If a championship track season could crystallize in an instant, it was Saturday morning for the girls at Rumson-Fair Haven High School.
Freshman sensation Clemmie Lilley and decorated senior Chloee Dotts placed first and second respectively in the 400 meters at the NJSIAA Group 2 meet. The finish says it all: it was the perfect combination of leadership and talent that propelled the Bulldogs to the program’s third state group title.
Lilley won the race in 56.57 seconds, Dotts was second in 57.60 and the 18 points they scored helped Rumson-Fair Haven reach 64 for the competition. Demarest finished second with 51 points.
“It was so cool,” Lilley said of the 400. “We were so happy for each other.”
The Bulldogs also won state titles in 2008 and 2019. For Dotts, who was a freshman for the latter, it marked a looping moment.
“It makes me really proud to be a Bulldog,” she said. “Our teammates all work so hard, always outdo themselves. To know that I am part of the continuity of this heritage, it makes me so happy to have been able to experience this with the other girls.
During the two-day competition, which was held at Franklin High School, Dotts also finished second in the 200m (25.37) and fifth in the 100m (12.59). She and Lilley teamed with Tyler Argilagos and Megan Burns for a victory in the 4×100 (49.27).
It was a busy encounter for Lilley, who burst onto the scene this year with the confidence of a veteran. She finished third in the 800m (2:17.88) and also joined Argilagos, Burns and Ryan Malone on the victorious 4×400 (4:02.45).
Note that the 800 took place 15 minutes after the 4×100.
“I was freaking out, but I wanted to get us some points,” Lilley said of the tight deadline.
“I’m really proud of her,” Dotts said of Lilley. “She’s improved so much since the winter season. She’s going to be amazing for the next three years.
Sophomore Katie Murray also scored for Rumson-Fair Haven, who finished fifth in the 800 (2:20) and raced third in the 4×800 (9:37) with Malone, Sarah Butler and Hannah Nitka. And junior Julia Shanes placed sixth in the 1600 (5:13) and 3200 (11:18).
It all added up to another trophy in an increasingly crowded trophy case. The Bulldogs also won the Group 2 Central Section and Monmouth County Relays earlier this season, not to mention numerous crowns from seasons past.
“Seniors create such a positive community, bringing everyone together,” Lilley said. “Doing that was special.”
Neptune’s Fitzpatrick in Group 3
There’s a wall near the cafeteria at Neptune High School covered in pictures of state champions.
Imani Fitzpatrick has dropped by just about every day for the past four years, wondering if she might ever join the edit. This weekend, she made sure of it.
The senior track star won the girls’ 400 meters at the NJSIAA Group 3 Championship, and she joined teammates Antonia Dunbar, Ahjanae Young and Natalia Bray for a triumph in the 4×100 relay.
“We now have our picture on the wall,” Fitzpatrick said. “We’re really excited to be up there with all the greats. It’s been a while since we (the women’s track and field team) last had one.
Given Neptune’s rich tradition in sports, this wall features New Jersey legends such as Dawn Bowles and Ajee’ Wilson. Bowles, now the Scarlet Fliers head coach, has held the state schoolgirl record in the 100-meter hurdles since 1988. Wilson, the state record holder in the 800 since 2012, went on to set the American record in the event and represents the United States at the Olympics.
Last fall, Wilson came home when her alma mater named her runway after her. She also met the girls on the team. Between Wilson and Bowles, it’s world-class mentorship.
“It’s amazing honestly,” Fitzpatrick said. “I’m really happy they’re here for us. They are able to help us do our best and become better than we expected.
What was Wilson’s advice to teens?
“Run with your heart and the workout you do with Coach Bowles will follow,” Fitzpatrick said.
That works. On Friday, the 4×100 beat the tape in 48.76 seconds, edging out Timber Creek (48.91) for the gold medal. On Saturday, Fitzpatrick recovered from an early deficit in the 400m to cross the finish line first in 56.71. Chloe Jones of Timber Creek took second place in 57.28.
“Coming to the first 200 meters I was really slow and I felt it, and I know my coach is going to let me know that,” Fitzpatrick said. “At the (last corner) I was able to ride it and do what I do best.”
Like all current seniors, Fitzpatrick’s track career was cut short by the pandemic. But there was a silver lining: After focusing on the 800 at first, she moved on to shorter races as a junior, when competition resumed after the break. The change unleashed his potential.
“I’m really surprised where I am right now,” she said. “The 400 is really what stood out to me, it’s what I’m good at, so I’m really glad I found it.”
Next up is the NJSIAA Meet of Champions on June 18 at Franklin High School. While some of the state’s top athletes will skip the venerable meet to compete at the Outdoor Nationals in Oregon — an unfortunate dispute the NJSIAA could have avoided — Fitzpatrick and his cohorts will be out to meet the champions, eyeing the gold in the 4×100.
“We went with what we all thought had the best chance, and that was Meet of Champs,” she explained. “And we’re really excited about it. I’d rather be there than at nationals. We want to be able to say ‘Hey, we won something.’
Shore Conference State Champions
Here are the other Shore Conference people who have won events at Public-School Group meets:
Robert Paneque, Jackson Memorial: The eldest won the Group 4 men’s javelin with a 208-6 Shore Conference and Ocean County record, which is also the best throw in the state this season. It eclipsed the old Shore Conference standard of 205-11 set in 2001 and the old Ocean County mark of 201-5 set in 2011.
Fabian Gonzalez, Southerner: The junior won the Group 4 boys in the shot put (60-3.25) and the discus (185-9).
Aidan Scaturro, Shore Regional: The senior won the Group 1 boys 400 hurdles (55.58) and 200 (22.32) and placed second in the 110 hurdles (14.86).
Alex Sadikov, Ocean Township: The junior won the 2 boys group 200 (48.15) and raced the winning 4×400 (3:21.51) with Ethan DeFonseka, Mark Viggiano and Danny Cholak.
D’Maari Brown, Manchester: The senior won the boys’ Group 2 triple jump (47-0.5).
Al-Mubaraq Aderogba, Manchester: The elder won the Group 2 boys’ long jump at 22-0.5.
Lily Oliver, Toms River South: The junior won the Group 3 girls 800 (2:14.89) and 1600 (4:57.75).
Samantha Strydesky, Howell: The junior won the Group 4 women’s high jump at 5-8, the highest high in the state this season.
Emma Zawatski, Freehold Township: Second won the 4 Girls Group 1600 (4:53.79).
Shea Burke, Point Pleasant Borough: The junior won the Group 2 girls 100m hurdles (14.83).
Ava Wilmot, Colts Neck: The junior won the Group 3 Girls 3200 in 10:55.92.
Kylie Jacoutot, Colts Neck: The junior won the Group 3 girls’ 400m hurdles in 1:02.69.
Ayotunde Folawewo, Toms River North: the junior won the Group 4 triple jump (37-5).
Megan Donlevie, Shore Regional: The junior won the Group 1 Girls 1600 (5:12.98).
Caroline Donohoe, Shore Regional: The senior won the Group 1 Girls 800 (2:17.64).
Jerry Carino has covered the New Jersey sports scene since 1996. Contact him at [email protected]