JACKSON, NJ - Three Governor Livingston track athletes were crowned NJSIAA Central Group 2 Champions at the sectional meet this past Friday and Saturday at Jackson Liberty High School: Victoria Vanriele in the 400 meter dash and 800 meter run, Alexa Saldida in the discus, and Doug Ladzinski in the 400 meter hurdles. Behind Vanriele and Saldida, the GL girls’ team came away with their first sectional championship in 17 years and only the second in team history with 88.50 points in a close finish. The boys came in 11th with 21 points.

On the girls team level, GL battled Rumson-Fair Haven for the championship.  After the first day of competition, GL had a half-point lead, but Rumson-Fair Haven roared back to take an over 25-point lead midway through Saturday’s events.  With two events left, GL had narrowed the gap to 2.5 points.  The win by Salida in the discus put GL into the lead, but the 4 x 400m relay team had to place in the top five to secure the championship in an event where Rumson Fair-Haven was the favorite.   The relay team placed second, making GL the sectional champions over Rumson Fair-Haven with a score of 88.5 to 82.

Sophomore phenom Victoria Vanriele hit the track with speed, capturing two titles to contribute to the team victory. Vanriele clinched her fourth 800m sectional title in a time of 2:12.00, a full 8.27 seconds faster than second place. Earlier in the meet, she claimed the 400m crown in 55.53 seconds, crossing the finish line almost three seconds before the next competitor.

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Vanriele also placed second in the 200m dash (25.34) for the Highlanders and ran in the GL 4x400m that placed second in a time of 4:08.21. Even after her hamstring started to hurt, Vanriele put in her best effort to lift the team to victory in the last event, the 4x400m. It came down to the 4x400m to claim the sectional title.

“I was stressed about running the relay because my hamstring was hurting after racing the 200m, which is not my usual event. The other girls told me they had my back and Sophie [Cresitello] stepped up to anchor,” Vanriele said, “The atmosphere was electrifying since everyone was around the track cheering us on to boost our adrenaline. With the greatest team effort, we did what we needed to do to win the title.”

She helped score 36 points out of the Highlander’s 88.50-point win. Vanriele will look to Groups and the Meet of Champs, where the sophomore saw great success last year. For the past three seasons, and her only three seasons in high school, Vanriele has won the state title in the 800m race.

“My goal for the rest of this season is to defend my state 800m titles and for the relay to advance. The qualification for the Meet of Champions has changed this year and it’s harder. I’m really hoping that many of us make it on to MOC.”

On the field and in the circle, senior Alexa Saldida raked in 18 points for the Highlander team. Saldida, ranked fourth going into the meet, hit her mark and farther to place first in girls’ discus with a throw of 102-09, setting her team up for victory.

Saldida capped off the throwing events with a second-place finish and new personal best in javelin as well, with a toss of 105-06.

“It was really surreal to be able to not only win the sectional title in discus but for the entire team to win at sectionals,” Saldida said, “It was always a goal of mine in high school to win a sectional title, so to be able to accomplish that toward the end of my senior season was amazing, but it made me even more proud to see how our whole team worked together to take the sectional title for the first time in 18 years.”

Twelve members of the girls’ team scored for the GL victory, creating a total-team effort for the coveted sectional trophy.

“We really wanted to experience the joy of winning a state title as well [like the 2017 GL boys’ team]. The feeling of sharing a title with the team is incredible,” Vanriele said, “So many girls stepped up to contribute to the team victory: freshmen, sophomores, juniors, seniors, sprinters, middle and distance runners, as well as field athletes. The joy was widespread.”

The following athletes won medals placing in the top six and will continue onto the Group 2 Championships next weekend:

2nd place

Vanriele in 25.34 seconds in the 200m dash

4x400 quartet of Sophie Cresitello ‘21, Katie Quinn ’19, Caitlin Colendenski ’20, and Vanriele (4:08.21)

Lauren Saifi in the pole vault, placing second because of attempts at 11-06

Saldida in the javelin (105-06)

3rd place

Freshman Samantha Erickson in the 100m dash with a 12.42, lowering her seed by a quarter of a second

4x800 comprised of freshman Caroline Mondelli, junior Evelyn Doskotch, Cresitello, and Quinn (10:00.14)

Junior Nicole Massa in the javelin with a throw of 99-07

4th place

Senior Jessica Ripperger in the high jump, clearing 4-10

5th place

Erickson in the 200m dash with a time of 26.52

Cresitello ran a 2:23.29 in the 800m for fifth

6th place

Hanna Nordstrom in the pole vault, clearing 9-00

For the girls, a Group 2 title next weekend would add to their continued success. After attaining the conference and sectional titles, a Group 2 championship is not out of reach.

“Next week we move onto Groups and we hope, as always, to set some personal records and place individually in order to move onto the Meet of Champs, but ultimately we hope to work together once again and take the state Group 2 title as well,” Saldida said.

On the boys’ side, senior Doug Ladzinski scored 18 individual points for the Highlanders. Ladzinski returned from a back injury to claim the 400m hurdle title in 55.51 seconds and place second in the 110m hurdles (14.74)—a testament to his hard work throughout the past four years. Not only did Ladzinski return from an injury, but he had not competed in a full race all season.

“I started hurdles freshman year in the winter. Ever since then I have been doing my best to correct my form and gain strength to get over the hurdles faster. This season was slightly different than my past spring season seasons due to my back injury,” Ladzinski said, “The 400m hurdle race and 110m hurdle race I ran on Friday and Saturday were the first times I ran the full race this year. I was not sure how my back would respond, but it held together thankfully and I did much better than expected.”

Five other athletes for the boys’ team placed in the top 6 and will move onto the Group 2 Championships next weekend. Jakada Khalfani crossed the line in 6th in the 200m dash, with a time of 23.13 seconds. The 4x800 team made up of sophomores Matthew Sternheim and Alex Aranas, junior Lorenzo Pagdanganan, and senior Michael Zacieracha placed 5th in a time of 8:46.71 to move onto Groups.

Ladzinski has high hopes for the rest of the season, looking to improve upon his impressive performance at the sectional championships.

“The goal for me is to make it to the Meet of Champs. I would like to win Groups in the 400m hurdles, but we’ll see,” the senior added, “I hope the team continues to do its best and I look forward to seeing if the girls can get another trophy next week.”

The GL track and field medal winners will be back in action on June 1-2, at Central Regional High School, in Bayville, NJ for the NJSIAA Group 2 Track and Field Championships.