By Jeff Appelblatt
Colts Neck High School’s track and field coach, Jim Schlentz, can remember when the boys’ team was young. That includes his memories of when some of the team’s current best struggled in getting used to the sport.
“We were a good, young group a couple of years ago,” the coach said, reminiscing on when his standout seniors first came on board.
Now his team is loaded with seasoned veterans that have the ability to dominate a race, including the most recent that landed the Cougars back as the top team in NJSIAA Group III.
The team won the title in the fall while running cross-country, and it reeled in the most points of any team Feb. 17 at the John Bennett Indoor Athletic Complex in Toms River, making it back-to-back championships for the Cougars.
Colts Neck’s main competition was the 3,200-meter run. A trio of the team’s seniors collected 24 points for the Cougars when they each finished in the top three. Jordan Brannan crossed the finish line first, while Anthony Russo and Kevin Berry followed behind him.
“Any one of them could have been the champ,” Schlentz said. “They wanted to be in it as a team and next thing you know, they finish one, two, three.”
Colts Neck’s coach has had the opportunity to coach his athletes throughout the year.
“They let me coach all of the seasons,” the coach said. “Keeping it the same for all three seasons, it keeps the continuity.
“I have a chance to build [the kids] up and follow them through the years.”
Colts Neck also picked up points in Toms River when Ryan Tompkins won the high jump and Brannan and Matthew Shaefer came in second and sixth in the 1,600.
Schlentz knows his team is reaching the end of an era. Next year, Brannan will be at Iona College, Russo will be at the University of Pennsylvania and Berry will be at Princeton University.
“They worked so hard in school,” Schlentz said.
Colts Neck’s coach has also been the main face for the girls’ team. While many of the boys will move on after the upcoming Meet of Champions and then the spring season, the girls have numerous years to represent Colts Neck.
“The girls are going to be the special team next year,” Schlentz said. “They’ll be very, very good.”
Delia Russo, who finished No. 10 in the 3,200 in Toms River, is only a sophomore. Colleen Megerle and Natalie Shapiro are only in their second and first years of high school, too, and they fell just short of top-10 finishes in the 1,600.
Schlentz is focused on 2017, though. Brannan won at the Meet of Champions last year, so while his athletes know what needs to be done, Schlentz finds it necessary to give his club some rest.
“We piled on a lot of miles,” the coach said. “I’ll let them go into the next race rested.”