The Nottingham High track team and friends were all smiles after taking a gold and two silver medals at Saturday’s NJSIAA Meet of Champions.
June 10: It has been a truly memorable season for boys track & field athletes at Hamilton, Nottingham and Steinert this spring, so it was only fitting that it ended with some memorable performances at this past Saturday’s Meet of Champions.
The three schools combined for a gold and four silver medals at Northern Burlington High School.
Highlighting the event for the township was the Nottingham 4×100 relay team, which took a gold medal in 41.71 behind Javon Jenkins, Jaier Nelson, Judeson Mirac and Dana “Grandson of Superman” Ridley.
“It’s amazing that we won the 4×100 with our fifth lineup change this season,” said Jon “Big Dawg” Adams, who officially stepped down as head coach after the meet. “Louie Akpadago and Shamali Whittle were both out the past two weeks, which was a big reason why we did not win the Group state meet. With that said, I feel that our commitment to developing depth throughout the dual meet season paid off.”
It did indeed, as only a deep team can survive five lineup changes to win a gold medal. There was also a silver tinge to that gold, as Ridley took second place in the 200 meters in a school-record 21.03 and Alix Oge was second in the 110 hurdles (school record 13.93).
As Adams alluded, Nottingham spent its regular season gearing up for the big meets in May and June, and it paid off.
“We were ‘only’ 3-3 during dual meets, but really, who cares?” Adams said. “Those meets are worthless to be honest. They’re great to develop our young guys, but they mean nothing because New Jersey does not recognize times, throws and marks from those meets. We had the philosophy of ‘win everything’ the past few years. However, we switched that philosophy when the state made the switch to accepting only the electronic times and marks that were on NJ.Milesplit.”
Adams credited much of this team’s steady progress to the coaching prowess of Shaquille Sanderson and newcomer Curtis Whittle, “who has become a tremendous asset and friend over the winter and spring season.
“Jaier Nelson and Javon Jenkins really improved throughout the spring,” Adams continued. “Alix Oge and Dana Ridley have also flourished as was proven by their silver medals and school record performances at the Meet of Champions. When you look at our performances at the Moorestown meet, Mercer County Coaches Classic, County and Penn Relays; winning the county meet and (Central Jersey Group III) sectionals; and add our medals at the MOC, no one had a better season than this team despite our injuries.”
And with Ridley (the third-generation Northstar Superman behind Robert Wiggs and Boaz Madeus) the only sprinter graduating, Adams sees big things for 2020.
“All I will say about this track program is watch out next year,” he said. “The tracks we run on better have insurance because these kids will light them on fire!”
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While Nottingham had the speed, Hamilton West had the springs in its legs. Richmond Shasha concluded an incredible senior year by taking second in the triple jump in 48-9-1/4 and third in the long jump in 22-1-1/2. DeAngelo Hill added an 8th-place medal with a 46-7 mark in the triple.
Although Shasha was a top-three finisher in two events, there were some mixed emotions since his goal was to become the first person to ever win gold in both jumps.
“He was a bit upset,” coach Gerry Van Slooten said. “Sometimes you just have to tip your cap, as the sophomore from Highland Park (Floyd Whitaker) had a really big day breaking the MOC record (with a jump of 50-2-1/2). Rich beat his PR by an inch and had a great day. You can’t really be disappointed. As far as long jump, he probably could have won it but he fouled on what looked like some big jumps. But the top jump (22-9) was within reach, he just couldn’t get the big jump in on that day.”
And while Van Slooten figured the day had to be considered a success when compared to all but three other competitors, he does acknowledge it’s difficult for an athlete when his goal is not reached.
“As a high school kid you set your sights on something and it is disappointing when you come up short,” the coach said. “In the beginning of the school year I showed him the big picture of Terrence Glover, who was the last West athlete to win the MOC. There is a picture of him on the medal stand in the entrance to school. I told him that every day he walks in he should look at that picture and work to get his up there So that’s always been the goal and it’s a little disappointing that he came so close and came up short.”
While the sting will be there for a while, Shasha will be able to smile once there is some distance between himself and the MOC and he reflects on his entire career. He turned himself completely around as far as conditioning and eating well prior to his junior season and the results have been outstanding.
Throughout this decade, the West jumpers – dubbed “Hamilton Airlines” when Justin Kloc was coaching them – have been among the best in the county and state. Van Slooten wanted to uphold the tradition and bought t-shirts that said “Hamilton Airlines” for jumpers who achieved the “Airline” standards set back then in at least two of the three jumping events.
Some of the original flight crew, such as University of Connecticut’s Malik Snead and Rider’s Tyree Adams, went on to become successful Division I jumpers. They have come back to provide tips on occasion and Shasha broke Snead’s triple jump record shortly after Malik gave him some advice. Snead was at NBC Saturday to watch his protégé take off.
Asked where Shasha ranks among the past greats, Van Slooten gave an impressive answer.
“Kloc and I talked about it and Richmond is the most accomplished jumper of them all,” the coach said. “He set the long and triple records and has brought home as much gold as any of them. He’s had a remarkable career. It goes a bit understated, but he really has worked hard at it. All the times that he has struggled has been because he cares so much and really has put a great deal of pressure on himself to be the best. Towards the end of the season, he just started to relax and it happened for him like I knew it would.”
This weekend Shasha will join a group of Hornet teammates at the New Balance Nationals in North Carolina, and from there he will make his college decision.
“Some schools have come on late and he is trying to see where all the chips fall regarding acceptances and whatnot before he finally commits,” Van Slooten said.
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The township’s final silver came from Steinert’s Terris Burton, who finished second in the 400 hurdles in a school-record 52.55 – just 32/100ths of a second behind North Brunswick’s Ramy Berberena (52.23).
Spartan coach Kyle Flanagan said it was “a loaded” race with ton of talent, and that Burton ran a strong strategic race.
“He knew that he has a great kick the last 150 to 200 meters, and if he was side by side the last 200 he liked his chances to finish it,” the coach said. “The two lanes outside of him got out to a fast 200 and he was actually in third coming into the last 100. Even after he had to stutter-step after one of his hurdles was knocked down by another competitor in another lane, he was able to focus in on that final kick and drive to get second with a great finish.
“He would have loved to cap off his career with an MOC win, any competitor would have. But for the season he had, and progress that he has made, I don’t think anyone is disappointed with running a PR and a new school record on his last and final run as a Spartan.”
Flanagan noted that on New Jersey track’s biggest stage, an athlete only gets one chance to prove themselves. His hopes that Burton would show the state’s track community his true potential were realized.
“Leading up to the week, most of the buzz was that it was a two-horse race and he wasn’t mentioned to finish in the top two,” Flanagan said. “To break a 39-year old school record was icing on the cake. As far as the young man and athlete he has become over these last three years, I couldn’t be happier for him. He has put a lot of time into this sport and perfecting his craft and it has really translated to his times on the track, his accolades, and the doors that have opened for him. He’s a great young man, he has brought a lot of excitement to our program, especially for the underclassmen trying to be like him and compete like him.”
Burton will run in the New Balance Nationals prior to starting his career at Division I High Point University in North Carolina.