Cougar runners shine at national track meet

10 earn All-American status

BY TIM MORRIS Staff Writer

It was another productive weekend at the National Scholastic Indoor Championships (NISC) for Colts Neck’s runners. By now, the Cougars have made the extraordinary ordinary as its runners left the NSIC, held at the New Balance Track and Field Center in New York City, decorated as All-American 10 times.

The Cougars scored twice in the relays on Saturday with the girls taking fourth in the 4×1-mile and the boys, sixth. On Sunday,Allison Linnell and Brianna Jackucewicz won AA honors individually.

The girls, who have won the 4×1-miler relay the last two years, displayed the pride of a champion coming back from 14th early in the race to take fourth (20:57.65). The top six finishers at each event at the NSIC earned All-American certificates. Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake (N.Y.) took the relay in 20:14.24.

Morgan Clark and Allie Flott ran the opening two legs for the Cougarswith veterans Jackucewicz and Linnell closing it. Jackucewicz had the Cougars in seventh place when she handed the baton to Linnell, who moved the team up three places to fourth.

“I’m really proud of the team,” said Jackucewicz. “We had high expectations.”

While the Cougar girls were looking to continue their tradition in the event, the boys were an unknown quantity. Coach Jim Schlentz added up the 1,600-meter personal bests of his quartet and rounded the figure off to the full one-mile distance and had calculated them at 8:18. A good time, but probably not good enough for All-America.

On race day though, the Cougars ran likeAll-Americans, turning in an 18:06.70 in sixth place (Danbury, Conn., turned in a 17:28.47) as everyone came through with a big effort.

Freshman Mike O’Dowd, coming on like a freight train this winter, opened it with a 4:29 for the Cougars. His brother, Kevin, and Jason Weiner followed with 4:38 and 4:33 splits, respectively. When anchor Mark Leininger took the baton, the Cougars were in eighth place. Leininger played it smart for the first half-mile and didn’t try to close the gap too quickly. He saved something for the second half-mile and that proved decisive. He moved the team into sixth place with three laps remaining and had enough left to hold off any challenges to his position.

“This was amazing,” said Leininger, who anchored the team home with a 4:25.6. “We’ve been training for this all year. It [All-American] was our goal.”

The good news for the Cougars, all are underclassmen.

Linnell found satisfaction on two fronts anchoring the relay team to fourth place and running a personal best 4:55.56 while taking fourth in the one-mile and winning her second AA certificate. Linnell didn’t know it at the time, but she broke the Freehold District indoor mile record of 4:57.77 set last year by her former teammate Ashley Higginson.

“I love relays because of the team concept,” she pointed out. “Both are equally satisfying. Individually, [All-America] it proves you’re up their with the other runners. You know you’re one of the best.”

And that is what Linnell proved to herself and everyone else on Sunday as did Jackucewicz, who came up with a personal best in the two-mile. Her 10:33.57 was second behind Malia Cali from Hammond, La., and her 10:29.70.

Cali took it out strong from the start and had settled comfortably into first place with her 5:12.

Jackucewicz was in the chase pack behind Cali and made her move just before the first mile was over, taking second place by herself. While she was unable to catch the front-running Cali, she gradually separated herself from the others and took second by more than four seconds.

“It’s really big that I could end the season on a high note with a pr,” said Jackucewicz. “I knew people behind me wanted second place. When I heard the crowd, I thought someone was catching me. I got a lift from the crowd.”

Down in Landover,Md., at the Nike Indoor Nationals (NIN), Marlboro’sAda Unachukwu, became the school’s first girl to earn All-America honors indoors.

Unachukwu was fifth in the girls triple jump at 38-1½. She reached that mark on her last jump. The Marlboro junior had done 38-0¼ on her fifth jump to moved into AA position.

The winning jump at the NIN was 40- 11½ by Erin Brooks of Seton Keough, Md.

With four jumps better than 38 feet and the five best jumps in the state this winter, Unachuckwu is the unofficial state champion in the event, which is not, unfortunately, contested in NJSIAA competitions.