Jackson Memorial preps for CJ IV track sectionals


 Jackson Memorial Jackson Memorial The Jackson Memorial High School boys track and field team is ready to make a statement in what will be a competitive Central Jersey Group IV state sectional meet to be held Feb. 11 at the John Bennett Indoor Athletic Complex in Toms River.

The Jaguars are coming off strong team performances in the Ocean County relays and the Ocean County individual meet behind senior captain Mike Kaba.

“We did well early in the season at the Ocean County meets and did better at the state relays and even better at the Metropolitan Invitational” on Feb. 3 in New York City, Jaguars coach Steve Theobald said. “We are riding a good wave of performances. It’s the sheer number of kids performing well, like 35 or 40 [athletes] in the county relays.”

The Jaguars will arrive at the Feb. 11 state sectional meet with perhaps their most complete team since the squad’s 2006 championship campaign.

“The strength of our team is depth in all events,” Theobald said. “And we have many guys who do not specialize in just one event. It’s a complete team. We are definitely primed to run really fast this weekend.”

Senior Maurice Jackson is a good example of the versatility of many individuals on the Jaguars’ squad. Jackson throws 45 feet in the shot put and is also one of the team’s top 800-meter runners with a 2:04 time, second only to senior Brandon Eldershaw, who runs 2:00 in the 800 and also clocks 4:30 in the 1,600 meters.

“That’s what our team is like,” Theobald said. “It’s not just [athletes competing in] one or two events, but many are in three events.”

Theobald noted that the Jaguars will be competing in one of the toughest state sectional meets in the state, going up against Central Jersey Group IV teams such as Trenton, Old Bridge and South Brunswick, among others.

Kaba won the 55-meter hurdles at the Metropolitan Invitational in 7.4 seconds, one of the top times in the state this season, but he is seeded No. 5 in that event for the Central Jersey Group IV meet.

“My hurdling has been improving,” Kaba said. “I’ve worked on my landing. I’m getting off the hurdles faster and getting my trail leg out faster.” For Kaba, this week’s competition is an opportunity to make up for last season, when a strained back kept him off the track until two weeks before the sectionals and he was unable to advance beyond that.

“I have to admit I’m pretty nervous because this is one of the hardest, if not the hardest section to get out of” in order to advance to the Group IV meet, Kaba said. “We are all trying harder right now to be better. In the past few weeks, the training has been phenomenal for the entire team. As long as I run the race I’ve run, I’ll be all right.”

Kaba ran a season-best 50.6 for his 400-meter leg in the 4×400- meter relay in which the Jaguars placed third at the Metropolitan Invitational in 3:27, the 12th best time by a relay team in New Jersey this season. The relay team is seeded No. 4 in the state sectional meet. Mike Rogers anchored the relay in a personal best 50.6 at the Metropolitan Invitational and was joined by Ruben Carvalho, Ryan Williams and Kaba.

Theobald expects big things from Kaba in the hurdles and from the 4×400 relay team as they contend for a berth in the Group IV meet to be held on Feb. 18.

“I have a lot of confidence in that relay team, probably the most confidence in that,” Kaba said. “I think we can give it a run [in the sectionals]. We have a lot of strong people across the board.”

At the Ocean County Track and Field Championships, Eldershaw was second in the 800 and third in the 1,600.

At the Ocean County Relays, Eldershaw ran on the Jaguars’ 4×800-meter relay team with Jon Jones, Gino Cortes and Tom O’Brien. The quartet’s winning performance in the meet’s opening event got the Jaguars off to a solid start and they went on to win the team title.

The 4×800 relay will not be contested at the state sectional meet.

Kaba and O’Brien placed first and third, respectively, in the 400 in the Ocean County meet, but Theobald believes O’Brien can advance out of the sectionals and to the Group IV meet in the 3,200-meter run.

Theobald also is looking to senior Jason Poppe, who has consistently reached 6-2 in the high jump and has run 8.0 in the high hurdles. Sophomore Justin Gullo has run consistently well in the 55-meter dash.

As for the Jackson Memorial girls team, distance runner Ashley Carle is the best bet to advance to the Group IV meet.