,200 title to her season of championships last weekend. She wasn’t really tested in running a 10:52.49 victory. That’s how far she has separated herself from the rest of the state at this distance.

However, the 1,600 meters is where Higginson made the biggest noise. To her credit, she dropped down to the 1,600 meters to take on Southern Regional’s Danielle Tauro in her event. In the clash of national champions, Higginson made sure that Tauro (the one-mile national champion) earned her Group IV state title by pushing the pace from the start. She ran the first quarter in 69 seconds and 800 meters in 2:23. All the time, Tauro was on her shoulder matching her pace and keeping her on the rail. It stayed that way through three quarters. On the backstretch Tauro struck with 250 meters to go.

At first, Higginson didn’t let her get away and matched her. By the far turn, Tauro had opened up a gap and her teammate Jillian Smith moved up to challenge Higginson.

Both have better closing speed than the Cougar and went one-two, just as they did during the indoor season. Tauro stopped the clock in 4:44.35, followed by Smith (4:46.87) and Higginson (4:47.71), who achieved her goal of breaking 4:50 and breaking the Monmouth County record held by Red Bank Regional’s Katy Trotter (4:48.62).

“I ran the race the way I needed to,” Higginson said. “I’m proud of my time.”

Also in that race, Freehold Township’s Janel Parker was proud of her time. The Patriot junior dipped under 5:00 for the very first time, running a 4:59.93 and taking sixth place.

“I wanted to run even splits around 75 seconds for the first three laps,” she remarked. “I was a little behind after three laps and had to pick it up. I went all-out.”

It was enough to reach her season-long goal and extend her season to the MOC.

Colts Neck hurdler Matt Sullivan has been one of the year’s biggest surprises.

He will be going to the MOC in two events. He was third in the 400-meter intermediate hurdles (55.89) and sixth in the 110-meter hurdles (14.74).

Freehold Township’s Dan Mularz, who has been dueling with Sullivan all year, qualified for the MOC by finishing fourth behind the Cougar in the 400 (56.28).

The Pats’ Marcus Goode keeps jumping farther and farther, but he can’t seem to get a win. At least this time, in finishing second in the triple jump, he got a record. The junior’s 46-10 1/4 jump is the best in Shore Conference history (Keyport’s Pete Czech had the old record, 46-4 1/2).

Colts Neck’s Kevin Kelly (186-10) and Manalapan’s Jack Gilburn (182-9) are headed to the MOC after finishing third and fourth in the javelin throw.

John Krewer improved his school record in the shot put to 53-1, taking fourth place.

With Forys’ double win and the performances of Sullivan, Krewer and Kelly, the Cougars finished second with 37 points behind Trenton Central (64).

As expected, Marlboro’s Kristen Batts is headed to South Plainfield, only not in the event expected.

Batts has been the best discus thrower in the state this year, complete with the year’s best toss, 152-7. But she fouled on all three of her throws in the preliminaries and was out of the competition.

“I just had a bad day,” said the Mustang senior, who fell out of the circle on her first attempt and then saw her last two throws land out of bounds.

Batts rallied the next day to come up with her best shot put throw of the season, 41-0 3/4, to slip into sixth place.

Batts’ teammate Ada Unachukwu finished fourth in the 100-meter dash (12.49).

A pair of Howell Rebels are headed to the MOC, led by javelin thrower Brittany Napoli, who finished second (123-11). From the start of the season to the state meets, the Rebel has proved to be remarkably consistent in an event marked by inconsistency. Her teammate Jamie Leacock placed sixth in the 400 intermediate hurdles (1:04.27) to extend her career to the MOC.

The Group III championships were in South Plainfield, and the lone District athlete to punch her ticket to the MOC was Freehold Borough javelin thrower Blair Hassell. She was second (117-6).