WESTFIELD >> The Cherokee High School girls track team “left with a lot of smiles” according to coach Mark Jarvis after competing in the 31st annual Westfield Blue Devil Classic May 1 at Gary Kehler Stadium here.
And with good reason. The Chiefs had 22 season-best performances/splits and recorded some of the best times in the state this season, as well as adding to the school’s all-time performance list.
In the opening 4-by-100-meter relay, the team of junior Alison Cooke, freshman Madison Van Harren, junior Jillian Strauss and junior Alexa Ronning finished seventh overall in a season-best time of 51.83.
Next came the perhaps the race of the day as Cherokee tangled with a familiar South Jersey foe in the distance medley.
“We knew Haddonfield was running to try and get a fast time,” said Jarvis. “I talked to the girls before the race and let them know that as long as we can hang on to them, we would run fast.”
Cherokee did, finishing in 12:31.63 – the fifth-best time in school history – to place second behind Haddonfield’s winning effort of 12:06.82.
Sophomore Kelsey Niglio led off for the Chiefs, running the opening 1200-meter leg in 3:47.6. She handed the baton off to senior Meghan Carroll (400; 1:01.8), followed by senior Erin Jackson (800; 2:27.5) and junior Nikki Clifford (1600; 5:14.2). Niglio and Clifford’s splits are fifth-best in school history and for Clifford, it was the second-fastest 1600 in her career.
“I was really impressed with how the girls ran,” Jarvis said of his distance-medley team, which is ranked No. 2 in the state and No. 16 in the country with its Blue Devil Classic race.
Cherokee’s 4-by-200-meter relay team of Strauss (28.2), Van Harren (26.8), Ronning (28.0) and Cooke (25.9) clocked a season-best time of 1:49.07 for fourth place. Cooke’s anchor split ties Rachel Montague for fourth place on the all-time list for outdoor 200 splits.
Coach Jarvis was left to wonder what might have been had there not been a split between two of his sprinters during the sprint medley relay.
The Chiefs won the event in 4:14.60 – No. 3 in the state and No. 11 in the country this season, but they could have run faster. Niglio led off, running a 59.6 in the 400-meter leg, followed by Cooke (200; 29.9), Van Harren (200; 27.5) and Clifford (800; 2:17.4), who ran a “monster anchor” according to her coach.
“The SMR relay had its ups and downs,” said Jarvis. “Despite a collision and dropped baton between the 200 legs, they managed to run the third-fastest time in school history. Nikki really got us back in the race after the collision of our 200 legs.”
The Chiefs ended the Blue Devil Classic with their 4-by-400-meter relay team finishing third overall in 4:01.65. Cooke (1:00.4) Niglio (59.9), Carroll (1:01.4) and Clifford (59.8) combined to run the fourth-fastest time in the state this season.
Strauss (9-0) and Isabella Kadar (7-0) jumped a combined 16 feet for third place in the pole vault relay.
“We really had some girls show their depth, as well as how in shape they are,” said Jarvis. “Nikki Clifford's triple, Kelsey Niglio's triple. Ali Cooke getting back up for the 4-by-4 after her spill in the sprint medley relay. So many things stand out about this meet. To run the kind of times that the girls did (Saturday) has us all excited for what is in store for the rest of the season. Told them to enjoy the weekend and then we go back to work on Monday.”