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FTHS distance runner Emma Zawatski adds to family legacy with Meet of Champions victory

Freehold Township High School distance runner Emma Zawatski celebrates winning the 1,600 meter run at the Meet of the Champions on June 18 in Somerset.

During the past two years, two members of the Zawatski family of Manalapan have starred on the biggest stage in New Jersey for the Freehold Township High School track and field program.

In 2021, Tyler Zawatski, a junior, won an NJSIAA Meet of Champions title when he captured the javelin championship.

In 2022, Emma Zawatski, a sophomore, ran a personal best time of 4:48.88 in the 1,600-meter run to win a Meet of Champions gold medal on June 18 at Franklin High School in Somerset County.

The Meet of Champions brings together the best track and field athletes from high schools of all sizes in the Garden State to compete against one another in the traditional season-ending event.

“It was insane,” Emma said after she won her gold medal at the Meet of Champions. “I couldn’t believe I won. I was so surprised and happy.”

Tyler and Emma are the second pair of siblings to win events at the spring edition of the Meet of Champions. In 1994, Bridgeton’s Ray Wilkins (shot put) and Helen Wilkins (100-meter hurdles) won gold medals at the Meet of Champions.

“It’s honestly pretty crazy,” said Tyler. “We are only the second family to do it. It feels awesome to be in the record books as a family.”

Tyler, brother Zach, and parents Alison and Geoff were at the finish line to celebrate with Emma after she won her race at the Meet of Champions.

Tyler said watching his sister cross the finish line to win brought tears of joy to his eyes.

“It was so special,” he said. “Last year when I won it was special, but watching my little sister win was even more amazing.”

Tyler did not compete in the javelin event at the 2022 Meet of Champions due to injury.

During 2021 and 2022, Tyler has excelled in the event. He has won a gold medal at the Meet of Champions, a Group IV state championship, two Central Jersey Group IV state sectional titles and two Shore Conference Championship crowns.

Tyler started throwing the javelin three years ago. He was unable to compete during his sophomore year (2020) due to the coronavirus pandemic that forced the cancellation of spring sports.

On June 26, Tyler won a gold medal at the East Coast Championships with a throw of 193 feet, 8 inches.

On June 30, he ended his high school career by winning the javelin at the USATF National Youth Outdoor Championships at Icahn Stadium on Randall’s Island in New York City.

Tyler achieved his best mark in the javelin on June 19 when he threw 198 feet, 7 inches and earned All-American status by placing fifth at the New Balance Nationals Outdoor Championships in Philadelphia.

As he prepares for his next chapter in life, Tyler said he will remember his time at Freehold Township and the accomplishments he was able to achieve during the last two years.

“It’s pretty impressive what you can do in two years,” he said. “It’s hard to throw the javelin successfully. I’m very impressed with what I have been able to accomplish. I loved my time in high school.”

Tyler will attend the University of Virginia to study business and to compete for the Cavaliers.

Tyler and Emma’s brother Zach is a distance runner at Baylor University. He won the 3,200-meter run in the 2020 Indoor Shore Conference Championships.

Watching her brothers achieve success in high school and move on to college fueled Emma’s motivation to do the same when she entered Freehold Township.

“They motivate me so much,” Emma said of her brothers. “My brothers are so talented and showed me I can do the same if I work hard enough. We are a track family. We all bond over that.”

Emma’s sophomore campaign will always be remembered at Freehold Township. She won the Group IV state title in the 1,600 in a time of 4:53.79.

Her goal at the start of the season was to run under 4:50. After struggling to attain her goal, Emma thought it was slipping away until she won the Group IV state championship. That race motivated Emma to keep striving to reach her goal.

In the Meet of Champions, as she ran down the homestretch with no one in front of her, Emma crossed the finish line to win the state title and to achieve her goal of running under 4:50 by stopping the clock for 1,600 meters in 4:48.88

“I was very proud of my performance. I am very grateful to have won. I am in full amazement of myself,” she said.

Emma competed in the 1-mile run at the New Balance Nationals Outdoor Championships and placed 10th to earn All-American status.

In the final race of her sophomore campaign, Emma competed in the 3,000-meter run (1.8 miles) at the 2022 USATF National Youth Outdoor Championships.

Emma’s hard work and accomplishments in 2022 were no surprise to Freehold Township Coach Todd Briggs, who believes Emma will achieve more great things during the next two years.

Those possibilities include breaking school records in the 800-meter run, the 1,600-meter run and the 3,200-meter run that are held by 2016 graduate Ciara Roche, who went on to compete at Cornell University.

“There is a lot more (Emma) can achieve, which is very special. She loves running. It’s something she looks forward to. She has a true love for the sport,” Briggs said.

Emma’s future goals include winning two more gold medals at the Meet of Champions and eventually representing the United States in the Summer Olympics.

There are many great possibilities on the horizon for the Zawatski family in track and field. It is a sport that bonds the family together and one that has given them great memories to share.

“The whole family is into this sport. It’s a true love affair. They all love the atmosphere of being at a meet. Winning these two (Meet of Champions) titles is just a bonus for them,” Briggs said.

Freehold Township High School javelin thrower Tyler Zawatski celebrates placing first at the East Coast Championships on June 26 in Edison.
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