by Andrew Garda

Shelby Bigsby will represent the Montclair High School track and field team at the Meet of Champions this weekend, after finishing second in the shot put and fifth in the discus in the NJSIAA Group IV championships at Egg Harbor Township High School last weekend.

Bigsby’s 43-02.75 throw was just 3 inches short of Vineland High’s Najeaya Singleton’s winning shot put hurl, though her discus throw was well behind Singleton’s.

She’ll be joined by Nyjah Young-Bey, who will compete in the 400-meter dash as a Wild Card after finishing seventh at Groups this past weekend with a time of 56.74 as well as the 4x800-meter team of Elzabeth Cummings, Meghan Hessler, Matilda Ferguson, and Amelia Lufrano.

The Meet of Champions is scheduled for this Saturday afternoon, June 10, at Northern Burlington Regional High School.

That makes this another year the Mounties will be represented at the Meet of Champions, something coach Sophie Wallace is very proud of.

“I remember there was a time when no girls made it to Meet of Champions,” Wallace said on Monday. “And this is now the second or third year in a row where we have consistent individuals making it.”

In order to make the Meet of Champions, you have to do well in group and sectional meets, which the girls have done. While they won both the County and Sectional tournaments, it’s the Group and Sectional performances that Wallace is most pleased with.

“It’s a good thing to see. It’s humbling and it’s exciting. The program is going and it’s not just stopping at the first round of states but moving on, making an impact and competing. So that’s a really good thing.”

Wallace says the success has come because of hard work, something the team has excelled at the past few seasons.

“We’ve had a really good season. I’m really proud of the girls, they really hunkered down and did what they had to do. [They] showed up when necessary and it’s showing now,” Wallace said.

Making the Meet of Champions — even as a Wild Card, as Young-Bey will — coming out of Group 4, is noteworthy for Wallace.

“Group 4 is a hard group. Even making the Meet of Champs as a wild card, says a lot about how steep the competition is in Group 4.”

Both Young-Bey and Bigsby will want to continue to improve, which means the hard work continues.

“What do you do when you run fast and throw far? The reward for that?” Wallace said. “You do it again and you do it some more.”

Regardless of what the results at the Meet of Champions are, Bigsby and Young-Bey will return next season. Bigsby will be a senior and Young-Bey a junior. In fact, while the team is losing  22 athletes to graduation, Wallace says many were on junior varsity, so the varsity team will be seeing few departures.

“We have a couple more years with the rest of our varsity athletes, which is good,” Wallace said. “And the younger ones are even stepping up and even some of the upperclassmen are stepping up right now and they can make an impact, which will be good for us next year.”

Beyond Bigsby and Young-Bey, Meghan Hessler and Matilda Ferguson are sophomores who competed well at the County and Conference meets as well as both making the Group Tournament. Victoria Liverpool is a junior who ran the 200-meter this past weekend while fellow junior Elizabeth Cummings competed in the 800-meter.  Zelidad Castillo joined Bigsby in Group competition for discus and returns as a senior in 2018. The girls relay team also did well and contains more sophomores and juniors.

Now Wallace and her coaching staff just need to keep building on the success. Wallace thinks motivation won’t be an issue, but it comes down to the individuals.

“The thing is, you now have a taste of what it is to do well and succeed and win. And be champions. So, it’s your choice whether you want to keep this going or not. We can give the workouts and we can give the warmups, the stretches and the race strategies but it’s up to them to execute.”

One other ingredient to the success of the program has been the way the team rallies around one another at events. Wallace and her staff have stressed this and she feels it has taken on a life of its own. The results are easy to see, she said.

“You can even see the surges when they run by pockets of their teammates and that’s what it’s about,” Wallace explained. “When you have nothing left, the willpower and the want and the support of others carry you through to the finish.”

For Young-Bey and Bigsby, that finish is one more weekend away. They can be sure their teammates will be cheering them along as they compete.