By Wayne Witkowski
Ryan Rafferty of Jackson Memorial High School is looking to finish strongly and qualify for a return to the NJSIAA Indoor Track and Field Meet of Champions (MOC) after what he viewed was a slow start this season before embarking on a college career at Monmouth University in the fall.
To do that, he looks for another strong finish in the NJSIAA Group III championships at the John Bennett Indoor Athletic Complex in Toms River Feb. 20 in the 1,600 meters, where he finished third in the Central Jersey Group III sectionals in 4:23.06 Feb. 8. Rafferty was third in the 1,600 at last year’s MOC with an indoor personal best of 4:16.96.
Teammate Dan Claudeo also advanced to the group meet in the 1,600 with a personal best of 4:29.50 for fifth place.
Rafferty also won the 800 in this year’s sectionals in 2:01 and made a case with his coaches for running that race as well in the group meet.
“I’ll most likely run [only] the mile,” Rafferty said. “I talked to my coaches about maybe giving the 800 a try, and they agreed with what I said but felt the mile is the way to go.”
The timing of the events could have something to do with that decision. Rafferty, an alternate on the 4×400 relay team that also made the group meet with a third-place showing in 3:31.21 at the sectionals, said he was told he’ll run on that relay in the group meet. Brendan Sweet, Tyler Towns, Dan Kaba and Ross Delhagen ran on that relay in the sectionals, but Kaba and Delhagen both have been ill recently.
Jackson Memorial coach Steve Theobald realizes that the 4×400 relay needs a strong showing in the group meet, where the Jaguars will look to avenge a second-place finish to Colts Neck High School, 52-49, in the state sectionals. Colts Neck moved into a commanding position to win the section by taking the top three spots in the 3,200, which was one of the closing events, and Jackson Memorial would have needed to win the final event — the 4×400 relay — where Colts Neck finished in sixth place in order to win the meet.
Kaba advanced to the group meet in the 55 hurdles, where he was second in the section in 7.99. Three Jaguars advanced in that event: Jordan Caldwell was fifth in 8.25 and Towns was sixth in 8.28.
Running a solid time in the group meet will get Rafferty back on pace.
“I have not really been on pace overall this season,” Rafferty said. “I’m looking to get into the New Balance Nationals by running closer to a 4:15 or a 4:14.”
Rafferty got some reassurance Feb. 12 in the North Shore Pre-Nationals at 168th Street Armory in New York, New York, where he ran a 4:19.6 split in the 1,600 on the distance medley relay. Jackson Memorial was timed in 10:38 for fourth place, with Sweet running the 400 meters, Claudeo the 1,200 meters and Joe Giglio the 800.
“Running the 4:19.6 the other day, I had no problem with it, so now I feel I’m close to being on pace,” Rafferty said. “I’ve had a slow start this season, but I’m getting back to it.”
In the group meet, Sweet will run the 400, where he was fifth in the section in 53.29.
Two pole vaulters advanced for Jackson Memorial. Jonathan Brust finished third in the section, clearing 12-6, and teammate Kyle Whalen placed fourth at 11-6. High jumper Mark Nelson, a senior out for the team for the first time, advanced by clearing 5-8 for fifth place.
Two Jackson Liberty High School runners also advanced to the group meet in the 800. Emanuel Flores was third in 2:03.54 and Dan Duffy was right behind in fourth place (2:03.68). Flores also finished ahead of Sweet in the 400 at the section meet with a fourth-place showing in 52.68.
Jackson Liberty’s 4×400 relay of Ryan Downer, Thomas Mata, Matt Campbell and Ken Pommerencke also advanced by finishing fifth in 3:58.50.
While Jackson Memorial’s boys finished second in Central Jersey Group III, Jackson Liberty’s girls also finished second in Central Jersey Group III behind West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South with two event winners. Danielle Notarfrancesco threw the shot put a winning 41-5, and teammate Sophie Bartolini also advanced in fourth with a mark of 36-8¾.
Caitlin Veneziano won the pole vault at 9-0, and teammate Kimberly Yoo was fourth at 8-0.
Samantha Corallo was fifth in the 800 in 2:25.18.
Three Jackson Memorial girls also qualified for the group meet. For third-place finishes, Caitlin O’Brien ran a time of 11:24.35 in the 3,200 and Alexis Shuldes threw the shot put 37-6, and Kennedy Gerratt was fifth with a time of 5:19.84 in the 1,600 meters.