WEST ORANGE, NJ - Four points is all that separated the West Orange High School boys winter track and field contingent from a state championship this past season.
At the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group 4 championships on Feb. 14 at the Bennett Center in Toms River, Ridgewood took the team title by totaling 42 points, while Randolph finished second with 41, Morristown had 40 and West Orange High School racked-up 38, followed by Montclair with 30 and Passaic County Technical Institute with 27, which ended-up sixth in the 19-team field.
At that outing, the Mountaineers' sole first-place finisher was Tim Van Cauwenberge, a senior who won the 55-meter high hurdles title with a time of :07.93, with fellow senior standout Lawson Nzegwu taking second in that same event, via a personal best (PB) showing of :08.09.
In addition, Van Cauwenberge finished third in high jump by clearing six feet and fellow 12th-graders Joseph Onubogu and Daniel Pierre earned fourth medals in the 800-meter run and the pole vault, where the former turned in a time of 2:01.68 and the latter cleared 11 feet.
The Mountaineers' only other points at the sectional skirmish came in the 4 x 400-meter relay, where the foursome of sophomore Elijah McLaren, Onubogu, 10th-grader Ebizie Anuamadi and Van Cauwenberge finished third with a total time of 3:35.34—their best effort of the season to that point.
Earlier in the campaign, at the State Group 4 Relays on Jan. 14, the high jump duo of Van Cauwenberge (6-2) and Pierre (5-6) combined to finish fourth at 11-feet, eight-inches and the Pole vault twosome of Pierre and 12th-grader Rood Romelien each cleared 11 feet, for a sixth place sum of 22 feet.
More recently, at the State Group 4 championships on Feb. 19 at the Bennett Center, the West Orange contingent scored four points, as Van Cauwenberge finished fourth in the high jump at 6-2 and eighth in the 55 hurdles at :08.15, after having finished second in the prelims at :07.77, and the 4 x 4 quartet ended-up 16th, but recorded their best time of the winter: 3:34.10.
Finally, at the Eastern States Championships on March 1 at the 168th Street Armory in Washington Heights, the WOHS 4 x 400 team, came up with a 3:30.91 and Van Cauwenberge once again cleared six feet in the high jump and had a PB time of :07.71 in the 55 hurdles.
“I think the thing I'm the most happy about is the improvement that our 4 x 4 team showed over the course of the season,” said longtime WOHS head coach Joe Picataggio. “That group started out the season with a time that might have been good for a girls team and, by the end of the winter, were running close to a half-minute faster and that was a huge change.”
The turnout for boys winter track was 35, while Picataggio is expecting a roster of 75 or more for the outdoor season, which will begin with a trip to the Kearny Relays on Saturday, April 2.