Lady Vikings Dominate at MOC!
Jerika Lufrano ran the best race of her life to win the 1,600-meter run and the Union Catholic 4×400-meter relay continued its stranglehold on the 4×400-meter relay by blitzing the field to extend its remarkable streak to five titles in a row at the 41st NJSIAA Girls Track and Field Meet of Champions on Sunday at the Bennett Center in Toms River.
The victory by Lufrano and the 4×400 squad highlighted a sensational day for the Vikings as 15 girls competed,12 athletes placed in the top 10, and eight captured medals.
A couple weeks ago, Lufrano wasn’t even thinking about having a shot to win a Meet of Champions title
But that all changed last Tuesday, when Lufrano blasted a 4:54.68 anchor split for Union Catholic to bring the Vikings across the line first in the distance medley relay in a US#1 11:58.38 at the Eastern States Championships at the NY Armory.
That was the first time Lufrano ever broke 5 minutes.
“That race changed everything for me,” said Lufrano. “It gave me so much more confidence and made me feel like I did have a chance when I ran against the best in the state.”
Lufrano, a senior, took that confidence to the line with her at Sunday’s meet and executed her race plan to perfection when she won the 1,600 in a personal best, school record and NJ#5 4:59.26. Freshman Camryn Wennersten of Ridgewood was second in 4:59.73.
Lufrano, who broke her own school record of 5:02.92, threw her arms up in the air when she crossed the line and flashed a huge smile.
“This means everything to me, my teammates, my friends, and my family,” said Lufrano, who also led off UC’s runner-up 4×800 relay team (9:30.45) with a 2:21.4 carry. “I worked really hard for this my whole career and I’m just so happy right now.”
Lufrano and Wennersten broke away from the pack with three laps to go, and then Lufrano made a big push with 1,000 to go. Wennersten stayed right on Lufrano’s heels, but Lufrano hit the gas again with 150 meters left to open enough of a gap to push her to the victory.
Lufrano has come a long way in a year. Last year she was 16th in this race, and last spring she was seventh at the outdoor M of C in the 3,200.
What’s the difference between her from last year to this year?
“Just lots of hard work, lots of mileage, and lots of motivation,” said Lufrano. “And having confidence in yourself.”
Watch a video interview with Lufrano here
In the 4×400, UC, which came into the race with a NJ#1 time of 3.50:93, won the race in 3:53.84 (No. 6 in meet history). Rancocas Valley was second in 3:57.82.
UC is the only team in meet history to win more than three 4×400 titles in a row.
Senior Khamil Evans, out the last couple weeks with a sore hammy, put Union Catholic ahead to stay with a strong leadoff leg. Junior Leena Morant then blasted an indoor personal best of 57.3 to blow the race apart. Sophomore Sydney Tucker followed with a 58.9 as she maintained the huge lead, and then junior Chi Chi Nkulume capped it off with a 57.8 anchor carry.
Morant has now run on three indoor M of C winning 4×400’s, and Evans two. This was the first time Tucker and Nkulume ran for UC on the 4×400 at the M of C.
“I knew we had a big lead, so I just wanted to make sure no one could catch me,” said Nkulume. “I didn’t want let the girls on my team down. I knew they were counting on me. To be on this team and help us win our fifth in row is the best feeling in the world.”
Watch a video interview with the 4×400 relay team here
Tucker said the 4×400 winning streak is something that team works hard tro continue.
“It’s definitely motivation,” Tucker said of the streak. “We always want to keep it going and we all ran strong and I’m proud of all of us for winning this again.”
Nkulume said it was a dream come true for her to win her first M of C title.
“It means everything for me to be out here at the Meet of Champions,” said Nkulume. “This is like a dream for me. I have never been part of something this special, so it feels great.”
Morant’s relay carry capped off a sensational meet for her.
Earlier in the meet, Morant placed second in a NJ#3/US#24 2:13.08, which is a school record, an indoor PR and No. 13 in meet history. Morant’s 2:13.08 broke the UC indoor record of 2:14.08 that was set in 2016 by Amari Onque-Shabazz.
“I had the school record on my mind in the 800, so I really wanted to take that down and knew if I ran off of Victoria (Vanriele of Gov. Livingston, who won the race in 2:09.18), that the time would come with it. It was a very productive day, and I’m really proud of the 4×400 for keeping our streak going..It was a great day for our whole team.”
In other UC highlights, Sydney Tucker placed third in the 55 dash in 7.16, Nkulume was fourth in the dash in 7.23 (7.22 in the trials), Morgan Williams placed 10th in the 800 in 2:18.43, Hope Handlin placed 11th in the pole vault by clearing 11-0, Ashleigh Patterson was 19th in the 2:22.46, freshman Abby Granrath placed 26tn in the 3,200 in 11:38.91, Felicia Quainoo ran the 10th fastest time in the hurdle trials (8.43), Angelique Williams finished 10th in the high jump a 5-2., and Jenna Keith and Morgan Jacksonran on the runner-up 4×800 relay.
“It was a great day,” said UC head coach Mike McCabe. “Jerika wins and breaks five, the 4×400 ran great to win, Leena gets second with a school record, we got a third and fourth from Sydney and Chi Chi, and we got a bunch of medal winners. It was awesome. It couldn’t have gone much better.”
The Vikings, who are ranked No. 1 in the nation in the distance medley (11:59.38) and the 4×800 (9:07.44), will be back in action when they chase some national relay titles at the New Balance Indoor Nationals (March 8-9-10) at the Armory in N.Y.