The Winter Championship Season is closing in! Before that, there are two SJTCA/Bennett Center meets and two Cherokee Throwdown Meets, and then the South Jersey GP IV Sectional Championships! After that, for those who qualify, the NJ State Group IV Championships, and, of course, for those who qualify at Groups, the NJ State Meet of Champions! The team is also looking at the Eastern States Championships in NY City! It's a brief run for those who fail to qualify at Sectionals but a long run for those who continue to advance! Let's hope the Chiefs have many qualifiers! GO CHIEFS!
On January 29th, 2018, eight members of the Distance Squad returned to the Bennett Center for the South Jersey Track Coaches Association Winter Meet # 11 and, before commenting on the events of that meet, it's a pleasure to announce a new record set by the team! Since the Winter Meet # 8 on January 16th, no one has lost a shoe! That's five meets and no shoes lost! YAAAA, GO CHIEFS!
That said, it was a good night for the Distance guys!
Brandon Marks and Mike Iannotta both moved down to the 400m Dash to get in some speed work in preparation for racing the 800m at Sectionals. They both set new PR's for the distance which indicates their readiness to run well at the 800m distance!
Justin Kelly was still not feeling great after his DNF at the Ocean Breeze meet but ran the 1600m anyway to get a seed time for Sectionals. He looked relaxed in recording a sub 4:30 and running away from the field for the win! Nico Grilli became the 3rd Cherokee freshman of the winter to break 5 in the 1600m as he led most of the way in his heat and held on for 3rd with a 9-second PR all the way down to 4:52!
Both Bobby Hackney and Dylan Odud ran very aggressive, tough races in the 800m! Bobby went right to the lead and pushed the pace from the start! He ran strong all the way to the finish but got beaten in the last straight to finish 2nd in his heat with a new PR! Dylan took a similar approach in his heat and ran from the lead! He was able to maintain his lead to the wire to win the heat and break his old PR by 7 seconds!
Finally, both Matt Smith and Brett Shea ran strong races in the 3200m! Although he wasn't feeling great and almost didn't race, Matt ran a very focused effort to knock 12 seconds off of his Indoor PR (from last week) to place 10th! Brett made his debut at the distance a good one as he recorded a 10:16 to finish 8th! He looked strong over the last mile indicating that he may have even more in the tank!
Official details at: NJ.MileSplit.
On January 30th, 2018, the team hosted the second of three Throws Meets, the Cherokee Throwdown # 2, and, for Cherokee, it was a breakthrough night for many of the guys!
The clear highlight of the evening was the throwing by Junior Lucciano "Luch" Pizarro! He came into the meet with a PR of 43' 2.50" which he set only a few days ago at the Ocean Breeze High School Invitational. Coming into this season, his Indoor PR was 37' 3" and his Outdoor PR still stands at 38' 3"! After two fouls, he put the Shot out to 44' 8" on his final attempt in the Trials! He was in the second to last flight, but this throw earned him the eighth and final spot in the finals! His first throw in the Finals was a tiny PR of 44" 8.50"! In his second attempt, he threw an incredible PR of 48' 5", but he wasn't finished! In his final attempt, he heaved a monster throw of 50' 1", finishing 4th in the competition! Really . . . 50' 1"!
This incredible improvement in one night moved Luch into the # 2 spot in the current South Group IV rankings and the Sectional Championships are only 1 - 1/2 weeks away! It also morked him as the # 6 putter in all of South Jersey! Finally, looking at Cherokee's records, Luch is the first Cherokee thrower to break the 50' barrier in 15 years (Matt Dalessio in 2003)! Yikes! Very cool!
In other action, fellow Junior Ethan Hilburn is new to throwing this year, and set a 2' PR with a best throw of 26' .75"! Sophomore Phil Quipot had a best throw of 27' 2", an Indoor PR for him. Senior Kieran Kelly threw 38' 9.50" which was a lifetime # 2 (Indoors or Outdoors) for him behind his PR (from this Indoor season) of 39' 8"; and Freshman Chika Omeronye had a best effort of 25' 9", which was his second best throw of the season!
Details at: NJ.MileSplit.
On February 5th, 2018, select members of the team returned to the Bennett Center for the SJTCA Winter Meet # 12, the last of the Indoor season's local meets. From now on, it's "the Bigs," NJ State meets and beyond . . . Sectionals, Groups, Meet of Champs, and Easterns!
