by Andrew Garda
The wins just keep on rolling along for the Montclair High School girls track and field team, as it added the Essex County Meet Championship title to the SEC title it won last week.
The Mounties finished the day with 104 points — far above the West Essex Knights at 76 — during a two-day stretch featuring a complete sweep of the girls discus event and stellar performances by sprinter Nyjah Young-Bey, distance runners Amelia Lufrano, Meghan Hessler and Matilda Ferguson, and hurler Shelby Bigsby.
Bigsby and Ferguson were two of the more interesting stories of the weekend, which was filled with great performances by Mounties.
Bigsby kicked things off Friday when she won the girls shot put with a personal best 45-09 feet. That distance actually would have put her in sixth place with the boys, a strong showing for a young woman who is only getting better each meet.
She then cleared 106-05 feet in the discus throw to take that event as well. Bigsby was joined by teammates Jane Carino (05-09) and Zelided Castillo (101-06) in second and third, respectively.
That domination was a big reason why the Mounties not only won the meet, but won it by such a large margin.
“For us to finish 1-2-3 in the disc? That’s 24 points,” Coach Sophia Wallace said about the showing. “That’s an amazing feat and that’s a wonderful thing.”
Wallace has been impressed by Bigsby in particular, all season long.
“Every day she comes it’s ‘I’m here to do work.’ She’s not sitting here, sitting back,” Wallace said after the meet. Wallace also had a lot of praise for the coaching staff, which has helped Bigsby improve her discus throws, as well as those of her teammates.
“One thing I’ve asked for this year is to put more focus on the discus as well, and not totally rely on the shot,” Wallace said. “We’re seeing the development in how [Bigsby] is becoming a top-notch athlete. And it’s making a huge impact for us.”
So did the discus sweep as a whole, because it gives the rest of the team some breathing room.
“We want to be running, jumping, throwing. If everyone puts in their little bit and makes a difference, then that makes a difference in the scoring,” Wallace said. “No, we didn’t score in the high, long and the triple jumps, but we got something in the shot and the disc and that helped us tremendously.”
Ferguson had run the 1600-meter on Friday afternoon, along with Hessler and Lufrano, but fell during the initial 100-meter. According to the rules, when that happens, the judges are to stop the race and reset — in fact, that had happened moments prior to Ferguson’s fall when several runners caused a pile-up almost at the exact same spot the Mountie runner fell.
The judges apparently didn’t see the tumble, though, and Ferguson became frustrated when it was clear she could not make up the ground and stopped running.
“In that moment, her emotions got the best of her but it showed me how passionate she is to do well,” Wallace said about Ferguson. “And yes, emotions are flying high and everybody is upset, but because it wasn’t her fault she was given another chance.”
After a post-race discussion, it was determined that the race should have been halted and that Ferguson would be allowed to run the 1600-meter by herself on Saturday.
The result? A personal best time of 5:25.18 and third place overall.
“Heart is something I can’t teach,” Wallace said. “I tell [the team] that all the time. Either you have it or you don’t.”
Ferguson then also ran the 3200-meter later the same day, ending that race in fourth.
Wallace said it’s one thing to see a senior bounce back like that, because they’ve been through a lot more. From a sophomore, it’s especially impressive, and Wallace is excited to have Ferguson a lot longer.
“I’m looking forward to the next two years of that size heart and showing everyone else there is no ‘I can’t.’ There is ‘I can’ and ‘I will’ and ‘I did.’”
Finally, Young-Bey continues to generate impressive performance after impressive performance during sprints. Another sophomore, Young-Bey won the 100-meter dash over West Essex’s Hailey Blum by a split second as well as the 200-meter dash with a time of 25.61 before finishing second in the 400-meter.
The Mountie boys didn’t have the strong field and sprinting finishes the girls did, and finished the day in 15th place. The boys’ weekend featured a third-place finish by Charles Murphy in the high jump, and a fourth-place finish by Mekki Wilson in the long jump.
Now the team looks toward competing at the state level. For Wallace, it’s a matter of making sure her athletes don’t approach this any differently than they did previous meets.
“Don’t freak out and think you can’t do, know that you’ve done this already. Now you just need to build on it,” Wallace said. “We want them to believe in themselves and their ability, trust in the process and trust us as the coaches. They’re doing that and now they’re seeing the results of it.”
That said, Wallace knows it won’t be easy as the state level will bring even tougher competition.
“It’s gonna be a fight all the way around.”
Even when that is done, MHS have a good chance to send players to the Meet of Champions on June 10. The way Bigsby, Young-Bey and distance runners Lufrano and Hessler have been performing well enough to find themselves on the big stage in just a few weeks. Wallace said their approach should stay the same, though.
“Each practice we’ve had each competition, has prepared us for where we are.”