Behind the strong performances from seniors Mark Cooke and Jaashir Morris, the J.P. Stevens High School boys track and field team won its first indoor sectional title Saturday afternoon.
The Hawks edged Franklin 58-49 for the crown at Toms River’s Bennett Center, as Cooke and Morris earned first-place medals in the 55-meter hurdles and 400-meter dash, respectively.
For head coach Dave Martinez, seeing his squad perform as well as they did was something he’ll remember forever.
“This is great to be a part of. These are some of the most talented kids I’ve ever had and it’s just so exciting to see it all pay off for them,” Martinez said.
In the 55-meter hurdles, Cooke won with a time of 7.79 seconds and Morris was right on his heels, crossing the finish line in 7.82, giving J.P. Stevens big points early on in the meet. Cooke rounded out his day with a third-place finish in the 55-meter dash, with a time of 6.73 seconds.
“I would never put anything past Mark for what he is capable of accomplishing,” Martinez said. “The 55-meter dash was the biggest race for us, because we knew we’d do well in the other races, but to get a third place finish from Mark in that one was huge. The 55-dash isn’t a race we normally compete in, but Mark came up to me before it started and asked if he could enter it and I thought that was a great idea. It ended up working out well for us.”
Martinez said that having Cooke and Morris finish 1-2 in the 55-hurdles was a surprise, noting that it was Cooke’s best hurdles race of the season.
The two classmates traded positions on the podium in the 400 meters, as Morris came in first at 50.18 seconds, with Cooke right on his heels, finishing in 50.46.
“Jaashir set the tone for the whole meet in the 400 and I think it was a really smart race for him,” Martinez said. “He’s been one of our elite runners for three years now and it was great to see him win that race.”
The two teamed up in the meet’s final event, as Cooke ran the opening leg and Morris ran anchor in the 4×400-meter relay. J.P. Stevens finished fifth, as Jose Delli Paoli and Aaron John ran the middle legs, with a time of 3:34.59. Even though Franklin won the 4×400, J.P. Stevens had accumulated enough points throughout the meet to remain on top.
Panth Patel gave the Hawks a solid day in the distance events, coming in second in the 1,600 meters (4:30.39) and third in the 3,200 meters (9:46.17).
“I’m very proud of Panth; he ran very tough and it was the first time all season he pulled that double. We needed every point we could get and if he ran well in both of those events, we knew we’d be in a good spot,” Martinez said. “We’ve never had three great athletes on the team at the same time, but we do now, with Mark, Jaashir and Panth. We’ve had two great runners at a time, but never three. That’s why I’ll remember this team forever.”