Morale is high for the Middle Township High School boys track and field team.
The Panthers’ jovial mood is understandable.
Middle Township is 6-1, and its most recent win was also its most impressive. The Panthers beat perennial Cape-Atlantic League National Conference power Pleasantville, No. 7 in The Press Elite 11, 75-55 in a dual meet Monday.
“We were all ecstatic,” Panthers freshman Ryan Herlihy said. “We were all really happy.”
Middle coach Ed Letts couldn’t help but share the excitement. Beating the Greyhounds made a statement for a relatively young team.
“They’ve been working really hard,” Letts said. “They were excited to see it all come together.”
Middle is one of the season’s biggest surprises in the CAL. The Panthers finished 3-6 last spring. So far, this year’s squad has lost only to Bridgeton, No. 11 in the Elite 11, which is unbeaten in dual meets.
Letts wouldn’t call his team’s success a surprise, though. He saw what his athletes were capable of in the preseason.
“They’ve progressed the way I hoped they could,” Letts said. “They are who we thought they could be.”
New additions have been pivotal to the Panthers’ success. Middle has 13 newcomers. One of those is junior Kyree Johnson, whom Letts called the surprise of the season.
A sprinter, Johnson initially tried out for the baseball team but opted to join the track team instead.
He missed the team’s opening meet against Bridgeton. He ran the first leg of Middle’s 4x400 relay team that won a Cape May County championship last Thursday.
Senior Mike Bailey is the Panthers’ other standout sprinter. He won the 100-meter dash against Pleasantville in 10.7 seconds, which tied a 29-year old school record. Timmy Sadler ran the same time in 1983.
Among new arrivals are seven freshmen, including Herlihy, a 15-year-old who lives in the Dennisville section of Dennis Township. Herlihy is a standout distance runner and was a Press second team All-Star in cross country. He has won the 1,600- and 3,200-meter runs several times in dual meets.Herlihy is one of a few freshmen distance runners who have added depth to Middle’s roster. With 33 athletes, the Panthers have their largest team in recent seasons.
“That group of distance runners have helped. Our throwers have done a great job, too. They’ve really stepped up,” Letts said.
According to Letts, some of his javelin throwers have upped their distances by more than 20 feet from a year ago.
Middle’s method for success is an old-fashioned one. The Panthers have simply dedicated themselves to getting better.
“We’re out there working every day,” Herlihy said.
The team has surpassed Herlihy’s expectations for his first season. He’s setting his sights toward the future.
The Panthers close their dual-meet season with a 10 a.m. meet against Buena Regional.
“We’re hoping to finish 7-1. That’d be a great way to set us up for a great season next year,” Herlihy said.
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