By Special Correspondent John Altavilla
There’s no spot on the track where greater comradery exits than the area around the shot-put cage.
From the benches, in the lineup, around the semicircle that surrounds the ring, the athletes cheer each other, celebrating accomplishments, soothing the sting of bad throws or fouls.
On Saturday at the 37th Yale Interscholastic Track Classic in Cox Cage at Yale University, the spirit of sportsmanship was alive during the boys’ and girls’ competitions.
“We have fun together. At the end of the day, we always get after it. We’re all family. We love each other,” said Manchester senior Nathan Quaye.
The challenge this season for Quaye and his cohorts, and the top girls’ throwers, led by Hillhouse sophomore Leah Moore, is quite different.
The boys are chasing RHAM senior Michael Browning, one of New England’s best the last two years. The girls are anxious to replace Southington’s Amanda Howe, the reigning state champion, who is throwing the hammer at the University of Iowa this winter.
And the Yale two-day event gave both groups a chance to make a mark as conference championships, the CIAC division championships and the State Open approach.
Coming into the event, Moore, Southington junior Trinity Cardillo and Cross senior Susie Okoli had the three top throws in the state this season. On Saturday, they captured three of the top four spots. Moore won (39-04.25) with Cardillo (38-05.00) second and Okoli (38-00.00) fourth.
Last season, Okoli was second to Howe at the State Open (39’02.00”) after beating her in Class LL (40’04.25”). Moore won Class M (39’00.00”) and finished fourth at State Open (38’03.00”).
“I feel very good about this season, but I don’t look at it in terms of having a new opportunity,” said Okoli. “I’ve been doing OK, no real good or bad days. I’m not worried about anyone. I’m more concerned about myself and how I am going to perform. Howe was really fast, explosive in the circle. She was really good.”
For Cardillo, the competition is much more personal.
“We had such amazing athletes ahead of us who helped all of the younger ones,” said Cardillo, who was ninth at the State Open last season as a sophomore (35.08.5). “Amanda was totally my role model and one of my best friends. She paved the way for me, showed me how to be a good captain and what the expectations are. It’s been difficult to do, but I want to follow in her footsteps. That’s what I am here for. I am ready to perform.
“She taught me a lot about technique; she was amazing about all of that. She trained non-stop from the time she was a freshman and that’s I’ve been doing, even in the summer, there is no time off. I set PRs in my first two meets and I hope to throw 40 before season end. It’s going to be such a battle, we have girls within inches of each other. It’s going to push all of us even harder.”
Meanwhile, Browning, the defending Boys Class M and State Open champion, missed the event Saturday with an injury, opening the door for the others. And Quaye of Manchester stepped through with his throw of 53-07.50, a PR.
“I knew this was going to be a good day. I’ve been struggling a little this season, so I just went back to my old ways. When it comes to my technique, I need to get everything right and that’s where the struggle has come. But the last few practices have been better,” said Quaye. “Whether Mike is here or not, I approach it the same. I train with him and I’ve seen him throw everything in the book. We have fun together. Honestly, if he makes a good throw or he doesn’t, we are happy for each other. It’s all about getting ready for outdoor. There are bigger meets and more competition, and I am excited for that.
Browning (58’10.5”), Simsbury’s Jonathan Prell (53’6.25”) and Quaye (52’9.00”) came to Yale with those three best throws in the state this season.
Prell, who was second in Class LL last season and ninth in the State Open, finished second to Quaye on Saturday (51-05.50) with Bloomfield’s Aaron Williams (50-02.00) and Nicholas Campbell (50-00.00) taking third and fourth.
“I’m happy with my indoor season and throwing PRs right off the bat. I did Ok today. I certainly feel I could have done better,” said Prell. “There were some technical things that I did poorly. But it was still OK, and everything is improving and will continue to get better. In terms of Mike, I just throw on my own and focus on myself because I realize that’s what it comes down to. But we have a friendly competition, but he always wins.”
There many outstanding efforts Saturday, none more superlative than the one from sophomore Tess Stapleton of Fairfield-Ludlowe. Stapleton won the finals of the 55m hurdles (8.48) and the long jump (17-05.00). Norwich Free Academy’s senior Allyson Lewis was second in the long jump (17-04.75).
The boys high jump provided a glimpse of two of the top three athletes in the United States this season, Staples senior Clint Ellis and Derby senior Ja’kwan Hale. Justin Forde of Brien McMahon didn’t compete in the meet.
Ellis won the competition (6-08.00) and Hale finished third (6-02.00) behind Amity Regional senior Shaun Graham (6-04.00).
“I dealt with some injuries [pinched nerve in upper part of back] to start the season and missed some meets. But I am back and jumped well in my first meet back,” said Ellis, who will go to Harvard in the fall. “I’m using that as my starting point so it’s only up from there. It’s hard, but competition motivates me. There were meets when Justin (Forde of Norwalk-McMahon) was injured and I didn’t do as well as I should have. There wasn’t that motivating factor. I have gotten stronger, but we’ll have to see how that translates. I’m hoping to do better, but you never know.
Ellis (6-10) and Hale (6-8) entered the meet with the two of the three top jumps in the state this season. Hale is the defending State Open champion (6-08) and Class S champ (6.07). Ellis is the defending Class LL champion (6-04) and was second to Hale in the State Open (6-06).
“It’s been going very well for me so far. I’ve been aiming to jump 6-10 and run 34.0 in the 300m (this season). Those are the goals,” said Hale. “I think I was a little surprised at how well I performed last year [in the high jump]. I lot of people would tell me that I was really good, but even hitting the marks I did, I knew I could be better I was just trying to stay on top of the events I was taking part in.” Hale ran to a 35.46 in the 300m Championship Dash on Saturday as the first state finisher and second place overall.