The meet and Cherokee began with the 4 X 800m Relay of Bobby Hackney, Nico Grilli, Brett Shea and Mike Gavio! The team didn't do as well as they wanted but Nico, Mike and Brett provided some nice highlights! Nico knocked a big junk off his previous best (over 4 seconds); Mike cut 2 seconds off his best; and Brett had the fastest split and PR'd by a couple of seconds! Later, in the 1600m Run, Matt Smith didn't set a PR but he ran tough! It's unfortunate that Matt got sick right before the competitive part of the season and it lingered. He wasn't 100% for any of his races but he still performed well. Monday night was no exception. He gave it all he had, and he'll be ready for a good Spring Season!
Among the Sprinters, in the 55m Dash, all four of Cherokee's guys set PR's, and three of the four clocked sub-7 times! CJ Lee, 7.03; Tray Cabbagestalk, 6.94; Andrew (Elsey) Parker, 6.91; and Will Delendik, 6.88! In the 400m Dash, Ty Ortiz ran an Indoor PR of 54.9; and although Kevin Milligan has a better PR, he placed 4th in 52.24! In the 55m High Hurdles, Tray Cabbagestalk had a huge PR, clocking 8.34 to place 4th in his first ever Final!
In the Jump group, Joey Carroll tied his PR in the High Jump at 5" 8"!
An aside here, one of the pictures makes Ian Bialy look like he somehow dropped into the "Land of the Giants!" :< )
Details at: NJ.MileSplit.
On February 6th, 2018, the team hosted the third and final Throws Meet, the Cherokee Throwdown # 3, and, for Cherokee, there were a number of highlights!
Junior Luch Pizarro backed up the 50' 1" PR that he set last week in Cherokee's second Shot Put meet by reaching a best of 49' 9"! His full series was: 45' 9.5", 49' 9", FOUL, 47" 6", 48' 5", and 49" 6.5"! This from a kid who had a PR of 43' 2.5" prior to last week's meet! He also finished in 3rd/37 overall in the Varsity Division! It was a great performance as he prepares for the up-coming Sectional Championships this weekend!
Senior Josh Morgan ended his Indoor career with the second best throw of his life (Indoors or Outdoors) by hitting 27' 11.75", missing his PR of 28' 0"! Sophomore Phil Quipot had his third best throw of the season with a best throw of 24' 5"; Freshman Chika Omeronye had his third best throw of his life by hitting 25' 5.5"; and Junior newcomer Ethan Hilburn had a best throw of 22' 1"!
Details at: NJ.MileSplit.
On February 10th, 2018, the best of the team returned to the Bennett Center for the NJSIAA South Jersey Sectional Group IV Championships! Sectionals (or Regionals) are the first level of state competition as the team advances to the State Meet of Champions! Those who qualify at Sectionals (top 6 in each event) move on to the NJSIAA State Group IV Championships next week at the Bennett Center, and those who qualify at Groups (again, the top 6 in each Group) advance to the Meet of Champions. As usual, the results at Sectionals were both good and bad!
The Sprinters did well throughout the meet but only a few advanced to Groups! In the 400m Dash, Kevin Milligan ran 52.14, his second fastest time of the season, and took 2nd; and he returned in the 4 X 400m Relay with Rome Young, Tyler Ortiz, and Tyler Jackson to clock 3:32.80 -- their fastest time of the season by over 3 seconds - and finish in 2nd place!
Other Sprinters did well too but didn't advance! In the 400m Dash, CJ Lee broke his PR set on the banked Ocean Breeze track and finished 12th in 54.60! In the 55m Dash, Will Delendik ran his second fastest time of the season and finished 10th in 6.90! He missed qualifying for the Final by 0.04 seconds! Andrew Elsey ran 6.96 to tie for 12th, which tied his second fastest time of the season; and Tray Cabbagestalk ran 6.96 to tie for 12th!
The Hurdlers had some nice performances but they too failed to advance. Tray Cabbagestalk ran 8.40, his third fastest time ever, for 9th and missed qualifying for the Finals by o.02 seconds! Naledge Brown ran his third fastest time ever, 9.16, for 25th; and Joey Carroll ran 9.89 for 30th!
