The Vikings took first place in the girls shuttle hurdle relay for the second straight year at the NJSIAA Group 4 Relay Championships and broke a 33-year-old meet record.
Most track and field events are individual, but at Eastern Regional High School, a team of six hurdlers is building a legacy.
In 2018, Eastern’s girls team won the 4×51.5-meter shuttle hurdle relay at the NJSIAA Group 4 Relay Championships. In 2019, Eastern didn’t just defend its shuttle relay title, it topped it by setting a new meet record.
Eastern won the shuttle relay at the 2019 NJSIAA Group 4 Relay Championships on Jan. 23 with a time of 31.58 seconds, breaking the previous Group 4 meet record of 30.6 seconds set more than 30 years ago by Plainfield High School in 1986. And even with the new accomplishment, the team’s sprinter and hurdles coach, Barry Jackson, is convinced they can do even better.
“I believe every one of them can run a half a second faster,” Jackson said. “If they can each run a half a second faster, that’s two seconds there.”
Three of Eastern’s record-setting runners had also been a part of 2018’s championship-winning relay team. Junior Jewel Ash, junior Abigail Brocco and sophomore Jailya Ash ran in the event for the second straight year, while junior Noelle Scott took part in the shuttle relay for the first time.
Those four aren’t the only ones who are a part of the team’s success. Senior Dariyah Corbett-Collier and freshman Teghan Sydnor also train in the event. Together, the six girls consider themselves a team, even though only four of them are able to run in an event.
“Everybody is very supportive of each other,” Sydnor said. “We all cheer for one another. If someone new is going into the shuttle hurdles spot, no one feels like that person is taking my spot. We’re all supportive of each other because we’re one team.”
“They’re very much an integral part of this team,” Jackson said of Corbett-Collier and Sydnor. “Each one of them knows that if something happens, and even when things don’t happen, I will change up (the lineup) so they will all get experience in running meets.”
For the Relay Championships, the plan was to have Corbett-Collier in the lineup instead of Brocco. However, when Corbett-Collier suffered an injury the day of the meet, Brocco was called upon to run in her place.
“In the morning, I didn’t think I was going to run that day,” Brocco said.
“I always tell them to bring your spikes, bring your uniform and be ready to run,” Jackson said. “I had confidence that (Brocco) was going to do the job.”
Improvement from all four runners helped lift Eastern to the record. Brocco talked about how she has picked up three-step hurdling to improve her times this year.
Jailya Ash felt Eastern was able to break the record in part because of her improvement at the start of the race.
“I was proud of myself because my first hurdle is usually my worst hurdle out of all of them,” Jailya said. “So I was surprised when I got over the first hurdle and it felt great.”
Jailya’s sister, Jewel, ran the final leg of the race and had to overcome the nerves she faced just seconds before taking off.
“I really didn’t get nervous until Noelle was approaching me off of the last hurdle,” Jewel said. “I saw how close (second place) Millville and we were. As soon as Noelle got to me, the girl from Millville had started and I was a little shaken. As soon as I got over the first hurdle, I got into my flow ands went on from there.”
Though the team knew they had edged Millville by a little more than three-tenths of a second for the win, they didn’t learn about the record until well after the race ended.
“I was really happy to find out we pulled it all together and used what we learned over the past couple of months,” Jewel said about the record.
The four winners also consider Corbett-Collier and Sydnor to be part of setting that record, stating all six athletes push each other in practices and training.
“I think it’s best to have a relationship with your team,” Jailya said. “If you see one person performing good, then you’re going to want to perform good.”
Part of setting the record is establishing Eastern as a powerhouse in the shuttle hurdle relay events. Corbett-Collier noted while she is proud of the school’s new record, she looks forward to seeing another group of girls break it soon.
“I’d rather see someone break our record,” she said. “Not because I don’t want our record to sustain…but I want people younger than us to set the bar higher and higher.”
“I want to set the bar high for anyone coming in,” Jewel added. “When I graduate, I still want Eastern to have that name.”