FAST COMPANY: Wilberforce School track stars, from left, Gwen Mersereau, Laura Prothero, Adeline Edwards, and Sophia Park are all smiles after they finished first in the 4×800-meter relay at the Mercer County Track and Field championships on Memorial Day weekend. The quartet clocked a school-record time of 9:55.75 in winning the program’s first-ever county relay title. Wilberforce will be competing in the NJSIAA Non-Public championship meet this weekend. (Photo provided courtesy of Lois Szeliga)
By Bill Alden
Although the Wilberforce School girls’ 4×800-meter relay took first at the Mercer County Relays earlier this spring, Lois Szeliga knows that guaranteed nothing when the quartet competed at the county meet on Memorial Day weekend.
“Because there are so many relays, coaches have to strategize what relay are we going to put our A team in,” said Wilberforce track head coach Szeliga, referring to the relays competition.
“You only have so many girls that can run certain distances. The county meet is the real test, you only have the 4×100, the 4×400, and 4×800 so you are getting everybody’s A team.”
The group of Gwen Mersereau, Laura Prothero, Adeline Edwards, and Sophia Park passed that test with flying colors at the Mercer County Track and Field championship meet at Robbinsville, taking first in a school-record time of 9:55.75 as they earned the program’s first-ever county relay title.
“We were really excited, we thought we could do well but the big surprise was breaking 10 minutes and just how well they did,” said Szeliga. “They had their eyes on that all year because there is something about the relay, it just multiplies the joy because it is with your teammates. That is what they love the most. They couldn’t stop talking about the 4×8, they were really excited to compete at counties.”
Freshmen Mersereau and Edwards, who took second and third respectively in the girls’ 800, have made an instant impact this spring.
“Gwen is an experienced racer and Adeline is an athlete who just started track,” said Szeliga of the pair, who combined with Park and Georgie Pandolfo to take fourth in the 4×400 relay. “They are great for each other, they push each other. It brings excitement for the future.”
In addition to Mersereau and Edwards, a number of other athletes excelled at the county meet. Junior Park took eighth in the 800 and ninth in the 1,600 while sophomore Maria Madigan placed sixth in the 400 in a school record time of 1:01.14. The squad’s top thrower, Jenna Fischer, set school records as she took 13th in the javelin (77’1) and 15th in the shot put (26’5).
That success and increased depth has Szeliga widening her horizons.
“Just looking at the future, we are looking at things like the Penn Relays,” said Szeliga, whose girls’ team tied Hightstown and Princeton High for sixth in the team standings at the county meet with the boys coming in 13th overall.
“When people are young on the team and doing so well, it opens your eyes. They won the counties so what else can we do.”
PAIR OF ACES: Wilberforce School track standouts Jeremy Sallade, right, and Caleb Brox show off the medals they earned at the Mercer County Track and Field championships on Memorial Day weekend. Junior Sallade placed first in the 800 meters to earn the school’s first individual county crown while sophomore Brox took fifth in the event. The pair will be looking for more medals this weekend as they compete in the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) Non-Public championship meet. (Photo provided courtesy of Lois Szeliga)
The boys’ team also produced a breakthrough win as junior Jeremy Sallade took first in the 800 in 1:55.45, winning the program’s first individual victory at the county meet.
“When he runs the 800, he has a gear that is just incredible to watch,” said Szeliga of Sallade, a cross country star who took sixth at the county meet in the 1,600 in a school-record time of 4:24.41.
“He loves to compete and he loves to compete against top competition. He just likes to see what he can do agains the best. He really thrives in these big meets. He was definitely a contender in the 800 but there is a lot that goes into it. It is a fast race; he had a strategy coming in and executed it perfectly.”
In the view of Szeliga, Sallade is just scratching the surface of his potential.
“He is beautiful to watch as a spectator because he just runs so well,” added Szeliga.
“He is so athletic and he is a real competitor. He is ranked No. 12 in the 800 in the state. He is hitting another level right now and I think he starting to realize that he is very talented.”
Sophomore Caleb Brox has formed a one-two tandem with Sallade as he took fifth in the 800 in 2:00.23 and eighth in the 1,600 in 4:29.47.
“Caleb is right there with Jeremy, they both had huge PRs in the 800 and the 1,600,” said Szeliga. “He was right there behind him and they push each other. He is having a fantastic season.”
The Wolverines got some other solid performances at the counties as Andrew Madigan took 11th in the 3,200 in a personal best of 10:16.85 while Matthias Damrau showed his versatility by taking 17th in the 400 and 24th in the javelin.
The team is working on being more versatile across the board as it is branching out from the middle distance events.
“Coach Kristen Yonkman does the sprint and the field events for us and does a great job,” said Szeliga. “She does everything technical and is amazing. She really sees kids where they are at and has them try events. That is the biggest change in our program; this season we filled out these other events. That is how you become a program, you bring people in that may not think they are runners. Kristen will say today we are working on the long jump and brings the kids over or today we are going to try discus and some kids will say, ‘I liked that.’ That is how it starts. It is fun to see kids open their eyes.”
Wilberforce is looking to open up some more eyes this weekend as it competes in the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) Non-Public championship meet.
“It is a small amount of kids but they really love competing,” said Szeliga. “We don’t have a track so they love being on a track with this good competition. There are so many PRs and school records that I can’t keep up. We are growing. We want to have some wins at the Non-Public meet.”