By Wayne Witkowski
Alden Littlefield hardly looked like he has missed virtually the entire indoor track and field season throwing the shot put for Allentown High School after injuring his right elbow last summer.
The senior is one good throw away from returning to the NJSIAA Meet of Champions (MOC) for the third straight year when he competes in the Group III championships Feb. 20 at the John Bennett Indoor Athletic Complex in Toms River. Littlefield qualified for the meet with the best throw of the Central Jersey Group III meet — a personal best of 56-0 that was well ahead of Burlington Township High School’s Jaehlan Joyner, who threw 46-7¾ for second place.
Reaching his winning mark on his third and final attempt of the preliminary round, Littlefield’s throw was the fourth best in the public school sectionals, with Rahway High School’s Jordan West leading the way with a throw of 60-7 in Central Jersey Group II. South Brunswick’s High School Nicolas Botett reached 57-7¼ Central Jersey Group IV and Toms River High School East’s Dan Gilligan threw 57-3 in South Jersey Group III. Littlefield said he’ll be focusing on surpassing Gilligan in the group meet.
Littlefield’s throw was well beyond his measure of 48-1½ in the MOC last year that placed him 32nd. He threw 46-5¾ for 26th place in the MOC as a sophomore.
What made it even more impressive was that it was only Littlefield’s second competition of the indoor season. In his only competition, a relay throwing meet, he was disqualified on all of his throws, although he estimated he threw beyond 57 feet on one throw in warmups.
“I’ve been throwing with [throwing coach] John Kalnas and have been working on my footwork, which is a lot better than last year,” Littlefield said. “I feel OK, but I’m not that consistent because I’m still injured. I can only throw at meets and not the days ahead [in practices]. I wasn’t planning on throwing anything farther than 53 feet.”
The lone qualifier from Allentown’s boys team, Littlefield is joined in the group meet by four members of the Redbirds’ girls team. Carly Roche cleared 8-0 in the pole vault for third place and Kassidy Mulryne was fourth in the high jump at 5-0. Both ran on the 4×400 relay with Kaitlyn Bergen and Heather Rainford that was fifth in 4:22.17.
Sophomore Devon Hoernlein finished just 1.3 seconds shy of the six qualifying spots in the 1,600 meters with a time of 5:21.34 time for seventh place.
After the state meets, Littlefield will rest his arm but says he is confident of being in good health for the outdoor season.
He already has visited Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania and Widener University and is planning an official visit to Rider University while deciding on a collegiate career.
Peyton Jackson continued his hot scoring of late as the Redbirds, who were 10-8 coming into this week, stayed in the running for the Colonial Valley Conference Freedom Division championship and are gaining momentum for the state tournament.
Allentown needed Jackson’s contributions when it played Ewing High School (17-3), which was unbeaten in the conference, for first place. Allentown topped Ewing, 70-52, Feb. 2, and Jackson and Nahshon Taylor each scored 16 points.
“It’s exciting,” coach Jay Graber said. “We’re in important games at the end of the season. It’s important that we play tough on defense, rebound and make good shots.”
Allentown played Steinert High School (4-15) Feb. 16 and opens as the No. 6 seed in the Mercer County Tournament (MCT) at 7 p.m. at home Feb. 18 against No. 8-seed West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North (7-13), which it did not play during the season. The winner advances to a Feb. 20 game against the winner of Trenton Catholic Academy (14-3), which seek its fourth MCT title in five years, vs. Princeton High School (4-14).
Allentown stayed in the division race last week, getting off to fast starts in a 66-53 victory over Lawrence High School Feb. 9 and a 72-63 triumph over Hopewell Valley Central High School a day earlier through the contributions from Jackson.
“We had a good couple of games we won on the road by sharing the ball well and playing good defense. We showed a lot of resilience,” Graber said after his team came into last week with four losses in five games.
Jackson did his part in contributing to the victories.
“He’s been playing like that all season,” Graber said of Jackson, a 6-foot senior swing player at guard and forward. “He’s been playing his role and gives whatever the team needs. He’s been unselfish. We asked him to step up and make shots and he did, and he’s been playing tough on defense.”
The team has come on strongly at a good time to do it.
