WEST WINDSOR: Riff’s big kick lands him in MOC

Pirates senior looks for top race in finale

By Justin Feil, Assistant Sports Editor
   Over the final month of his high school career, Dan Riff has gained a new confidence in his running ability.
   It is the way that the West Windsor-Plainsboro High South senior has been finishing his races that has him prepared for a big finish as a Pirate at the Meet of Champions.
   ”I’ve noticed my kick has been good,” Riff said. “It feels good to finally kick at the end of the race, which I didn’t really have in the winter.”
   Riff kicked in to win the boys 1600 meters in 4:17.27 at the Group IV state championship in Egg Harbor on Friday, almost seven-tenths of a second faster than runner-up William Dolan of Clearview. Riff came back to finish second in the 3200 in 9:26.37, but his focus will be on the mile that has emerged as his best chance to medal at the MOC on Wednesday in South Plainfield.
   ”I’m right in the mix,” Riff said. “There are a lot of other people in the mix. The mile could come down to anyone at any point. Anyone has a shot at it. It’ll be a close pack until the last 200. It’ll come down to who wants it more. We’ll see who wants it more.”
   Riff also won the mile at sectionals last week and won the mile in a school-record 4:10.28 at the Holmdel Twilight series almost three weeks ago.
   ”Both races last week, we talked to other guys, and it was going to be a kick race,” Riff said. “It was really windy too, so we took turns leading laps. it was more of a teamwork kind of race and just getting out to this meet. When we got to this meet, it was the opposite of what it was at last meet. It knew I had a good chance of winning, I knew it would be another kick race. I knew if I was in it at the end, I’d kick it in.”
   Riff credits his kick’s emergence to some weight lifting he was doing earlier in the school year, then when he cut back on it, he was left with strength but not too much muscle mass to slow him down.
   ”You can tell he’s running with a lot of confidence,” said Pirates head coach Todd Smith. “He went down to the Holmdel meet and broke the school record. He’s good enough to run with anyone in the state. He has great speed, and he’s running with a great deal of confidence and keeping his nose in it at the end. Someone that has great speed and keeps their nose in it to the end, will have a great chance at it. This is the best I’ve ever seen him run.”
   Riff was the lone Packet-area boy to win an event at groups, but the top six finishers in each event plus the next best six finishers from all groups advance to the MOC. Eddison Gulama was second in the 800 in 1:53.70, a personal best.
   Also out of Group IV, West Windsor-Plainsboro High North will be well represented. Anthony Zeng was third in the shot put at 56-feet-4¼. Jerrick Zhang was eighth in the shot put at 51-9¼, which earned him a wild card. Eddie Cunningham took sixth in the 3200 in 9:40.17. Sam Praveen, Arvind Arikatla, Praneeth Gottipatti and Kevin Maa were sixth in the 4×800 in 8:03.37.
   Montgomery High School will have a pair of boys in the MOC. Ross Baginsky placed third in the javelin at a personal-best 177-3. Vlad Castillo was eighth in the discus with a throw of 150-3, good enough for the sophomore to earn a wild card spot.
   In the Group III meet, Tim Brennan captured third in the discus with a throw of 172-7. The senior was 10th in the shot put at 49-8½, just missing a wild card entry. Jacob Rist ran 9:44.44 for eighth place in the 3200 meters, but the sophomore advances as a wild card to the MOC. Anders Berg, Matt Wong, Conor Donahue and Jacob Rist ran 8:08.14 for ninth in the 4×800 relay, but will advance as a wild card.
   Riff is looking forward to one more chance to represent WW-P South at the state level, and his confidence has been building toward this finale.
   ”At the same time people are saying, ‘It’s great,’ and ‘It’s significant,’ I’m not satisfied,” Riff said. “Going into MOC on Wednesday, I think that’ll really play a role in how I race. Running that 4:10 at Twilight made me realize I have more potential than what I’ve been doing.”
   Riff’s recent runs have opened his eyes to his potential, and he is hoping to produce his best Wednesday in the perfect setting to cap his career.
   ”I feel like every year at MOCs, there’s a curse,” Riff said. “I never ever do well at MOCs. I’m trying to break that curse. I feel like I can. Sometimes I psyche myself out going into big races. I think I have the confidence to not do that. I think I’m ready.”