By Wayne Witkowski
Matawan Regional High School senior Thomas Kalieta Jr. was all set to return to the NJSIAA indoor track and field boys’ Meet of Champions (MOC) as he was moving up to the lead in the closing steps of the 400-meter dash at the NJSIAA Group II championships Feb. 18 at the John Bennett Indoor Athletic Complex in Toms River — until he suffered a leg injury.
Kalieta managed to finish second in 50.50 behind Haddonfield Memorial High School’s Luke Colehower, who won in 49.92. It’s uncertain whether Kalieta will recover by Feb. 26 for the MOC, which takes place at the Bennett facility, where he finished fourth indoors last year in 49.87.
Kalieta also qualified in the 200 — an invitation-only event in which he had the seventh best time of the 24 runners who were invited this year. Kalieta won the 200 at last year’s MOC in 22.41. He also easily won the 400 in 47.83 and the 200 in 21.57 at the outdoor MOC last June.
Donald Small, a senior, also qualified for Matawan in the shot put when he finished fifth with an early throw of 57-5. Small did not compete at the end of last season because of a knee injury and threw strongly in the sectionals, clearing 50 feet on every throw except one in which he fouled.
Matawan’s 4×400 relay team advanced with a third-place showing in 3:26.06, but it came after a last-minute shakeup of the lineup and sophomore Zach Hall’s best performance of the season. Kalieta was scheduled to run in the relay that took place after he ran the 400, but when he came up injured with what coach Kevin Burns called a pulled hamstring, Hall was pressed into action.
Hall took the baton in third place from fellow sophomore Charlie Serrano and held it with his personal-best time of 50.50, which was the best split by all four runners. Seniors Liam Nappi and Jacob Labinger ran the first two legs of the relay.
“When something like that happens, we put that [new] runner in the anchor,” Burns said. “We don’t want to put him in the lead and risk having to make up time. If he is in a good position at the end, he has a chance to do something with it.”
Hall had run on Matawan’s 4×400 relay a few times early in the season, so he was ready for the challenge put to him.
“We knew he had the talent, but he’s been intimidated by the 400,” Burns said. “He’s been a really good 200 runner, but he finally put it all together in this race. He may have cemented his spot [on the relay].”
That not only may include the MOC but the Eastern States Championships, which takes place Feb. 28 at The Armory Track and Field Center in New York. Burns said that even if Kalieta is well enough to run the 400 and 200 in the Eastern, he may skip it to prepare for his bigger goal of the New Balance Nationals that takes place in early March at the armory. He was third in the 200 meters in 22.08 at last year’s meet.
David Alston also was expected to be in the MOC in the high jump, where he was second last year at 6-6 but was injured before the sectionals. His absence was felt in the Central Jersey, Group II meet, where Matawan’s string of championships came to an end as the Huskies finished second to Rahway High School, 59-42.
Matawan’s Rachel Kenny advanced to the girls’ indoor MOC in the 1,600, where she finished fourth in 5:12.99. She was eighth in the 800 in 2:21.94, which may earn her one of the six wild card spots in that event.