“This is good. I always have been a coach to challenge the guys,” Graber said.
Jackson and Bekim Nikovic each scored 18 points and Taylor put in 11 against Lawrence, as Allentown built an early 23-4 lead. Jackson came off a 20-point game against Hopewell Valley, where Taylor led the way with 22 points. Tristan Millett and Nikovic added 11 and 10 points, respectively, as Allentown led, 24-11, after the first quarter.
“He’s starting to step up for tournament time,” Graber said of Taylor.
Sophomore Katie White again put in a strong effort off the bench with 11 points and 10 rebounds when Allentown (14-5, 5-2) posted an impressive 53-41 victory over Hopewell Valley Feb. 8. The Redbirds rolled to a 73-30 victory over Lawrence the following day behind 14 points and seven rebounds from Bianca Santos.
It set the Redbirds up for a Feb. 15 rematch against Ewing (16-2, 7-0), which had beaten the Redbirds, 63-58, Feb. 2 and clinched the Colonial Valley Conference Freedom Division title.
Allentown, a No. 5 seed, host to No. 12-seed Princeton Day School (9-9) in its MCT opener at 5 p.m. Feb. 19 before the boys MCT game. The winners advance to the quarterfinals Feb. 20, and the Redbirds look to return to the semifinals that will be held Feb. 22 at Sun National Bank Center in Trenton.
“This is a big week heading into the postseason where we want to continue to play well, and I think we can do that,” coach Linda Weise said. “We need to share the basketball and play to win the game as a team and not as individuals.”
White has been part of that cohesive mix.
“It’s not just Katie who has done well inside and off the boards; Sarina Campanella also has played well the last couple of games, too,” Weise said.
Kali Hartshorn led the way for Allentown in handing Hopewell Valley its third straight loss with 17 points, including three 3-point baskets, and five assists. Santos logged 10 points and seven rebounds. Ryan Weise contributed 11 points and six assists against Lawrence, and Hartshorn had nine points, six assists and five steals.
The Allentown-Robbinsville Ravens (12-7-3) co-op ice hockey team moved into a second-round MCT game at 6 p.m. Feb. 16 at Mercer County Park against the Hun School after a 4-1, opening-round victory over Pennington School on Feb. 10.
Josh Rosenbaum struck for two goals in the third period when the Ravens snapped a 1-1 tie against Pennington. Shawn Camisa fired in an empty-net goal and assisted on one of Rosenbaum’s goals, and Nick Koch made 16 saves in goal.
John Francis opened the scoring in the second period off a pass from Camisa before Pennington (7-6-2) tied it.
The Ravens have gone 3-0-1 in the last four games.
“The entire first line played well — Camisa-[John] Francis-Rosenbaum. We moved the puck quickly and played with great chemistry,” Ravens coach Dan Bergan said of the Pennington victory. “Goalie Nick Koch did an excellent job with timely big saves. John Martin was exceptional on defense, breaking the puck out and letting up pressure out of our end. The team as a whole played with high intensity but good poise.”
In a nondivision game Feb. 8, Camisa fired in four goals and Martin had a hat trick as the Ravens rolled to a 9-1 lead after two periods en route to an 11-4 victory over Edison High School (3-15-0). Liam Hartmann scored two goals and Rosenbaum and Joe Pontrelli put in the others. Koch, Justin Cooper and Luke Young shared time in goal, making 24 saves combined.
Zach Turner won by a 3-2 decision at 182 pounds as the lone winner for Allentown, which was bounced out of the opening round of the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III bracket, 66-3, by Cranford High School Feb. 8. Turner was one of five Allentown wrestlers to win via pin in a 36-34 victory over Robbinsville High School Feb. 12, as the Redbirds improved to 13-8.
The Redbirds have a Senior Night makeup meet that was postponed by weather Feb. 16, and a victory there would put them in a three-way tie for the Colonial Valley Conference Patriot Division title with Robbinsvile and Hopewell Valley. It also would put Allentown in a thee-way tie with those other two teams for the best overall record against conference teams — the first time that’s been done in 24 years.
The Redbirds head into the District 25 tournament this weekend in Northern Burlington.