On Jan. 10 and 12, the Big North held its indoor championships at the Ocean Breeze Athletic Complex in Staten Island. Even though the conference awarded team championships in all seven divisions for the best time since 2018, meet management chose to combine all races for the purposes of competition.
The result was one of the best series of performances in the 11-year history of the meet.
Here's a look at the top performers of the meet and what they thought about their performances.
Ridgewood senior sprinter
The Maroons won their fourth straight title with a record score of 196 points, easily defeating Ramapo and Northern Highlands and the UMass-Amherst recruit got things rolling with a personal best 7.45 to win the overall and divisional 55 title and then PR'd in 26.07 to win the 200.
"It was pretty interesting to be back inside competing,'' said Spencer. "There's a major difference in the atmosphere of the meet, because you're in a smaller area and you really hear people cheering for you. "It was the biggest thing I missed.''
Spencer liked the idea of competing against sprinters from all four divisions, not just her own.
"I always compete against myself, but running against the best from all four divisions was really fun, and more competitive because you knew you had to be at your best.''
Ramapo senior long sprinter
It was quite a week for Anzaldo, who won the 400 and anchored Ramapo's winning 4-x-400 relay while setting a second PR with her second place finish in the 200 at the Freedom meet Monday and then ran a sizzling 58.49 split in the 4-x-400 relay at the Millrose Games Trials to put the Green Raiders into the Millrose Games on Jan. 29.
"I wasn't expecting to run an indoor PR in the 400 this early,'' said the Quinnipiac bound sprinter. "I didn't think I was anywhere near ready to run in the 59s (59.23) but now I think I can get into the 58s in an open race pretty soon.''
"I had a bit of a mental block, but before the (league) meet Coach (Bill) Manzo told me that he thought I could run 59 and it gave me more confidence,'' she says. "I'm usually focused on getting out and starting quick when I'm running the relay but now I think I can do it every race.''
IHA junior distance runner
Johnston had an excellent cross-country season, taking third in the Bergen Meet of Champions, seventh in Non-Public A and 36th in the State Meet of Champions.
But she seemed to reach a higher level early in the winter season and impressively led all Bergen athletes with personal bests of 5:15.06 (1,600 meters) and 11:02.09 (3,200) at the Big North meets. She nearly became just the 20th Bergen runner under 11 minutes in the longer race, and ran 10 seconds faster for the second half of the race than her first 1,600.
"I have a better mind set this winter, because I'm as nervous as I've been,'' said Johnston. "I'm not really sure why I've gotten so much better but I know I''m running more mileage than I have in the past.''
Johnston enjoyed competing against more than just athletes in the United division and felt having more good runners around helped her push more.
"It definitely made it a lot easier to run and I was feeling really good after the first mile (in the 3,200) and I decided to just go after it,'' she said. "I've been able to run with and compete with a lot of highly ranked athletes, not only in the state but in the country and that helps a lot.''
Paramus Catholic senior hurdler/jumper
Carter is following in the great PC tradition, going back to Rosie Menyhart, Tatyiana Sanders, Isabelle Dely, Mariah Fede, Kennedee Cox and Tiffany Bautista of excelling in both the hurdles and the jumps.
"It's an honor to be compared to them,'' said Carter, who won the 55 hurdles, long and high jumps at the Big North United meet, setting a personal best of 8.42 in the hurdles, tops in the area so far this year. "I know I'm not as quick and Mariah, Tiff and Isabella, but I've really worked on improving my speed.''
"When I was able to compete Monday with all the other divisions,, it made me want to work even harder to get better,'' said Carter, who also long jumped an area leading 17-7 1/4 earlier this season. "This year I'm 100 motivated and I want to know I've left my mark.''
So far that mark is tied for 10th in Bergen history in the hurdles and tied for 20th in the long jump.
Ridgewood senior middle distance runner
No cross-country runner in North Jersey benefitted more from the return to normalcy this fall than the Rutgers-bound Rabolli, who turned potential into stardom and continued her rise with impressive wins in the Freedom 800 and 1,600 races.
"It was definitely my mind set,'' said Rabolli, who had been a contributor in track and was part of the Ridgewood cross-country team for the last four falls but had been on the back end of the team. "But that changed when we ran the distance medley (at the Nike National outdoor) at Heyward Field (in Eugene, Oregon) last June. "I was super-rattled before the race but I had to stop thinking and just run.''
Rabolli's performance on the 800 leg helped propell the Maroons to All-American status and it carried over into cross-country, where Rabolli reeled off six straight top 10 finishes in major races, finished 34th in the State Meet of Champions and set PRs on every course she ran. "I finally believed I was a cross-country runner and that helps me in track to gain more confidence."
