Jaguars ready to compete at Shore Conference meet


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By Wayne Witkowski

Jackson Memorial High School senior Ryan Rafferty is the runner to beat in the 1,600 meters at next month’s NJSIAA Group III indoor track and field meet, and he is a serious threat should he reach the Meet of Champions (MOC) again as expected.

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Rafferty was third in the 1,600 at the MOC last year in 4:16.96.

Dan Kaba has followed briskly in the footsteps of older brother, Mike, who ran on Jackson Memorial’s national championship shuttle hurdles relay team in 2012. Dan Kaba, a senior, teamed on this year’s version with senior Tyler Towns and juniors Jordan Caldwell and Tom Delmonte, having achieved a time of 3:31.64. That’s not as fast as his brother’s team that ran a 3:30.13, but it’s good enough to be the second fastest time on the clocks in the country this year. Mike Kaba, incidentally, is an All-American on Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s 4×400 relay these days.

Rafferty and Dan Kaba will make for an interesting showing for the Jaguars in the Shore Conference Championships Jan. 27 at the John Benentt Indoor Athletic Complex in Toms River. The meet starts at 4:30 p.m.

But the excitement doesn’t stop there for Jackson Memorial, which already has a trifecta of first-place finishes: a tie for first with Toms River High School North in the Ocean County Relays and outright team titles in the Ocean County Championships and the NJSIAA Group III Relays Jan. 17.

“We have a very, very deep team,” said Jackson Memorial boys coach Steve Theobald, who knows about building great teams from the 2010 state championship season and the great distance runners he harvested from the state champion 2006 cross-country team that helped produce a formidable indoor season.

Theobald said he never had the kind of depth he has this season and pointed out that Brandon Sweet, a junior, is the only runner competing in three relays: the 4×200, the distance medley and sprint medley. The first two relays finished second and the sprint medley third in the Group III Relays. Jackson Memorial scored in six of nine events and won the team title with only one first-place finisher, and that involved 16 different runners.

Sweet ran with Vin Lee, Michael Schoener and Daniel Kellett in the 4×200, clocking 1:34.72. He also ran on the distance medley with Dan Claudeo, Joe Giglio and Rafferty in 10:40.27. Sweet ran the spring medley in 3:41.27 with Lee, Schoener and Rafferty.

Also at the Group III Relays, Jonathan Brust and Kyle Whelan were tied for third in the pole vault, each clearing 11-6. Michael Nelson was sixth in the high jump at 5-10.

“We can do well,” Theobald said, assessing the Shore Conference meet. “We had three big meets in a row and everyone ran one big race. We don’t double everybody. We just see who steps up.”

For that reason, Theobald was hesitant to recite a litany of names for praise, saying their best days are ahead. He did say his team can score in the pole vault, high jump, sprints, hurdles and distance events — anything but the shot put.

He’ll need that depth after the Shore Conference meet when he brings his team next weekend to the Ocean Breeze Invitational in Staten Island, as well as the Central Jersey Group III sectionals Feb. 5.

“That’s our goal from the beginning of the year,” Theobald said of excelling in the sectionals.

From there, it’s on to the Group III championships Feb. 12 and the MOC the following weekend. There’s a one-week break and then the 82nd Eastern States March 1 at the New Balance Armory in New York, New York, and the National Scholastic Indoor Championships at the same location March 15.

Jackson Memorial’s girls team, meanwhile, has a good turnout but is a developing team that relies on distance runners Kaitlin O’Brien, the Ocean County champion in the 3,200 in 11:25.31, and Kennedy Gerratt, who finished third in the 800 in 2:24.88 and fourth in the 1,600 in 5:23.98. Jackson Memorial’s girls finished fifth in the team standings.

Jackson Liberty High School’s boys are doing OK, according to new coach Mike McCarthy, who is gearing his personnel for the outdoor season. He is working closely with the throwers, as Alan Skolkin finished third (41-11½) and Miguel Santana was sixth with a personal best 35-6 in the senior division of the Howell Rebels Shot Put Series Jan. 21. Skolkin has reached 43 feet this season.

“He’s come a long way,” McCarthy said of Skolkin.

The coach also praised pole vaulters Cory Feldman and Brandon Yorke.

Jackson Liberty running coach Ron Brown said he expects a big jump in the performance of his runners at the end of the season. Emanuel Flores is part of a nucleus of five sharp runners and ran leadoff on the 4×800 team at the Group III Relays that was sixth in 8:27.79. Jared Pommerencke, Dan Duffy and Josh Osowiecki ran the other legs. Earlier in the Ocean County Relays, Jackson Liberty was third in 8:30.51 with Flores, Pommerencke, Matt Campbell and Duffy.

Duffy, a junior, has dropped his top time in the 1,600 meters by 12 seconds from a year ago to a 4:39. Pommerencke has clocked 2:05 in the 800 meters

Junior Ryan Downer and sophomore Matt Campbell are best at middle distances. Campbell has dropped his time in the sprint hurdles to 8.58.

As for Jackson Liberty’s girls, they point to shot putter Danielle Notarfrancsco, who has thrown near the top in the county meets, and Sophia Bartolini. They finished second and third at the Ocean County championships, with Notarfrancesco throwing 41-6 and Bartolini reaching 36-2¾. Notarfrancesco was second in the Group III Relays at 40-6½.

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