In the Jumps and Throws, only one athlete advanced to Groups! Andrew Elsey cleared 5' 8" in the High Jump for 6th on a tie-breaker! It is the fourth time this season (out of 11 meets) that he has cleared 5' 8"! His teammate, Joey Carroll cleared 5' 6" to tie for 10th. Joey jumped in seven meets this season and in five of those meets he cleared 5' 6" or higher! In the Pole Vault, Kenny Sprankle cleared 10' 6" to tie for 11th! Kenny competed in seven meets this season and he cleared at least 10' 6" in every one. He cleared his indoor PR of 11' 0" back in January! Finally, in the Shot Put, Luch Pizarro just missed advancing when he threw 45' 8.75" for 7th; and Kieran Kelly threw 36' 3.25" to finish 27th.
The Distance Squad had some wild ups and downs throughout the day! In the 1600m Run, Justin Kelly won the event, while Sophomores Chris Spisak and Chase Miller failed to qualify! Coach Shaklee reported that Justin got out badly and ran the first 400m in the back of the pack. Still, he stayed focused and worked his way up over the next 800m to put himself in contention with 400m to go. He closed in 29.3 on the last lap to win with a new PR of 4:21.00! His time made him the 3rd seed going into Groups! It also moved him to # 8 on the All-Time Cherokee list! Behind him, Chris and Chase struggled a bit. Chris ran the second best time of his life (4:29.76) but finished 7th, just out of the medals; while Chase also ran the second best time of his life (4:35.15) but placed 11th! Neither gave up or ran badly but they both ran faster this winter and came away disappointed.
Three runners competed in the 800m Dash but none advanced! Tyler Jackson was closest when he ran 2:03.09. He went for it on the 3rd lap but couldn't quite hold it together, placing 2nd in the heat and 8th overall! It is the second fastest time of his life behind his outdoor PR of 2:00.82. Both Tyler and Mike Iannotta ran in the 3rd of 4 heats. Mike competed hard to finish 6th in his heat and 17th/30 overall. In the final heat, Brandon Marks ran his second fastest 800m of the season but not fast enough to medal as he finished 8th in the heat and 12th overall!
The 3200m Run was probably the most "unusual" for Cherokee, not because two Cherokee athletes finished 1st and 2nd, but because of the unorthodox way in which it was contested! Chris Spisak was very disappointed with the results of the earlier 1600m and he went into the 3200m with great determination! As Coach Shaklee suggested, "against the advice of his coach," Chris went right to the lead and set an aggressive pace throughout! "Fortunately," the Coach reported sarcastically, "he didn't listen to his coach!" Chris built an incredible seven-second lead by the 1600m and hung tough over the 2nd half of the race to hold off his senior teammate, Justin Kelly, who took 2nd! It was a very courageous (did he say "insane?") race plan, a well-deserved victory, and a new PR! It also made him the 4th seed going into Groups! Kelly, should he run it, will go in as the 5th seed at Groups! Behind those two, Ethan Wechsler struggled. He still managed to clock his second fastest of the season and finish in 7th place! That performance wrapped up an incredible Indoor season in which he set new all-time PR's at 800m, 1600m and 3200m!
The Chiefs finished in 2nd place out of 15 Group IV teams, with 45 points, only 9 points behind the winner, Egg Harbor Township! Since the beginning of Winter Sectionals in 2008, this result ties Cherokee's best-ever finish: in 2012, Cherokee finished 2nd behind (again) Egg Harbor Township!
Official details at: NJ.MileSplit.
On February 17th, 2018, those who qualified the previous week at the South Jersey Sectional Championships returned to the Bennett Center for the second level of state competition, the NJSIAA Group IV State Championships! The competition at Sectionals was very difficult as Cherokee's athletes were matched against athletes from all fifteen-plus Group IV schools in the South Jersey Section. Groups are significantly more difficult as Cherokee's qualifying athletes are now matched against those in Group IV throughout the state who qualified at their Sectionals! Only the very best qualify and only the very best score in the top 6 in each event and advance to the third level of state competition, the State Meet of Champions!
Cherokee brought two Distance qualifiers -- Justin Kelly in the 1600m, and Chris Spisak in the 3200m -- four Sprint qualifiers -- Kevin Milligan in the 400m Dash, and Kevin, Tyler Ortiz, Tyler Jackson and, filling-in for Rome Young who had a firm commitment set well before he joined the Indoor Track team, CJ Lee -- and a jumper, Andrew Elsey.
