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PHS Boys’ Track Produces Historic Effort, Winning First-Ever Indoor County Crown

CELEBRATING HISTORY: Members of the Princeton High boys’ track team celebrate last Sunday after they placed first at the Mercer County Track Indoor Championships in the Lavino Field House at the Lawrenceville School. It was the first-ever indoor county crown for the program, which last earned the outdoor county title in 1982.

By Bill Alden

Even though the Princeton High boys’ track team appeared to have the pieces in place to win the Mercer County Track Indoor Championships last Sunday, Ben Samara knew nothing was guaranteed.

“We knew we were the favorites going in, but as I said to the guys on the bus, that doesn’t really matter because we were the favorites indoors and outdoors last year too,” said PHS boys’ head coach Samara, noting that PHS had never won the indoor county title and last earned the outdoor crown in 1982. “You have to get the job done and that is the bottom line.”

PHS went out on the Lavino Field House track at the Lawrenceville School and proceeded to get the job done in emphatic fashion, piling up 79 points to take first with WW/P-North coming in second with 64.

“This is the culmination of a lot of effort by a lot of different people — athletes, parents and coaches,” said Samara. “We are really happy for the guys and the program.”

In winning the title, PHS showed its depth. Senior star Will Hare took second in 1600 (4:19.63) then doubled back to win the 3,200 (9:24.30). Sophomore Simon Schenk won the pole vault (14’6) and junior Paul Brennan took first in the shot put (52’ 8). Senior Varun Narayan placed first in the long jump (21-7) with junior Nils Wildberg taking second (21-5) and fourth in the triple jump (41-11.5). Sophomore Matt Perello finished second in 200 (23.36).

“We are really just proud of the way the program has developed, it is a complete team effort,” said Samara.

“You look at our county champions, we are really covering the events across the board. It is something that coach [Jim] Smirk and I have been talking about for years in developing our program. We have really tried to cultivate that.”

Senior distance star and Penn-bound Hare has developed into a closer for the Little Tigers.

“The guys from South and North really tried to push him in the beginning of that 2-mile. They tried to break him, and Will Hare never breaks,” said Samara.

“I think they thought he was going to be tired from the mile and a couple of those guys were fresh. About halfway through that race, he started to pull away and on the back stretch, he passed by and he looked right at me and he smiled. He just buried them. That was one of my favorite moments of the meet, and that is when I knew that I could relax a little bit; we are going to do this.”

Despite being hampered by nagging injuries, jumpers Narayan and Wildberg produced superb performances.

“Those two guys fought through some tough early jumps and really came through at the end,” said Samara. “To go 1-2 with the condition they are in is incredible.”

The pair of pole vaulter Schenk and junior throwing star Brennan have emerged as constants for PHS.

“Simon started when everyone else was done,” said Samara, noting that Schenk set his indoor PR and the indoor school record in the win.

“He went for 14’6 because it qualifies him for indoor nationals. He wanted to make sure that he did that. With Simon and Paul, we mark those 20 points down and didn’t even think about it. To have those two guys be so consistent is incredible.”

The Little Tigers got an incredible effort from junior Kevin Linko in the pole vault.

“The big surprise in the pole vault was Kevin grabbing third place,” added Samara. “Over the last couple of weeks, he has really come on strong. That was six huge points for us.”

Sprinter Perello came up huge in taking second in the 200, having suffered from the flu earlier in the week.

“He was saying, ‘coach I am running. I don’t know what is going to happen, but I am running,’ and he come out and had a tough 55 dash,” said Samara.

“I think he was still adjusting to coming back off that illness and then in the 200, he matched his personal best and just left everything out there. It was just an incredible performance coming off the tough week that he had.”

Junior Jack Phelan enjoyed a breakthrough in the triple jump, taking sixth.

“Jack is a guy that just started triple jumping a week and a half ago. To come out and jump 41’2 and to get sixth in the county, he has found his niche,” said Samara.

“He has been looking for a year and a half. Where is he going to go? Is he going to high jump, is he going to hurdle, is he going to long jump? He has settled in and got us a big point.”

In Samara’s view, a big factor in the team’s success is a deep appreciation of the program’s lore.

“The guys on this team really, really understand what we were trying to do; they put their heart and soul into it because they understand the history behind it,” said Samara.

“I think helping the guys on this team to understand the history and the people that have come before them is one of the reasons why we have been able to build this thing up to where it is. We are building off of history and building off of each other. It means something to them; these guys really get it.”

PHS will be looking to make more history in two weeks when it competes in the Central Group 4 indoor sectional meet meet on February 10.

“That is going to be interesting because there are events that are in the county that aren’t in the sectional meet,” said Samara, noting the program at that meet doesn’t include the long jump, triple jump, or 200.

“That pretty much nullifies a lot of our points, so we are going to have to have kids step up. Distance is going to have to carry more of the load. We are going for three in a row; I think we have a good shot.”

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