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Huskies prepare for big indoor track and field meets under new coach Burns

By Wayne Witkowski

Matawan Regional High School’s Thomas Kalieta, who was an NJSIAA Meet of Champions (MOC) winner in the indoor and outdoor 200 meters and outdoor 400, and David Alston, who was a runner-up high jumper in both MOC meets last season, are leading the Huskies in their big upcoming indoor meets.

They continue Jan. 22 with the NJSIAA relays at the John Bennett Indoor Athletic Complex in Toms River.

Donald Small, who is an outstanding shot puter whose cracked patella injury kept him out of both indoor and outdoor seasons last year, also will help lead the way for another high-powered Huskies team that was runner-up to Christian Brothers Academy in the Monmouth County Championships Jan. 13 and in the Monmouth County Relays Jan. 6. He will look to fulfill the promise of last year, when many thought he could reach the MOC.

“We have a strong upper-class group led by those three guys and a good amount of juniors and sophomores among the 45 boys who came out. They have really stuck with it and each meet keep getting better,” said Kevin Burns, who became head coach for the boys’ team after longtime head coach Sam Turner stepped down after last indoor season.

Burns had served as an assistant under Turner the last three years, working mostly with distance runners and hurdlers and also a bit with the throwers. Turner will continue as head coach for the boys’ team during the outdoor season and Burns will remain his assistant.

“I learned a lot under Sam, and he helped the transition by giving me a lot of the paperwork to do and a role with helping out the Parents Club,” Burns said.

Burns believes his team is prepared to challenge the likes of Rahway High School, South Plainfield High School and Governor Livingston High School among other strong contenders in the Group II relay championships. The action continues Jan. 27 with the Shore Conference Championships before the state meets begin with the sectionals the following weekend. The Metropolitan Invitational also takes place Feb. 1 at the New Balance Track and Field Center in New York, New York. All the upcoming local meets take place at the Bennett complex.

Matawan won Central Jersey, Group II last season and went on to win the group title.

“We’re feeling pretty good. We think we have a good chance in the state relays,” Burns said. “Our 4×200 and 4×400 relays can compete with anybody. We think we’ll place in all three field events [for a medal] and in the shuttle hurdles, too.”

Kalieta has looked sharp in winning the 400 in 50.37 at the Monmouth County Championships and running on the winning 4×400 relay that won at the county relays (3:27.94) and county championships (3:30.07).

“[Jan. 13] was his first really solid individual times [this season], and he’s been running the 200 in about 22 seconds,” Burns said. “He’s been running solid in splits [on relays] and good open times, too.”

Kalieta won the 200 at the indoor MOC last season in 22.41 and outdoors in 21.57. He also won the 400 at the outdoor MOC in 47.83. Kalieta was fourth in the 400 at the indoor MOC in 49.87.

Kalieta also won the 55-meter dash in 6.68 at the recent county championships.

In the recent county meets, Kalieta ran on the 4×200 relay with Ethan Goldenthal, Zachary Hill and Jacob Navarro. He also ran on the 4×400 relay with Liam Nappi, Hill and Navarro.

Alston, meanwhile, reached 6-6 at the indoor and outdoor MOC meets and matched that height to prevail in the county relays this year. Alston was runner-up in the county championships at 6-4.

“[Alston] will be competing for first at the state relays in the high jump and has not jumped 6-8 yet, but he will,” Burns said. “He changed his offseason stuff and put on extra muscle. He has felt the effects, but it’s good for him overall and he is adjusting. I think he’ll be up there [at 5-8] when it counts.”

Alston also led a third-, fifth- and sixth-finish of Matawan medalists in the 55 high hurdles in 7.85 at the Monmouth County Championships despite being sick that day. Nappi was fifth in 8.20 and Noah Colleton was sixth in 8.34.

“In the hurdles, he’s in a good spot right now,” Burns said of Alston.

Alston won the high jump at 6-6 and was second in the hurdles in 7.73 at the Ocean Breeze Holiday Festival in Staten Island, New York, Dec. 30.

Small threw the shot put 50-4½ for third pace at the Monmouth County Championships and uncorked the best throw at the county relays at 49-10½. Shot put relay partner Royce Tucker threw 42-1½, as Matawan’s pair won the county relays.

“He’s throwing around 50 feet but hasn’t shown confidence yet because he’s trying to get his legs going after missing indoors and outdoors [last season], so we want him to stay around 50 feet for the time being,” Burns said of Small. “We’re happy with his coming back as he gets his confidence going.”

Matawan also will look to pole vaulter Jacob Labinger, who cleared 12-0 at the county championships and 11-6 at the county relays while his pole vault relay partner, Daniel Eimont, was eighth on the day at 11-0. Their combined throws put them in third place.

As for Matawan’s girls, Sam Anderson will make another run for the gold in the 400, where she is consistently running around 58.0, and will begin working in the 800 as well.

Rachel Kenny, who finished second in the Group II cross-country championships with a Holmdel Park school-record time of 18:54 and finished 20th it the cross-country MOC in November, is rounding into form in the indoor distance events. She was fifth in the 1,600 at the Monmouth County Championships in 5:14.36. Isabella Viggiano cleared 8-6 in the pole vault at the county relays for fifth place.

Just like the boys’ team’s talented trio of Kalieta, Alston and Smalls, this threesome will lead the way for the girls’ team in the state relays.

“We have a really good group of sophomores — a young team in training with a strong future,” said Dorothy Bagley, who coached Matawan’s girls’ cross-country team and co-coaches the girls’ indoor team with Suzanne Mergner.

Bagley’s point was evident in the Monmouth County Relays, where a young sprint medley team of Cassandra Danielle, Evelyn Poncil, Cara Catalano and Kenny finished sixth in 4:33.37.

Mue Carroll makes for a good pole vault relay team with Viggiano, as she cleared 7-6 for sixth place in the county relays.

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