Hale said winning the state championship last season was extremely gratifying and he knows it heightened his visibility.
“I do notice that sometimes. It’s pretty cool. I would have never thought I’d experience anything like it. It’s a blessing for sure that people know who I am,” said Hale. “That’s really all I ever wanted throughout high school. I wanted people to know who I am. I like the feeling very much. And I feel I’m a much better jumper this season. My mark and run-up are improved. And that helps me a lot.”
The track events featured an interesting, if not overly successful matchup, between New Milford senior Eli Nahom and Hall senior Troy Cormier in the 3000m Championship Run.
Nahon, the three-time Class L and reigning cross country State Open champion, and Cormier, last year’s Class L indoor titlist in the 1,600 (4:28.84) and 3,200 (9:36.91) finished far behind winner Matthew Payamps of St. Anthony’s (8:31.01).
Running together in the final heat, Nahom finished seventh (8:42.60) and Cormier was 30th (9:08.12).
“To be honest, I haven’t been training as hard as I want to, but I’m open to getting into a heavier training cycle,” said Nahom. “I just took some time off to get back where I wanted to be mentally again after some bad races this season. I don’t know. I think maybe my expectations for myself are a lot lower because I know historically, I haven’t been that great (indoor). But hopefully I can get another L title.”
Cormier’s performance was not entirely unexpected. He’s been struggling lately with a left foot injury and Saturday’s race was little more than a rehabilitation jog.
“I came into the season in very good shape and then I switched into a pair of cheap shoes,” said Cormier, whose third (4:19.68) in the 1,600 and fourth in the 3,200 (9:25.61) in the State Open were the best in the state for an underclassman last season. “During a workout, my foot started to really bother me I felt like there was a pebble under my toe. That was the Wednesday before Christmas. So, I stopped running for a few days. But when I resumed, it still hurt. It must have been two weeks without me knowing what was wrong with my foot. So, I’d rest and try again every fifth day.
“I finally got two x-rays and an MRI and they said it was metatarsal capsulitis [inflammation of the second toe). When I bend toes, its inflaming the capsule around my joint and running without tape or support was aggravating it. We found a way how to tape it to hold it down and I’ve been training ever since. It was a stupid mistake. I have my long-terms goals and taking two or three weeks off isn’t going to hurt anything. I’m looking forward to nationals and running in college but that’s months away.”
In other events, Terry Miller of Bloomfield won the 300m Dash (38.90) ahead of Glastonbury sophomore Samantha Forrest (40.50) and Glastonbury freshman Molly Harding (40.70).
Bloomfield senior Jillian Mars won the newly added 600m Run (1:36.79) with New Haven-Hillhouse senior Jada Boyd third (1:37.82). Pomperaug sophomore Kate Wiser, the State Open and New England cross-country champion, won the 1-Mile Run (5:01.18). The top state finisher in the finals of the Girls 55m Dash was Kate Schaffer of Conard-West Hartford with a PR and school record of 7.29.
In a meet that featured several levels of relay competition on Friday, Glastonbury Girls teams finished second in the 4x200m Relay Championship (1:45.57) and 4x400 Relay Championship (4:01.8) to Paul Robeson. Weston won the 4x400 Relay Connecticut event (4:08.25) and Hillhouse took the gold medals in the 4x800 Relay Connecticut event (9:49.81).
Norwich Free Academy senior Allyson Lewis (5-04.00), who was second to Stapleton in the long jump, won the high jump ahead of Tolland junior Tianna St. Louis (5-02.00).
Norwich Free junior Paige Martin cleared 11-06 to win the pole vault with Weston junior Elise Russell second (11-0). Hall of West Harford-won the Girls Distance Medley Relay -Connecticut event in 13:10.28.
State athletes placed atop the finishers in several of the boy’s individual events, Danbury senior Malcom Going won the 600m Run (1:20.77) and Hall senior Miller Anderson took the newly added 1000m Run (2:30.98), ahead of Branford senior Marzio Mastrioanni (2:32.69). Waterbury-Sacred Heart senior Edward Williams won the finals of the 55m hurdles (7.39) for a PR, beating runner-up Monroe-Masuk senior Aidan McShane (7.80 PR) and third place Hillhouse senior Deshaune Poole (7.82).
Hillhouse won the Boys 4x200 Relay Championship (1:32.85) and Bloomfield took the 4x400 Relay Championship (3:22.22). Xavier, the defending cross-country state open champion, won the 4x800m Relay Championship (8:03.14) while Hall took home top honors in the Distance Medley Relay Championship (10:22.96).
Lewis Mills junior Aidan O’Connor won the pole vault (13-06 PR) ahead of Ludlowe senior Jackson Hemphill and Weston senior Von Campos (13-0). Norwich Free senior Jahiem Spruill won the long jump (22-01.5) in a tie-breaker over Bloomfield junior Sean Dixon-Bodie (22-01.5) as Spruill won with a better second jump of 21-09 to 21-07 for Dixon-Bodie.
The complete meet results are available for the 37th Yale Interscholastic Track Classic on the Results page sponsored by soundRUNNER Scholastic with stores in Branford, Fairfield, Glastonbury and Old Saybrook. The meet was held at Coxe Cage at Yale University in New Haven CT on Friday and Saturday January 11-12, 2019.
NOTE: MySportsResults.com publishes the results received/posted from meet directors and timing companies. If you don't see your results or if you think that the results are incorrect then ask your local coach to contact the meet director to send us the corrected meet results. Do not send an email to MySportsResults asking to correct the posted results.