BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - Gov. Livingston Track and Field finished the season with an assault on the school record books with 18 new school record setters and capturing a first ever boys team NJSIAA Group II Championship title.
Victoria Vanriele and Leah Saifi were crowned state champions and Andrew Aguilera placed third in their respective events. These three athletes are named Delicious Heights Highlander Athlete of the Week for their successful results at the Meet of Champions.
The Meet of Champions includes the top six finishers in each event at the six state group championship meets, plus wild card entries.
Senior Andrew Aguilera won three events at the NJSIAA Group 2 Championship – the 400 M hurdles (54.68), the 110 M hurdles (personal best 14.25), and the 200 M dash (22.01). Aguilera scored 30 of the team’s 46 points for the team's first ever first place finish. He moved on to compete in his last race for Governor Livingston in the 110 M hurdles, taking third place behind state record holder Cory Poole, in a time of 14.35. Aguilera came into the race ranked fourth in the state. Originally scheduled to compete in the 200m dash as well, Aguilera was scratched from that event due to a foot injury.
Aguilera is the current Gov. Livingston record holder of seven outdoor events: 100 M Dash in 10.90 (2017); 200 M Dash in 21.75 (2017); 400 M 50.01; 110 M Hurdles in 14.25 (2017); 400 M Hurdles 54.04 in (2017); he is a member of the 4 x 400 record team of Kilian Quinn, Jakada Khalfani and Doug Ladzinski in 3:24.70 (2017); and a member of the 4 X 110 Hurdles team of Alexander Janiak, Doug Ladzinski and Jon Longo in 1:03.37 (2017)
Senior Leah Saifi was one of four pole vaulters to clear 12-6 at the Meet of Champions, however, she was the only vaulter able to make that height on her first attempt, enabling her to win the meet on jumps. Saifi and the others tied the meet record. This was the first outdoor Meet of Champions title for Saifi, who won the indoor MOC in 2016. It caps Saifi’s stellar career of vaulting for Governor Livingston and completes her comeback from an ankle injury suffered at the end of the indoor season. Saifi holds the Gov. Livingston record for outdoor pole vault at 12-8 which she reached in 2016 at the East Coast Relays and 13-05 at the 2017 indoor Eastern State Indoor Championships.
Victoria Vanriele, only a freshman, won her second consecutive Meet of Champions in the 800 M, lowering her personal best time to 2:08.18. She finished the race over a second in front of Lexi Del Gizzo of Tenafly, last year’s winner. Vanriele also lowered her state freshman record at the distance.
Vanriele is the Gov. Livingston record holder in 8 events including: 200 M in 25.88; 400 M in 55.69; 800 M in 2:08.18; 1600 M in 4:55.92; One Mile in 5:05.00; she is a member of the 4 X 400 relay team of Caitlin Colendenski, Katie Quinn and Danielle Petryk in 3:57.95; a member of the 4 X 800 M relay team of Danielle Petryk, Katie Quinn and Cristal Vilasoa in 9:27.79; and member of the Sprint Medley Relay team of Caitlin Colendenski, Caroline Peer and Katie Quinn in 4:13.95.
Below are comments from the track stars regarding their past, present and future:
TAPinto Berkeley Heights: What does a normal day of training look like for you?
Aguilera: A normal day of training is either a sprint workout or a hurdle workout. I try not to do too many hurdles during practice because that leads to injury.
Saifi: Usually drills or we vault. Sometimes we have full conditioning and strength days but not often.
Vanriele: Middle distance runners need to have endurance, as well as be fast, strong and flexible. As a middle distance runner, I range from taking long runs to practicing sprints. I do conditioning workouts, as well as drills and stretches. I work on my starts and my form. In a training session, I do combinations of these elements.
TAPinto Berkeley Heights: How have you seen progress throughout the past 6 or so months, from the beginning of the indoor season until now?
Aguilera: From the beginning of winter track to now I have seen so much progress. In the beginning of the winter season I was just trying to make it to the Meet of Champs I didn't expect to medal. Now in the spring I progressed to the point where I should be a medalist at MOCs.
Saifi: Well, I got hurt indoor so I had to recover and then pretty much start from scratch again for outdoor
Vanriele: Each year is a cycle. I start off slower and get faster as my training advances and I race more. For 2017 indoors, my slowest open time for the 800 was a 2:16; by the outdoor Meet of Champions I ran a 2:08. For 2016 indoors, my times ranged from 2:22 to a season best of 2:09. I would say that this year I got stronger, and was more consistent in running fast.
TAPinto Berkeley Heights: What is your favorite venue to compete at?
Aguilera: My favorite venue to compete at GL. The venues this season were not that great and being at GL gave an advantage because I was used to the conditions.
Saifi: Definitely the NYC Armory. everything is so crammed which a lot of people don’t like but its cool being able to watch all the events and not have to walk all the way to the other side of the track to.
Vanriele: I really like the venue at Northern Burlington High School, where the Group II meet and Meet of Champions were held. The track is cushioned. Plus, there are many fields for warming up and cooling down.
TAPinto Berkeley Heights: If you could meet any other track athlete, high school or beyond, who would it be?
Aguilera: I have met so many athletes from all over NJ. It's hard to say what other track athlete I would meet. I guess I would like to meet Omar McLeod because he won gold in the 110H at Rio last summer.
