by Andrew Garda

On the track, sometimes you stumble coming out of the starting blocks at the beginning of a race.

That’s certainly how it has felt for most high schools this winter, including Montclair, which like many schools wasn’t even sure there would be an indoor track season. While team members have been practicing, a lack of indoor space and cold weather has relegated them to things like shared outdoor practices with West Orange High School and timing sessions.

That changed on March 27, as Metuchen High School put on Spring Thaw 2021, involving a dozen teams from across North Jersey.

The event was held outdoors and was focused on the track portion of track and field. 

Both the Mountie boys and girls teams did quite well, with the girls getting six runners in the top five across five races and the boys placing five racers in the top five of five events.

For head coach Daryl Washington, the results weren’t nearly as important as getting a chance to compete and knock the rust off, as many kids, especially the sprinters, hadn’t been in a competition since the coronavirus shutdown a year ago.

Washington made sure before the meet that the athletes understood that while they should strive for things like a personal-best time, ultimately they had to expect things to not go smoothly.

Mistakes would be made.

“In the first football or basketball game of the season, that’s what happens,” he said. “Mistakes. And we grow from them.”

Washington said he and his staff are trying to convey to the team that this short indoor season, with little competition and many restrictions, is really a foundation for what they hope will be a full and successful spring season.

That foundation looks to be very strong, especially for the girls.

Senior Stephanie Webb kicked things off with a fourth-place finish in the 200-meter dash, scoring a time of 26.59 seconds. Fellow senior Anna Glorie also competed hard, with a 29.40 time to finish in 14th place.

Junior Kiya Lawson and senior Rukiya Holland-Thomas finished first and second in the 400-meter dash, with Lawson racking a 1:01.03 time and Holland-Thomas not far behind with a 1:02.30. The Mounties placed three runners in the top 10 for the 1600-meter run, with senior Violet Ross finishing third with a 5:40.57, followed by two freshmen — Avery McAdams, who ended up in eighth place with a 5:59.00, and Maya Kim in ninth with a 6:01.63.

Another freshman, Madeline Duncan, landed in third in the 3200-meter race, with a time of 13:20.31, while the 4 X 400 relay team took second with a 4:05.21.

The MHS boys indoor track team was at Metuchen High School on Saturday, where they participated in Spring Thaw 2021 and placed five runners in the top five across five events.
Courtesy MHS Track
The MHS boys indoor track team was at Metuchen High School on Saturday, where they participated in Spring Thaw 2021 and placed five runners in the top five across five events.
Courtesy MHS Track

The boys also look to be in good shape heading into the spring. Senior Truman Williams finished third in the 200-meter dash, with a time of 23.18 seconds. Fellow seniors Nathan Collins and Jessie Legister were right behind him, with Collins finishing fourth with a 23.20 and Legister just behind with a 23.52. 

Michael Robinson, who has committed to Rutgers University as a preferred walk-on for football, landed in 27th place with a 25.57.

Lawton Hayes was the sole Mountie in the 400-meter dash and earned a strong fourth-place finish. The senior had a time of 53.68 seconds, just one tick of the clock behind third-place finisher Angelo Aguilar from Rahway High School.

The 1600 meter saw senior Oscar Counsell finish in second, less than half a second behind the first-place winner from Rahway, Michael Laskowski. Counsell finished with a 4:28.54. Fellow seniors Joseph Gawler and Alexander Arata placed 20th and 21st, respectively.

Three Mounties clustered in the 3200 meter: Lucas Dia (10th place, 10:57.94), Charles Ehlis (12th place, 10:59.25) and Charles Hymowitz (16th, 11:31.42). 

The boys 4 x 400 relay team finished in third place, with a time of 3:31.60.

“Some of them were disappointed,” Washington said. “I think Oscar wanted to go faster, but when we sat down with him with the splits and time he was like, ‘I opened up last winter with a 4:40.0 or a 4:46 or something like that. I wanted to run faster today, but I can’t be disappointed when I open up this season at 4:28. I dropped almost 25 seconds off of what I opened my season with [by the end of last year].”

Washington wants to keep the kids’ eyes on the prize, and to do that, he needs to keep them focused, but inspired.

Some of that inspiration came on March 24 in the form of honors for the MHS cross-country team — as well as for both MHS soccer teams — by Essex County Commissioner-at-Large Brendan Gill. 

The coaching staff for cross-country are all involved in both indoor and spring track, and Washington is the head of all three seasons. The distance runners from cross-country are also all on the indoor and spring teams, so everyone knows what happens when the team remains focused.

“It’s awesome,” Washington said. “And again it’s just a testament to these kids, the coaching staff and all of us just getting together and doing what we can, especially in these times.”

The track team officially shifts outdoors today, April 1, with competition to start on April 19 and end June 20.