The Distance guys raced well! Coach Shaklee provided the following information on the two races and the impact the athlete's times had on Cherokee's record tally! "The 1600m race was tactical with the leaders through in 2:12 and Justin just a bit behind in 2:12.7. Things picked up slightly in the 3rd 400 but not enough to lose any of the contenders, and things set up for a fast finish! Justin was just a little out of position when the sprint to the finish started. Nonetheless, he closed well to finish in 4th, 0.86 seconds out of 1st place and 0.01 seconds ahead of 5th in a very tight race! His time of 4:19.66 (a life-time PR!) put him 6th on the All-Time Cherokee list and made him the 3rd fastest Cherokee runner Indoors behind Marc Pelerin (4:15.16 in 2001) and Shawn Wilson (4:18.50 in 2012)! With a faster pace expected at the up-coming Meet of Champs, Justin should have an opportunity to lower his time even farther!"
Shaklee continued to remark on the 3200m race: "Chris went into the race as the 4th seed and finished 4th behind two Princeton runners and a West Windsor-Plainsboro South athlete. He ran near the front through the first 1600 which he covered in 4:43.1. The next 400 passed in 73 seconds but, soon after, one of the Princeton runners went to the lead and the pace picked up, with the 3 favorites pulling away from the field. Chris was able to go with them for a couple more laps which pulled him away from some of his challengers. Although he lost ground to the leaders over the final 800, he remained strong and held his position to the line! Later, we were informed that the Princeton runners were disqualified and Chris moved up to 2nd place! Regardless of the place, Chris ran a very good race and came away with an incredible 7-second PR! His time of 9:31.67 moved him to 12th on the All-Time Cherokee list and made him the 4th fastest Cherokee Sophomore of all time behind Nick Falk - 9:21.01 in 2015, Justin Kelly - 9:29.68 in 2016, and Marc Pelerin - 9:31.63 in 2000! All three runners in front of him on the Sophomore list ran their times Outdoors! In fact, Chris is now the 5th fastest Cherokee runner ever Indoors: Marc Pelerin, 2002; Keith Krieger 2003; Nick Falk, 2017; and Shawn Wilson, 2013! The Meet of Champs presents an opportunity to take another stab at sub 9:30!"
High Jumper Andrew Elsey owns an outdoor PR of 6' 0". Last year, he set an Indoor PR of 5' 10" but was unable to clear that height this season. At Groups, the opening height was 5' 10" but Andrew didn't let that bother him. He cleared the opening height on his second attempt! In addition, he had some nice attempts at 6' 0" but just couldn't make it. He finished 12th in a field of 24.
The Sprints were marked by some disappointing times but one highly unusual result! In the 400m Dash, Kevin Milligan was discouraged by his time of 52.49, only his 3rd fastest time of the season! He finished 16th in a field of 23. He returned with Tyler Jackson, Tyler Ortiz and CJ Lee to compete in the 4 X 400m Relay and, although their overall time of 3:33.16 was a little slower than their 'best-of-the-season' clocking at Sectionals, they managed to snare an invitation to the Meet of Champions! In addition, Ty Ortiz and CJ Lee ran their fastest splits of the year! Looking back at both Sectionals and Groups, this team is set for a PR performance at the Meet of Champions!
Official results at: NJ.MileSplit.
On February 20th, 2018, five members of the team traveled to the legendary New Balance 168th Street Armory in New York City, probably the fastest track on the East coast, to compete in the 84th Eastern States Championships, and then they came home.
In a very challenging Distance Medley Relay, Brandon Marks led-off in the 1200m (3.16.8); followed by Kevin Milligan in the 400m (52.2); Ty Jackson in the 800m (2:08.8); and Justin Kelly in the 1600m (4:23.4) for 15th/18 overall and an official time of 10.41.4. In the Triple Jump, Nkenna Opara had a best jump of 41-03.50, placing him 26th/46 overall! Official results at: NY.MileSplit.
On February 25th, 2018, Cherokee returned to the Bennett Center with five qualifying team members for the last time this season to compete in the NJSIAA New Jersey State Meet of Champions!
