St. Augustine Prep junior Sincere Rhea says he was nervous going into the indoor track and field Meet of Champions in Toms River on Sunday.
The 16-year-old had worked since the end of his spring track season last year to bring his 55-meter hurdles time down from 7.70 seconds to 7.40.
He felt pressure to succeed at the Bennett Center.
After the preliminary race, Rhea said, he shook off his nerves and felt his confidence return just in time for the final.
“As soon as I stepped on the starting line, I was like, ‘I’m going to win this race,’” Rhea said. “It definitely clicked.”
Rhea won the race in 7.35 seconds, a personal best for the Millville resident.
His excellent performance was one of several by Cape-Atlantic League athletes at the two-day MOC, including two runner-up finishes by Egg Harbor Township freshman Lauren Princz.
“It was like a dream come true,” Rhea said of his victory. “Ever since freshman year, I just envisioned it for myself, just saying, ‘I’m going to win this race some day,’ and today was that day. It just felt amazing.”
“He had an unbelievable day today,” St. Augustine coach Matthew Forrest said. “As soon as he got set for the finals, he crushed the competition.”
Rhea, who was seeded third at the meet, finished ahead of Isaiah Greene of West Side High School, who came in second in 7.42. Xavier Smith of West Windsor Plainsboro South was third in 7.50.
“I’ve known for a while that this is a special kid,” Forrest said. “He’s the type of kid who needs to run against the best runners to make him better.”
Rhea said he was able to drop his time this season because he has adopted a stronger focus during practice.
“It was basically the same routine. I just did it 110 times harder,” Rhea said.
He also attributes his growth as a runner to teammate Will Gould, a senior, who pushes Rhea to perform at his highest level at all times.
“We just practice hard all offseason and put the pedal to the metal,” Rhea said.
Princz, the EHT freshman, was runner-up in the girls 200 in 25.29 seconds and in the 55 dash in 7.18. She had the fastest preliminary time, 7.16, in the 55.
Mainland sophomore Claire Pedrick was sixth in the 55, finishing in 7.36.
Eagles senior Ajae Alvarez placed fourth in the 400 in 57.51. Alvarez and Princz helped EHT’s 4x400 relay finish fifth in 4:02.74.
Atlantic City’s Claudine Smith finished fourth in the 55 hurdles in 8.21 and was third in the prelims in 8.23.
Looking forward to the spring season, Rhea hopes to win both the sectional and state meets and advance to the national competition.
Forrest, who is heading into this fifth year as the spring coach, too, said Rhea is set to compete in the 110 and 400 hurdles, the 200, 400 and both the 4X100 and 4X200 relays.
“He’s basically running anything 400 meters and below,” Forrest said.
Forrest is also a cornerback for the Hermits’ football team. He has been playing football most of his life, which makes his college decision especially difficult.
“Eventually, it’s just going to come to a time when I have to choose which one. Once I have (an offer), I’m just going to proceed, and I feel like it will be the right choice,” Rhea said.
While he has not received any official offers, Rhea is interested in the athletics at Penn State and the University of Florida. He said his college choices will be in the back of his mind as he tries to accomplish his many goals this spring.