By Wayne Witkowski
It was uncertain how effectively Danielle Notarfrancesco would be in the shot put for the Jackson Liberty High School girls’ outdoor track and field team at the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) Group III championships June 3 at Northern Burlington County Regional High School.
She could not have thrown much better, with the second best throw of all competitors in group meets that day, finishing first in Group III at 44-5. It earned her a spot in the NJSIAA Meet of Champions (MOC) June 10 at Northern Burlington.
It came despite the senior, who is headed for a field events career at the University of Massachusetts, injuring her back on her third throw of the Central Jersey, Group III meet the previous weekend. She was scratched after her second throw, but her first throw of 42-9 was good enough to win her section. It also was the second best throw recorded in the six section meets, with UCLA-bound Alyssa Wilson of Donovan Catholic High School having the best throw at 54-4.
“I’m feeling a lot better,” Notarfrancesco said before going to the circle. “The pain is gone, but it’s a little sore. I’m back to where I was, and that’s good.”
She skipped competing in the discus, where she finished fourth in the Central Jersey, Group III meet at 102-4, because she feared the different turning on her throw might re-injure her back. She also skipped the javelin, where she also finished in fourth place in the sectional meet.
Notarfrancesco’s longest throw in the shot put this season May 12 went 44-10½ for second place in the Ocean County meet.
Notarfrancesco will be joined at the MOC by junior teammate Aniyah Russell, who finished second in the Group III long jump at 18-7½, which she reached once in the opening round and again in the final round.
Russell finished short of the six qualifying spots for the MOC in the 200 meters with an eighth-place time of 25.89, which was her second best time this season.
Jackson Liberty’s girls finished ninth in the team standings.
“It’s the first time in a while we’re taking two kids [to the MOC],” coach Anthony Myers said. “Both should finish pretty high this weekend. Danni’s back is a lot better and hopefully this week it can be 100 percent. Aniyah was consistent, hitting 18-7½ twice and 18-4. Her jumps were amazing, as she didn’t have to run around to a lot of different events and could concentrate on it. As for the 200, that [finish] is a good spot for her right now.”
Russell, a junior, has come on strong this season in only her second year of competitive track and field. She started her career as a cheerleader in her freshman year when Myers spotted her with the great speed she showed. She has been surprised getting the cheers lately.
“I’m very surprised. I did not expect this. I’m learning new techniques,” Russell said. “My coach asked me about running track because I’m athletic.
“It was difficult at the start because I did not have a lot of endurance.”
Russell emerged this season to help Jackson Liberty to a third-place finish in the Central Jersey, Group III meet with a winning long jump of 17-5½ and a third-place finish for the Lions in the Ocean County meet. She also competes in the 100 dash and the high jump but says the long jump is her favorite event and it showed in the state meets.
In the state sectional meet, Russell finished second in the 200 in 25.92. Her best attempt in the high jump at 5-4 matched MOC veteran qualifier Kassidy Mulryne of Allentown High School to lead the field, but she finished second based on misses.
She established herself in the Shore Conference meet, where she placed in three events, finishing second in the long jump at 18-6 and second in the 200 meters in 26.15 and in the high jump at 5-0.
Russell said before the group meet, she was determined to surpass that Shore Conference meet measure in the long jump.
In the county meet, Russell won the long jump at 16-11, was second in the 200 in 25.72, fourth in the 100 in 12.99 and fourth in the high jump at 4-10.
Jackson Liberty’s 4×800 boys’ relay also advanced to the MOC with a fifth-place finish in the group meet in 7:59.53. Juniors Dan Duffy (1:59), Matt Campbell (2:00) and Matt Vargas (2:02) and sophomore Joe DeVito (1:58) ran on the relay. The time surpassed the Lions’ 8:05.34 clocking for second place in the sectional meet.
Jackson Memorial High School also had one qualifier out of its teams in the Group IV meet at Egg Harbor Township High School. The boys’ 4×800 finished sixth in 7:58.39, with freshman Noah Coakley, senior Dan Claudeo and juniors Jeff Stewart and Clayton Engle taking part.