Senior Justin Kelly returned in the 1600m and raced well! Coach Shaklee reported the following: "It has been a long winter season and I know Justin was feeling it going into the meet. I give him a lot of credit for staying focused and racing both smart and tough! The race went out fast but he stayed near the back of the pack through the 800m before beginning to move up gradually. As he typically does, Justin closed well over the later stages of the race and moved past several runners in the process to finish 7th! His time of 4:18.48 made him the 2nd fastest Cherokee runner ever Indoors! He's behind only Marc Pelerin's 4:15.16, run on the faster NY Armory track in 2001! It also makes Justin the 5th fastest Cherokee 1600m runner, Indoors or Outdoors behind Shawn Wilson 4:11.69 in 2013; Marc Pelerin 4:11.86 in 2002; Steve Burkholder 4:15.49 in 2010; and Josh Joseph 4:18.43 in 2001! I expect that Justin will move up on that list over the course of the spring season even though he will focus more on his better event, the 3200." Reuben Frank, formerly of the Burlington County Times and now with Comcast Sports, wrote a blog entry on the South Jersey Track Coaches Association's web blog at: SJ Track Blog; and it's copied on our server at: Reuben Frank on Kelly at Indoor MOC.
A slightly altered 4 X 400m Relay (without Ty Jackson) returned to the toughest competition they faced all season! Our handtimes had Kevin Milligan lead off with a fast 51.61, followed by Rome Young in 54.92; Ty Ortiz with 54.03; and anchored by CJ Lee with 52.48! Their official finish was 3:33.22 for 21st/34 overall, just off the 3:33.16 clocked at Groups with Ty Jackson on the team! In addition, it was the 3rd fastest time of the season, behind Groups and their fastest time set at Sectionals! Here at the Meet of Champions, they were the fastest team from Burlington County and the fifth fastest team from South Jersey, and that bodes well for Cherokee when the temperatures warm and muscles loosen!
Sophomore Chris Spisak, who qualified in the 3200m and was ranked 17th in the state going into the Meet of Champions, was unable to compete because of an ongoing problem with his calves. Rather than make this worse, he decided to sit this one out and head into the Spring season healthy and determined!
Further details at: NJ.MileSplit.
In the past, sports reporters from various local newspapers named what they thought were the best athletes in each sport to various All-South Jersey Teams and All-Group Teams, and frequently they were not as informed as they thought they were! As a result, they made too many questionable selections as they compiled the names of the best athletes in all of the sports contested in a particular season!
To address this problem, the members of the South Jersey Track Coaches Association stepped-up and selected the best athletes in South Jersey Track and named them to their All-South Jersey or All-Group Teams!
On March 8th, 2018, the South Jersey Track Coaches Association Winter Awards Banquet was scheduled but postponed because of a snowstorm! Several of our athletes were expected to be named to the All-South Jersey Team and the 1st Team, All-Group IV and they will receive their awards at the rescheduled event!
For the All-South Jersey Team, the coaches selected Senior Justin Kelly in the 3200m Run, and Sophomore Chris Spisak in the 1600m Run! Anyone want to start digging and find out when Cherokee had two distance runners on the same All-SJ Team?! ;< )
In addition, the coaches announced the 1st Team, All-Group IV where they selected both Kelly and Spisak for the team in the 1600m and 3200m, and Senior Kevin Milligan in the 400m Dash! They also selected Kevin Milligan; Senior Rome Young; Junior Tyler Ortiz and Sophomore Tyler Jackson in the 4 X 400m Relay!
Congratulations to all six of our athletes for the recognition they well-deserve! We look forward to seeing them soon at the rescheduled Awards Banquet! GO CHIEFS!
On March 13th, 2018, the re-scheduled South Jersey Track Coaches Association Winter Awards Banquet was held at Auletta's Catering in Deptford, NJ. Before honoring the various state champion teams and individuals in attendance, and naming the All-South Jersey Team, the association recognized the contribution made by the teams' Captains! From Cherokee, Team Captains Kevin Milligan, Kieran Kelly, Ken Sprankle, Mike Ianotta, Mtt Smith and Nkenna Opara were honored! As noted earlier, Senior Justin Kelly and Sophomore Chris Spisak were named to the All-South Jersey Team!
Awards Program/Booklet, including those named to the All-Group Teams, at: SJTCA