EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP - The Egg Harbor Township High School grounds crew helped pave the way for an impressive victory by Eagles senior discus thrower James Plummer at the South Jersey Group IV track and field championships Friday.
Just before the start of the boys finals, workers used a leaf blower to dry out the rain-soaked cement throwing circle. Aided by the improved traction, Plummer threw a personal-best 185 feet, 6 inches to win the event and establish himself as one of the favorites in next weekend's state championships.
"The groundskeepers gave me better footing," Plummer said. "I had to use my Nike sneakers for the first few rounds because the (circle) was so slippery. I wore my regular (discus) shoes for the final and I was able to spin much better."
Plummer was among 35 local competitors and two relay squads who finished among the top six of their events Friday, thereby qualifying for next week's state meet. The list also included four other individual winners: EHT sprinters Curtis Fitzpatrick (boys Group IV 100-meter dash) and Nabiya Garrett (girls Group IV 100), EHT distance runner Abigail Shafer (girls Group IV 1,600), EHT javelin thrower Adalys Lopez, and Millville hurdler Victoria Thaler (girls Group IV 400 hurdles).
In addition, Southern Regional's Dan Geoffroy, Mike Evans, Nick Nocco and Cody Raynor won the boys Group IV 3,200 relay and Southern's Jenna Ritchie, Courtney Muraczewski, Abby Harris and Melana Hammel took the girls Group IV 3,200 relay.
The South Jersey meet for Groups I and IV continues today at Egg Harbor Township at 10 a.m.
Plummer, who is headed to Clemson University (S.C.) in the fall, turned in the best performance Friday. All three of his throws in the finals topped 180 feet.
Each of his final two attempts traveled 185-6 and crashed into the fence at the end of the discus area after skidding off the wet grass.
They were the best throws in the S.J. Group IV meet since former NFL running back and college Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne threw a meet-record 198 feet for Overbrook Regional in 1995.
After accepting congratulations from teammates and coaches, Plummer sent a text message to Bridgeton's Braheme Days, who was competing Friday at the Group II sectional at Buena Regional High School.
"He's not happy," Plummer said with a smile. "That 185-6 is one inch better than Braheme's best this season. We're good friends, but we're also big rivals. It's a healthy competition, but in the end we're all friends."
Big day for EHT
His victory was part of a strong early showing by EHT's boys and girls squads.
Fitzpatrick helped the Eagles boys team with a convincing victory in the Group IV 100. The senior got a great start and steadily accelerated, seemingly oblivious to the cold wind and steady rain that blew across the track.
He crossed the line in 11.14 seconds. Millville's Ryquell Armstead finished second in 11.22.
"The weather didn't faze me," Fitzpatrick said. "I've been waiting a year for this race. I finished second here last year, and at the end of that race I told myself I should never lose again. I've been pointing to this race ever since."
Fitzpatrick returned the track and few minutes later to root for Garrett.
Garrett, a sophomore, delivered a dominant performance in the girls 100.
She burst out of the blocks and was never challenged while finishing in 12.74 seconds. Atlantic City's Mone't Gist, who defeated Garrett in the Cape-Atlantic League championships, was second in 12.95.
"I had no idea if I had won or not until after the race," Garrett said. "I can't see anybody else once the race starts. I just run to the finish line and I don't think about anything else.
"I was home sick Monday and Tuesday with a sore throat and headache, but I've been working hard the last few days at practice with Curtis. I feel a lot better now."
Garrett's teammates, Shafer and Lopez, contributed victories to help the Eagles in their quest to win the team title. Lopez upset heavily favored Jess Woodard of Cherokee in the javelin. Lopez threw 113 feet, 2 inches to Woodard's 111.
Defending champion Southern Regional got wins from Burns in the long jump and Ritchie, Muraczewski, Harris and Hamel in the relay.
Thaler, a Millville junior, started the meet off with a victory in the 400 hurdles. She trailed EHT's Juliann Brand halfway through the race before taking control at the final turn.
"I was pretty scared before the race," Thaler said with a laugh.
"I was scared because I was seeded first and then I was scared when I saw how wet the track was because it's very hard to jump hurdles in the rain. But that all went away when the gun sounded. After that, I was focused."
Contact David Weinberg:
LOCAL TOP FINISHERS
BOYS GROUP IV
400 Hurdles-2. Nick DellaVecchia, Absegami 57.03; 3. John Furlong, Southern 57.08; 5. Nathaniel Henry, EHT 57.36.
1,600-3. Salman Khalid, Absegami 4:28.04; 5. Leaquan James, Jr., Vineland 4:28.17.
100-1. Curtis Fitzpatrick, EHT 11.14; 2. Ryquell Armstead, Millville 11.22; 3. Kevin Barreau, Southern 11.4; 4. Richard Harris, Atlantic City 11.48; 5. Steven Morgan, EHT 11.53; 6. Keith Street, Atlantic City 11.56.
3,200 Relay-1. Southern (Geoffroy, Evans, Nocco, Raynor) 8:08.49; 2. EHT 8:14.06.
Discus-1. James Plummer, EHT 185-6; 4. Kofi Yamoah, EHT 149-7.
Triple Jump-3. Jeremiah Atoki, Vineland 42-7.25
GIRLS GROUP IV
400 Hurdles-1. Victoria Thaler, Millville 1:04.27; 2. Juliann Brand, EHT 1:04.57; 5. Amaysia Lake, Southern 1:07.01.
1,600-1. Abigail Shafer, EHT 5:07.36
100-1. Nabiya Garrett, EHT 12.74; 2. Mone't Gist, Atlantic City 12.95; 4. Kelly Fay, Southern 13.08; 6. Misty Jennings, EHT 13.31.
400-3. Ashley Gerald, EHT 58.54; 4. Brianna Angellella, Southern 59.19; 5. Carly Burnup, Southern 59.39; 6. Antoniette Isekenegbe, Vineland 59.8.
Shot put-2. Lola Agabalogun, EHT 39-3.75; 4. Isabel Barsch, Southern 37-4.
Long jump-1. Samantha Burns, Southern 17-1.5; 3. Aaliyah Ellis, Millville 16-6.5; 5. Mone't Gist, Atlantic City 16-5.25.
Javelin-1. Aldalys Lopez, EHT 113-2; 3. Terricita Bennett, Vineland 110-9; 5. Carly Dellavalle, Southern 109-8; 6. Taylor Bates, Absegami 107-6.
3,200 Relay-1. Southern (Ritchie, Muraczewski, Harris, Hamel) 9:32.18.