Oakcrest's Fabian Santiago, center, wins the 100-meter dash at the Meet of Champions.

Press photo by Brian Branch Price

OLD BRIDGE - Fabian Santiago gave a historic performance at the outdoor track and field Meet of Champions on Monday night.

The best thing about his effort was that he got to share it with others.

The Oakcrest High School senior became just the third boy since the Meet of Champions began in 1969 to win three gold medals in one year. He won the 100- and 200-meter dashes and anchored Oakcrest's 4x100 relay team to victory at Carl Sandburg Middle School.

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"This feels great," Santiago said. "I'm flashing back to all the training we did. I'm thinking about my teammates pushing me and my coaches. It's been a real fun season."

Santiago highlighted an outstanding day by local athletes. Two other athletes won titles. Daniel Jefferson of Oakcrest finished first in the high jump, while Chelsea Vaughan of Southern Regional won the pole vault. The Vineland boys won the 4x800 relay.

The meet featured the state's top track and field athletes. The event began last Thursday but was postponed after one event because of rain. Helena Leyrer of Buena Regional won the one event held Thursday - the 400 hurdles. The meet was postponed again Friday and rescheduled for Monday.

Santiago said he thought of his family as he crossed the finish line first in his third event, the 200 dash.

Fifteen relatives had flown in from Florida and Puerto Rico for the MOC.

"I knew they came here to watch me," he said. "It was fun."

A few moments later, Santiago's teammates were on his mind. The 200 was the final event in which he would wear an Oakcrest uniform.

"I was getting emotional," Santiago said. "I almost cried, but then you (reporters) came over. I know my teammates are going to give me a big hug. We're probably not going to sleep tonight. We're going to stay up and play video games. It's great to have teammates."

Santiago joins Reuben McCoy of Winslow Township and Jermaine Collier of Trenton as the only boys to win three MOC events in one meet. McCoy won the 200 and 400 dashes and the 400 hurdles in 2004. Collier also won three events Monday, finishing first in the 400 and 110 hurdles and anchoring Trenton's 4x400 relay team to victory.

Santiago's historic effort began in the 4x100 relay. The Oakcrest foursome of Stephen Adkisson, Reggie Morton, Darnell Charles and Santiago won in 42.09 seconds. Morris Hill ran 42.80 to finish second.

Morton put the Falcons near the lead with a speedy second leg. Santiago easily pulled away from the field. Oakcrest also won the 4x100 at last year's MOC.

Santiago next won the 100 dash. He ran it in 10.59 seconds, pulling away in the last 40 meters. Mike Andre of Ocean Township finished second in 10.74.

Santiago took nothing for granted as he settled into the starting blocks for the 200.

"I acted as if I didn't win anything," he said. "It was time to race again. The 200 is my favorite event."

Santiago came off the turn in front and then held off Jamaad Muse of Timber Creek. Santiago won in 21.52, while Muse ran a 21.59.

"I felt the pressure, but I knew I was going to finish ahead," Santiago said. "There was no way he was going to catch me."

Santiago showed his potential when he won the state Group IV 100 dash as a sophomore.

"My coach (Les Petty) told me after that race that I had a chance to show the people something that had never been done before," Santiago said. "That gave me all the confidence in the world."

New heights for Jefferson

Daniel Jefferson might have been the most unexpected winner at the meet.

He even surprised himself.

The Oakcrest junior cleared a personal-best 6 feet, 6 inches to win the high jump. A.J. Vance of Egg Harbor Township jumped 6-6 to finish second, but Jefferson won because he had fewer misses.

"This is crazy," Jefferson said. "I wasn't expecting to get anywhere near first place."

Jefferson came into the contest seeded No. 6 with nine other jumpers.

"I just wanted to clear 6-6 for the first time," he said. "To do that and win is just great."

Jefferson cleared every height on his first attempt. But he still had his doubts even as he sprinted toward the bar on his first attempt at 6-6.

"I thought I wasn't going to be anywhere close to it," he said. "I was stuttering too much (on the approach)."

But he leaped, threw his head back and got over the bar - barely.

He nicked the bar. It shook but stayed up.

"I was like, 'perfect,' " Jefferson said.

The Clan surges

The Vineland boys pointed toward the 4x800 relay for much of the reason.

So anchor Leaquan James had plenty of motivation.

"I wasn't going to let my team down," James said.

James passed two runners in the final 150 meters to lead the Fighting Clan to victory.

The Vineland foursome of Lamar Finney, Zaquall Curtis, Mark Groshev and James won the race in 7 minutes, 48.25 seconds. Pope John XXIII, a school in Sparta, Sussex County, ran a 7:48.76.

James ran a 1:53.6 anchor leg. Finney ran 1:55.9, while Curtis and Groshev ran their legs in 1:56.1 and 2:02.6, respectively.

"We did what we had to do," James said. "All we were looking for was the win."

A Southern tradition

Chelsea Vaughan of Southern Regional cleared 12-0 on her third and final attempt to win the pole vault. Marlena Sabatino of Hillsborough vaulted 11-6 to finish second.

Vaughan's victory gave the Southern girls their 11th MOC championships - the most of any local girls program.

In other events, Maria Jimenez of Vineland finished second in the javelin with a throw of 143-9. Shauntierah Douglas of Garfield won the event on her final attempt with a throw of 150-3.

Bridget Flynn of Holy Spirit set an Atlantic County record when she finished eighth in the 1,600 run in 4:54.88.

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