By Wayne Witkowski
Danielle Notarfrancesco, the most decorated girls’ track and field athlete in Jackson Liberty High School’s young history, finished the indoor season the way she had hoped.
Notarfrancesco, who committed last November to a college career at the University of Massachusetts, threw the shot put a season-best 47-2¾ to finish second in the NJSIAA Meet of Champions (MOC) Feb. 26 at the John Bennett Indoor Athletic Complex in Toms River. She did it on her first throw and did not straddle the 47-foot mark after that, although she had some throws in the 46-foot range, as she has had all season.
“I was sick the past couple of days so I felt very nervous,” Notarfrancesco said. “I did not feel my strongest, but I had a very good day. It was a happy ending to the season.
“I felt a lot better [on that first throw] than I had lately, but I didn’t think it was as good as it was.”
The throw was short of her school-record measure of 47-11 that she hit last season at the Eastern States championships, which she expected to compete in again Feb. 28 at the Armory Track and Field Center in New York, but her performance in the MOC showed continued improvement.
However, she knew she needed to reach the 50-foot barrier to challenge favorite Alyssa Wilson of Donovan Catholic High School, who won comfortably with a throw of 55-2¼ inches at the MOC. Both train on Sundays under private coaching from Joe Napoli at Georgian Court University, along with other high school shot puters.
Notarfancesco had winning throws in the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group III championships at 46-5 and then the Group III finals at 46-11 that put her in the MOC. She was second to Wilson in the Shore Conference championships with a throw of 46-8 and was second in the Ocean County championships at 45-6.
A year ago, Notarfrancesco was fourth in the indoor MOC in the shot put with a throw of 44-3. Wilson was in second place that day, reaching exactly 50 feet.
It’s a rivalry that will continue in a few weeks when practices begin for the outdoor season. Notarfrancesco closes out a high school throwing career that is the most notable in the township since Shannon Watt was an All-American at Jackson Memorial High School before graduating in 2009 and going on to a college career at Harvard University. Watt was the indoor MOC shot put champion in 2009 with a throw of 42-6¾.
Notarfrancesco was fifth in the shot put at the outdoor MOC last year at 44-9¼.
Notarfrancesco has been a spinner in her style since her freshman year when she switched technique from a glider style.
“That just didn’t feel right — not powerful enough,” Notarfrancesco said of the glider technique. “I wanted to challenge myself more. Once I got it down, it was much better for me. There are still some little things that need to click, hopefully sooner than later.”
She felt they were clicking well at the MOC.
Now Notarfrancesco is working on broadening out her repertoire in college. She also considered major college programs at the University of Kentucky and University of South Carolina but said she preferred the smaller, more intimate atmosphere at the University of Massachusetts, where she will study psychology. She has been throwing the weight and the hammer along with the shot put — a path Watt also took when she went on to college.
Two weeks ago, Notarfrancesco threw the weight 50-4 at a college meet at the Ocean Breeze Athletic Complex in Staten Island to qualify for the nationals.
Notarfrancesco started throwing the shot put as a sixth-grader when the coach at Krista McAuliffe Middle School convinced her to try it.
“I was a softball player all my life but always tried to do as many sports as I could,” she said. “When I first got started, it was interesting, but I didn’t know the point of it all. I was stronger than most girls my age. But once I got to the meets and saw people doing it, it all made sense.”
Girls’ coach Ken Brown pointed to Notarfrancesco’s dedicated and determined work in practices and the weight room as keynoting her continued improvement, which he said will help her as she continues through college.