SJ Group 4 Sectional Championship


Going into Sectionals, the girls knew they had the opportunity to do something that has never been done before in school history. With the uncertainty of whether the Bubble in Toms River was even going to be functional certainly added to the stress of going into the meet. Also throw in the fact that due to the closure of the facility due to tears from a snow storm, many of our athletes didn’t have seed times for their events. This meant that for some of them, they would be racing the clock.


The meet started at 4:30 and saw the combined groups of 1 and 4 along with the boys and girls. First event on the track was the 400m and our first athlete to race was Kelsey Niglio running in the first heat of the 400. Kelsey clicked off a 1:00.29 running away from the field. Her time is #9 AT indoors. Next up was CArissa Phillips who clocked a 1:07.05, which is her fastest time indoors. Lastly, Ali Cooke was in the fastest heat where she ran a lifetime indoor best of 59.87 #7 AT indoors. Ali and Kelsey finished 2nd and 3rd giving us 14 points to start the meet off in first place.


Next up on the track was 55m hurdle trials. Both Grace Pajic and Claire Gallagher ran lifetime bests dipping under 11 seconds for the first time. Grace ran 10.82 and Claire ran 10.76. Ali Cooke clocked a 9.29 to advance to the finals.


The 1600m runners were next to get on the track. All three runners were in the first heat since they did not have seed times. They knew going into it what was at hand. I simply told them that this was their time to make a statement and make a statement they did. As soon as the gun went off, Nikki Clifford was on a mission and Megan Niglio and Kerry O’Day were able to work together. Nikki ran one of the most even split 1600’s I’ve ever seen someone run by themselves. She came through her first 800 in 2:29.4 and then finished it with a 2:29.2 to run her first sub 5 minute 1600. 4:58.69, which is our new indoor school record eclipsing Megan Lacy’s indoor school record of 4:59.39 set at the State meet in 2012 also broke the meet record. Megan Niglio debuted with her first open 1600 to clock a 5:14.96 which is #6 AT indoors and the new freshman indoor record. Kerry O’Day ran her first ever 1600 indoors and clocked a lifetime best time of 5:17.46 #7 AT indoors. After two more heats of the 16, Nikki Clifford won her first Sectional title indoors and Megan and Kerry finished 4th and 5th advancing to the State meet. Adding 16 more points to the team standings we now had 30 points.


It was at this time that Jill Strauss and Bella Kadar had finished jumping in the pole vault. Both of them cleared their indoor pr’s of 9’ for Jill and 8’ for Bella. Both advanced to the State meet finishing 2nd and tied for 4th. Our point total was now up to 41 points. Ali then ran in the finals of the 55m hurdles and lowered her time to 9.18 and finished 7th.


Now the 55m trials were up and we once again saw some impressive running. Madison Van Haren clocked a lifetime best of 7.50 to advance to the finals and Jill Strauss and Erin St. John both ran lifetime bests. Jill ran 7.82 to finish 12th and Erin ran 8.06 to finish 24th.


The 800 was next up on the track and both Kelsey Niglio and Nikki Clifford did not have seed times. Once again they were both in the first heat racing against the clock. Running another indoor pr, Nikki clocked a 2:18.87 and Kelsey ran 2:22.25. Bella Kadar was in the fast heat and ran an indoor lifetime best of 2:29.04. Nikki won her second sectional title, Kelsey finished 6th and Bella finished 9th. Our point total was now 52 points.


Maddie was up next with the finals of the 55m. Running 7.51, she managed a 3rd place finish which added 6 more points to our total giving us 58. The shot put had finished and our 3 putter had a very productive day. Halina Collins competing in her very first sectional meet threw 30’ 10” to advance to the finals. This was her first time throwing over 30’. Angel Baliton threw 29’ 5” and Anna Janik threw 26’ 3.5” In the finals Halina increased her pr to 31’ 2” and finished 8th. The point total heading into the final two events was Cherokee 58 and Rancocas Valley 52. We knew 5 points out of the last two events would secure a SJ Sectional title.


In the 3200, we did not have a seed issue since all three girls had run the 3200 this season. For Nikki, this would be her third race of the night and Megan and Kerry were coming back with their second. For once time didn’t matter, but place did. Nikki was able to sit on the leader and then make her move with an 800 left to go. Megan and Kerry ran very smart just keeping themselves in a position to do something. Nikki ran to her 3rd sectional victory of the night clocking 11:15.18 with Kerry and Megan securing 4th and 5th place. Kerry ran 11:28.55 and Megan 11:28.60. All three were their 2nd fastest 32’s of their track careers. With just the 4x400 left to go, the team now had 74 points and were guaranteed the win.


Wanting to put and exclamation point on the end of a tremendous meet, the 4x400m relay team of Kelsey Niglio, Madison Van Haren, Ali Cooke and Nikki Clifford looked to once again go head to head with Rancocas Valley. Kelsey got things rolling handing off almost dead even with RV splitting 60.6. Maddie Van Haren looked like she finally figured out the cheat code to running a 400 and turned on the jets after coming through the first lap. She split 61.4 and opened the lead even more. Ali Cooke continued to roll with a 60.6 leg handing off to Nikki Clifford. Nikki took the baton and never looked back. With a 59.2 carry(#6 AT indoor 400 split), the team secured another first place and clocked a 4:01.96 which is #5 AT indoors.





The meet started at 4:30 and ended roughly at 11:10. Finishing with 84 points, it was the 2nd highest point total ever in meet history on the girls side and the boys side. To see how this team stepped up today was pretty impressive. 11 top 10 performances. 17 Indoor pr’s and 1 school record. What this group continues to do is just simply amazing.


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