TOMS RIVER — For the Old Bridge High School boys track and field team, everything came down to the final event of Saturday’s Greater Middlesex Conference championship.
Trailing St. Joseph by one point heading into the 4×400 relay, the Knights put their best four runners on the track and emerged victorious, picking up 10 points and narrowly edging St. Joseph’s 59-56 to capture the team title.
The 4×400 team of Marcus Hernandez, Nick Ballenilla, Hazem Miawad and Alex Leto finished four seconds ahead of South Brunswick and helped cap a strong showing for the Knights.
“We had some really good performances across the board, right from the start, winning the 400 at the beginning and then capping it all off by winning the 4×400 at the end,” Old Bridge boys coach Jack Campbell said. “In between we got some great races and it was very nice to see the team come together today .”
Leto got the Knights off to a fast start, winning the 400-meter dash by a full second over Lamont Higgins of St. Joseph.
“It’s always good from a physiological standpoint to get off to a good start and give everyone a jolt,” Campbell said. “It picks everyone’s confidence up for the rest of the meet to see someone win the first event of the day.”
From there, Old Bridge captured the 3200 relay when Sam Habib narrowly edged St. Joseph’s James Gorman.
“We just did this as a team, but we’ll go back to the drawing board on Monday and try and get better,” Campbell said. “That’s what this sport is about.”
Old Bridge’s girls wouldn’t be outdone by their male teammates, as they won the team title by 10 points over Woodbridge. Like the boys, the girls also won three events, the 1600 and 3200-meter runs and the high jump.
“The girls have been working really hard and we talk all the time that nothing is magical; they train really hard to get to this point,” Old Bridge girls coach Steve Gajewski said. “I think they did a really good job today.”
In the 1600, Rachel Belmont and Alyssa Kramer went 1-2 for the Knights, with Belmont finishing three seconds clear of her teammate, giving Old Bridge 18 points. In the 3200, Old Bridge placed two of the top three again, this time going 1-3, with Cassidy Flynn-Rozanski and Shanna O’Mara getting the Knights 16 points in the event.
Gajewski credits his girls running cross country in the fall as to why they were so successful in the distance meets.
“We had a strong cross country group coming in and Rachel transferred in from Bishop Ahr; this was the first time she’s raced for us this year, but we took second and third in the cross country season and that definitely translates into success out here,” Gajewski said.
Oksana Sokolova captured the high jump, clearing 5-4, which gave Old Bridge the cushion it needed to pull away for the title.
“Oksana was part of the cross country team this year, too, and I think that definitely helped her out today, She looks very comfortable out there and she works hard at her craft.”
South Brunswick’s Aspen McMillan won both sprint events, taking first in the 55-meter dash and the 55-meter hurdles. She was the meet’s only two-event winner.