Miles Pease watched his St. Joseph High School teammates win the 1,600-meter relay Saturday.
Pease then joined his track and field teammates to celebrate. The javelin and pole vault hadn't concluded yet, but the Wildcats knew what the relay win meant.
St. Joseph had won the state Non-Public B championship at Egg Harbor Township High School, outscoring Pingry 121-79.
"It feels really, really good," said Pease, one of the team's only seniors. "After we won the 4x400, we knew we'd won, and we got excited."
Ja'von Rankin, Val Vadino, Jordan Davis and BJ Mitchell won the relay in 3 minutes, 30.63 seconds. Pease, Chris Gabor, Caleb Williams and Rocco Ordille won the 400-meter relay in 44.21 seconds.
The Wildcats' efforts highlighted a strong day for local athletes, who won eight individual state titles at two meets. Groups I and IV also competed at EHT, while Groups II, III and Non-Public A were at Frank Jost Field in South Plainfield.
Depth in sprints and jumps propelled St. Joseph to victory. The Wildcats placed first, third and fourth in the 200-meter dash and took the top three spots in the long jump. They knew multiple placewinners were key as St. Joseph lacks depth in other field events.
St. Joseph's athletes performed their best Saturday.
"We have hard workers and talented sprinters," said Ordille, who won the 200 in 22.38. "In the events where we needed to get points, everyone came through."
St. Joseph expected to contend for a state title from the beginning of the season. They fell short of a South Jersey title last week, coming in second place behind Pingry despite holding a nearly 30-point lead after the first day of competition.
The Wildcats inspire each other. They run side-by-side and jump one after the other.
There is friendly competition. Up until Saturday, Pease told everyone he'd beat Ordille in the 200. Gabor finished third and Pease fourth.
"It makes up for a lot of points," Pease said. "We always try to motivate each other and beat each other."
Mitchell won the long jump with a leap of 22 feet, 3 3/4 inches. Ordille was second and Davis third.
All those finishes added up to St. Joseph's second state title in three seasons.
"It's a good feeling knowing the team came together this weekend and we were able to pull off a state championship," Ordille said.
Gary Melton struggled in recent weeks to match his best long-jump performances.
The Cedar Creek senior was jumping in the 21-foot range, two feet shy of his normal 23-foot leaps.
His form began to return just at the right time. Melton jumped 22-5 to win the Group II long jump title.
"I haven't been doing much of my average lately," Melton said. "In the past two meets, I've been getting back to it."
It was the second state title in the long jump for Melton, who won the Group I competition last year.
Cedar Creek is still a young school. Melton was the first track and field athlete to win a state championship. Now, he's the first to win two.
"It feels even better to do it back-to-back like this," he said. "That's pretty much all I wanted to do was put my school on the map."
A new scoring system decided public school team champions this year. Only the top two teams from each sectional meet were eligible to earn team points at the state meets.
The Southern Regional and Buena Regional girls and Pleasantville and Egg Harbor Township boys competed for titles in their respective groups.
EHT, which won the South Jersey Group IV championship for the first time in history last week, finished third in the state. Senior Kofi Yamoah, who will compete for Rutgers University next year, threw 58-8 to win the shot put.
The Southern girls were fourth in Group IV and Buena sixth in Group II.
Pleasantville finished third in Group II. Isaac Clark won the 800 in 1:52.63, edging his twin brother Jacob by four-hundredths of a second.
Bridgeton's Braheme Days won his third consecutive Group II shot put title (64-7 3/4), breaking his own meet record from a year ago. Vineland's Leaquan James Jr. won the Group IV 800 to become the Fighting Clan's first state champion in a decade. Andrea Olsen of Buena earned her second Group II state title when she won the 100 hurdles in 14.56 seconds.
Contact Brittany Grugan:
Saturday's state champions
St. Joseph, Non-Public B 1,600-meter relay
St. Joseph, Non-Public B 400-meter relay
Isaac Clark, Pleasantville, Group II 800 meters
Braheme Days, Bridgeton, Group II shot put*
Leaquan James Jr., Vineland, Group IV 800 meters
Gary Melton, Cedar Creek, Group II long jump
B.J. Mitchell, St. Joseph, Non-Public B long jump
Andrea Olsen, Buena Regional, 100 hurdles
Rocco Ordille, St. Joseph, Non-Public B 200 meters
Kofi Yamoah, Egg Harbor Township, Group IV shotput
*-set a meet record