Saifi: Definitely Sandi Morris because she’s a vaulter and seems super cool lol
Vanriele: I would love to meet Ajee Wilson. She is a 2016 Olympian from Neptune, New Jersey and holds the American indoor record in the 800. She set several New Jersey high school records that still exist.
TAPinto Berkeley Heights: You also run and high/long jump on occasion. What is your next favorite event, behind pole vault?
Saifi: To run its the 4x1. But even though i can’t do it if my life depended on it, my favorite event to watch is the high hurdles and the 4x4s
TAPinto Berkeley Heights: What is your favorite race to run? Why?
Aguilera: My favorite race to run is probably the 110 hurdles because of how difficult it is. Nobody really thinks it's a hard race because it's so short but running full speed at 10 obstacles while taking 3 steps in between is harder than it looks.
Vanriele: While I am more accomplished in the 800, I prefer running the 400. It's exciting, especially for relays. I ran the 400 a lot this year in relays and I am getting faster at it. I am pleased that I dropped my time down to 55 seconds.
TAPinto Berkeley Heights: When you're not competing or training, what do you like to do in your free time?
Aguilera: When I'm not competing or training I like to eat a lot and sleep a lot. I'm also constantly watching videos on hurdles on YouTube.
Vanriele: I really don't get a lot of free time. But, I like to socialize, shop and eat out.
TAPinto Berkeley Heights: Why did you join the track team freshman year? If you could go back in time, would you change anything from the time you joined to now?
Aguilera: I joined track because on the first day of school freshman year coach Hubert told me I was going to hurdle. So then I signed up for track and a couple months later I was hurdling. If I were to go back I wouldn't change my mind I've had such a great time running track.
Saifi: I joined track because my mom did track. If I could change something it would be me doing winter track all 4 years and starting pole vault asap.
TAPinto Berkeley Heights: Who has inspired you the most throughout your time at GL?
Aguilera: It's hard to say what person has inspired me the most. I think what inspired me the most is hearing all the coaches talk about the great runners that came through GL and I just wanted to be one of the greats.
Saifi: I'd have to say Coach Somma. He was my first coach that i knew for the team and even though he wasn’t my event coach all 4 years, he always was there to help me, watch me, and coach me when he could which means a lot.
TAPinto Berkeley Heights: How did it feel when you won the Meet of Champions in the pole vault for the second time?
Saifi: I really don’t know because I was so nervous. It didn’t even feel real to be honest.
TAPinto Berkeley Heights: How did it feel when you led the GL Boys' track team to the Group 2 State Championship with your three wins? What did it feel like to represent the Highlander community?
Aguilera: When we won the state championship I was so distracted with actually running the races that I wasn't even aware of the point situation. After the first race of the meet Coach Guyton jokingly says to me "hey we're in the lead" because it was the first race of the day and I won it. From that point on I did not expect us to stay in the lead. I didn't even know I won the 200 until I was being interviewed and I was asked how I felt about my 3 wins to which I responded I didn't know I even won 3 races. But it does feel good knowing that we are the first GL track team to win a state championship
TAPinto Berkeley Heights: How did it feel when you won the Meet of Champions in the 800m for the second time?
Vanriele: I was stressed for the entire week leading up to the competition. My times in eighth grade would have won both of the 2016 MOC's, so I really wanted to actually win both of the 2017 championships. Before the meet, there was media coverage stating that Olympian Joetta Clark was the only female who had won the New Jersey MOC in the 800 as a freshman. I felt relieved when it was over, because I proved to myself that I am able to handle the pressure.
TAPinto Berkeley Heights: Why did you choose to continue your track career at Northeastern?
Saifi: I love Boston and Northeastern is an amazing school. When I went on my official visit i quickly learned that I would fit in really well with the people on the team and the coaches. I'm super excited for next year.
TAPinto Berkeley Heights: Why did you choose to continue your track career at Syracuse?
Aguilera: I chose to go to Syracuse because they are known for their great hurdlers and are very selective in their recruiting. They have had 2 hurdlers in the last 5 years either win NCAAs or come in second multiple times. When Syracuse reached out to me I quickly agreed to go for an official visit and once I visited I knew I wanted to go there. At the time of my signing I was their first sprint/hurdle recruit in 2 years so it felt good to be part of such a select group of people.
TAPinto Berkeley Heights: What are you goals for the future, near and distant?
Vanriele: I was happy that the boy's team won the group two championship for our school. I would love to be a part of the girl's team that wins a state championship for GL.
TAPinto Berkeley Heights: How do you keep motivating yourself to get better?
Vanriele: I know that I have a lot of room for improvement. I broke several New Jersey high school records this year, but there are more that would require me getting much better to break. This keeps me motivated.
Delicious Heights Highlander Athlete of the Week is sponsored by Delicious Heights, a family restaurant with three locations; Berkeley Heights, Bedminster and Basking Ridge, where it is part of the Basking Ridge County Club operating a public restaurant with outdoor dining, and acting as the banquet caterer, boasting a facility with panoramic views of the sprawling golf course. Visit our website, www.deliciousheights.com for weekly specials including Happy Hour specials from 3-6pm and daily featured dinner and lunch specials. Delicious Heights....where our only limitations are yours!