TOMS RIVER >> Cherokee junior Ethan Wechsler’s 3200-meter state title highlighted the Lenape Regional High School District showing in the NJSIAA State Indoor Track and Field Group Championships Feb. 15-16 at the John Bennett Indoor Athletic Complex here.

Wechsler’s win sparked the Chiefs to a second-place team finish, their best showing in school history. Cherokee finished with 24 points, nine behind Group 4 champion Franklin Township.

“We were by no means gunning for a championship, if so Ethan would have doubled, but having four of the five guys we brought medal and move on was a success,” said Cherokee first-year coach Dave Petruzzi. “Ethan's 3200 was an exciting race to watch, but certainly not how Ethan should have ran the race, but after all said and done, he is still a Group 4 champion.”

Wechsler finished the 16-lap race in 9:34.76, though there was a controversial end to the event as the runner he was battling with throughout – Cherry Hill East’s Oliver Adler -- was disqualified for interfering with Wechsler at the finish line.

Cherokee distance coach Steve Shaklee offered his take on the Group 4 3200 race:

“It was nice to see Ethan win (at states),” he said. “It was not the race we were hoping for but, somehow, Ethan still found a way to get it done. Our hope was that someone would take it out at a good pace but that didn’t happen. As a result, Ethan took the lead on the fourth lap, well before he wanted to. It was difficult for him to run in that position with a group of runners sitting on him waiting to kick. It took a toll on Ethan. He was feeling it with 800 meter to go and the pace slowed. With 400 meters to go, Oliver (Adler from Cherry Hill East) moved to the lead - and with 200 to go – Oliver really took off with only Ethan covering the move. Off the last turn, Ethan made one last charge and caught Adler right before the line, surprising him. Adler instinctively threw his arm out to block Ethan, which resulted in his disqualification. Ethan deserves a lot of credit for staying focused and not giving up when he lost the lead. To come back the way he did was impressive.”

Wechsler is Cherokee’s first-ever indoor 3200-meter state champion and fourth distance runner state champ in school history, joining Jeff Storch (1998; 1600) and Dave Sitzer (2000; 1600) and Will Andes (800; 2006).

Junior Chase Miller scored two points with his fifth-place finish of 9:40.65 in the 3200 race.

“Chase has proven that he is continuously improving and can handle running with the best in the 3200, placing fifth,” said Petruzzi.

Junior Tyler Jackson scored six points in the 800-meter run with his third-place time 1:58.29.

“Tyler placed third in the 800, and with limited speed work will continue to drop especially when outdoor comes,” said Petruzzi. He’s going to be one of the most exciting guys to see this coming season I believe.”

Senior Lucciano Pizzaro also finished third in the shot put with a 51-3/4 throw on his last throw in the finals.

“Luc did not throw great, but enough to give himself another shot at the Meet of Champions. He has a 55-foot plus throw coming - when, I am not sure, but he has it in him.”

“My first season could not have gone any smoother,” said Petruzzi, a long-time girls assistant before this winter. “I have a great group of guys, ready to listen and learn. I have had great support all around, and am looking forward to the spring season.”

Lenape girls

Lenape placed seventh in the Group 4 field with 16 points – and those points came from one athlete, senior Shelby Whetstone, who finished second in both her events.

In the opening 400-meter dash, Whetstone clocked a second-place time of 58.53, just getting outleaned at the finish line by South Jesey rival – Eastern’s Jewel Ash (58.46).

Whetstone came back in the four-lap 800-meter run and clocked a personal-best time of 2:18.63, which was a close second behind Ridge’s Morgan Lyons (1st; 2:17.87).

“I was very pleased with the way my athletes competed at the state championships- especially Shelby,” said Lenape coach Gerald Richardson. “She competed in two very tough races and placed second in both. Both races were season-best performances for her at this point. We’re looking for her to run a little faster again at Meet of Champions.”

Cherokee girls

Junior Kate Rathman placed in the 1600-meter run for the first time in her career – in either the winter or spring seasons – at the state championships.

Rathman finished fifth in 5:12.99, which is faster than she race in the indoor state meet last season with she finished in eighth place (5:15.95).

“It wasn’t her best time this season,” said Cherokee coach Mark Jarvis. “Kate said she felt a little off, and that showed in the 3200. I definitely noticed that something was not right with her. She persisted through to run 11:46.63 and finish 16th.”

Rathman has advanced to the NJSIAA Meet of Champions for the fifth consecutive season (cross country, indoor and outdoor track), which “is a huge accomplishment for her” said Jarvis.

Seneca girls

Seneca placed sixth in the finale 4-by-400-meter relay as the team of Hailey Melvin, Madeline Epps, Nicole Wheeler and Madison Melvin finished in 4:12.28.

“The 4-by-400-meter relay team has had a tremendous season,” said Seneca coach Karen O’Neil. “They were so excited to compete in the state championships after their win at the sectional championships. While their race wasn't quite what they wanted it to be overall, they were very excited to have the opportunity to race at the Meet of Champions. Coach Matthew Carr, who works with the sprinters, has done such a tremendous job with these girls this season."

Sophomore Julia Greeley also qualified for the Meet of Champions with a wild-card place (7th; 10-0) in the pole vault.

“Julia unfortunately hurt her back jumping this past week, so we weren't even positive she was going to be able to compete until the day before,” said O’Neil. “Even with still having some pain, she had one of her best days jumping.”

Senior Madison Melvin had “a tremendous 800-meter race,” according to O’Neil, placing in the top 10 in the state with a time of 2:24.41.

“Madison has only raced the 800 four times so far in her career, and each race kept getting better and better,” said O’Neil. Sadly that was her last individual track race of her career as she is a softball player and will be going on to play softball at the collegiate level next year. But she ended on a great note with an eighth-place finish in the 800 and her fastest time ever. She will still be competing as part of the 4-by-400 at the Meet of Champions so she still has one more race left of her high school career.”

Sophomore Emma Klouchek (1600; 15th; 5:29.85) and junior Morgan Hough (3200; 17th; 12:53.06) also competed in the state championships for the Golden Eagles.

“Emma and Morgan both had huge performances at the sectional championships, and it can be hard to come back just one week later and PR again,” said O’Neil. “Even though their state championship races weren't what they were hoping for, they both had tremendous seasons overall. They both improved immensely, and they are ready and excited to see what they can accomplish this spring.”

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