By JOHN HAPP
Special to the Sun
The winter track season recently concluded with the New Jersey Meet of Champions held at the John Bennett Indoor Sports Complex in Toms River. On consecutive weeks this indoor bubble hosts the sectionals, state finals and the meet of champions. Cherry Hill East winter track team is led by Head Coach Matt Cieslik, now in his 14th season, and coaches Michael Surrency, who coaches sprinters, and Jeff Bramnick, who coaches the throwers.
This year three Cherry Hill East students qualified for the meet of champions. Junior Aaron Groff was in the 3200 meters, junior Nevin Beasly participated in the high jump and junior Isaiah Jean-Baptiste was in the 800. The 4×400 relay team also qualified for the meet of champions. In 2013, the Cougars had five competitors qualify for the MOC.
A number of Cherry Hill East athletes also made it to states. For the third year in a row, senior Dan Helfand qualified in the 1600 when he finished second at sectionals with a time of 4:25.37. Helfand is the first person since Alex Reber (2010–2012) in the 400 to qualify for the state finals in the same event three years in a row. Also in the 1600, junior Cole Parsons just missed qualifying for states when he finished seventh in a time of 4:36.62. Senior Christian Mele finished 10th.
In the 3200 Groff won the South Jersey Group IV title with a time of 9:32.82. Sophomore Josh Dillon finished fifth and thus also qualified for the state finals. In the state finals, Groff ran an almost identical time of 9:32.33 and finished fourth which qualified him for the meet of champions for the second consecutive year. At the meet, Groff finished ninth in a field that includes the 40 best runners in the entire state.
Jean-Baptiste is the first East male runner to qualify for the meet of champions in the 800 in the last ten years. In the South Jersey Group IV sectionals, he finished fourth in a time of 2:01.78. Then in the state finals he improved by more than two seconds with a time of 1:59.22 and finished seventh, earning his place in the meet of champions. There, Jean-Baptiste again broke two minutes when he posted a time of 1:58.41 and finished 12th.
In the high jump, Beasley finished fourth in sectionals when he cleared six feet and in the state finals he finished sixth when he became the seventh male East jumper in the last ten years to clear 6–2. The last time that occurred was in 2013 when both Jared Athias and Kyle Bryant cleared that height. In the meet of champions, he finished tied for 15th with his jump of six feet.
Cherry Hill East qualified for the state group final in the 4×400 relay for the sixth year in a row and their state final time of 3:33.18, earned them a spot in the meet of champions as one of the six wildcard entries. Running for East were Jean-Baptiste, senior Vladhimir Theophile, junior Kyle Encarncion and junior Jordan Clark.
In shot put the Cougars was one of just a few teams to have three throwers with tosses of 40 feet or more in competition. Setting personal records this season were Terry Hall, Jr., who threw 43–2 at the Cherokee Throwdown;, Naz Abdali, who tossed 42–1 at the South Jersey Relays; and Jude Misko, with a 41–10 toss in Toms River.
At the Group IV Relay Championships in January, Cherry Hill East finished fourth in the distance medley relay with a time of 10:36.77, which was a new school record for this event. Competing for East in this event and setting the new school record were Helfand, Jean-Baptiste, Theophile and Groff.
This year, Cherry Hill East did not have any girls qualify for the state finals. Strong efforts were recorded in the sectionals by junior Rachel Smith who finished seventh in the pole vault, senior Monica Lee who finished 12th in the 1600 and sophomore Taegan Field who finished 12th in the 3200.