Fort Lee senior jumper
Manetovic has been the top triple jumper in North Jersey this year but she insists her favorite event is the high jump. She won both in the American division and had the top triple jump in the league at 34-7, while high jumping 5-0. She also the long jump, an event she only does in league competition.
"I did ballet for 14 years and I think the way you approach the high jump and then go over the bar is so graceful and I love doing that,'' said Manetovic. "I need to work on my timing over the bar.''
"I'm a bit frustrated with my triple jump because I've been jumping 36 and 37 feet in practice but only 34-35 in meets,'' she says. "A lot of it is mental, because I don't think about things like my approach and final jump in practice. I just relax and do it. I have to bring that attitude to the meets.''
Ridgewood junior pole vaulter
If you had to design the prototypical path to becoming a girl pole vaulter, Hutchinson might be it.
"I was originally a gymnast and a rock climber,'' said Hutchinson, who was persuaded to take up vaulting by former Maroon vaulters Jason Theisen (who now vaults for the University of Chicago) and Maddie DeVera. "I think rock climbing gives me a lot of upper body strength, especially in the core and the grmnastics and climbing helps me to invert (go upside down) which gives me a chance to go much higher in the vault.''
Hutchinson is one of only three 10 foot girls in the area so far this winter and she's shown consistency as she gets ready to go higher. "I only got two wees of spring track my freshman year and then started taking it seriously when I started working with coach (Tim) Wilson at Ridgewood.''
Hackensack senior shot putter
When Brown was a freshman, she was running sprints, but decided she might like to try throwing the shot. It turned out to be a good decision. Brown has steadily improved throughout her Comet career and threw indoor bests of 37-2 at the Big North Freedom meet and 37-7 1/2 at the Ridgewood Winter Games to take the early North Jersey lead.
"It felt good to throw well at leagues because I threw further than the girl from Clifton (Taniya Giles) who beat me at outdoor sectionals last spring,'' said Brown. "It's motivating to me.''
The Hackensack girls program is undergoing a rebuilding year so Brown is more than just the Comets' best performer. "I'm a leader for the younger girls on the team and I'm trying to show them what hard work and practice can do.''
Brown is also one of the area's top discus throwers in the spring and wants to throw in college. "Coach (Jim) Levitzke thinks I can throw 40 feet by the end of this season and I think so, too."
Bergenfield senior sprinter/jumper
Souleymane Fall’s 1st place finish in the 200m dash at the Big North Championships. His time of 21.86 broke a school record, is 2nd in NJ, and 14th in the nation. @Bears_Athletics @BigNorthConBNC @NJScom @northNJtrack @njmilesplit pic.twitter.com/5KUlJCsY4f
— BHS Track and Field (@BHSBearsTrack) January 13, 2022
He's never run spring track. He hadn't run an indoor race in two years. And now he's the second fastest indoor 200 meter runner in Bergen County history and in the top 20 in the country in the event.
Souleymane Fall (his first name is derived from the Hebrew name for Solomon and means Man of Peace in Arabic) is a very good soccer player, having scored nine goals for the Bears last fall and is a member of the Northern Valley Soccer Club. He always thought his collegiate future was in the sport.
But in less than 22 seconds (21.86 to be precise) all that may have changed. Wednesday night. Fall won the Big North National 55 meter dash in 6.57 seconds, a school record and the fourth fastest time in New Jersey this year
Then he stepped to the line about an hour later to run the 200. Thanks to his teammate and emerging 800 runner Johannes Rivera we can see the race above. Souleyane is the guy destroying a good field.
"The school record as 22.6 (actually 22.66, set by Laquan Stewart two years ago) and I was hoping to run 22.3,'' said Fall. "I got a great start and then about 15 meters from the end I thought I was going to run close to that. I never expected this.''
Fall, who began running winter track in 2020 to get in better shape for soccer was originally going to also run in the spring of 2020, but the season was cancelled by the outbreak of COVID. Then the combination of Ramadan with his club soccer commitments last spring kept him from outdoor track again.
"It would have been very hard to do everything and not be able to eat all day,'' he said. Even though Ramadan will run the entire month of April this spring, Fall admits it may be time for him to give the outdoor version of the sport his full attention.
:IT was fun running fast on Wednesday,'' he said. "It's always fun running fast.''
Ridgewood senior pole vaulter
Gnospelius is a little frustrated with his vaulting right now.
"I'm stuck trying to get over 14,'' said Gnospelius after making 13-6 for the sixth or seventh time when he won the Freedom division vault at that height. "I'm on the same pole when I try 14 and Monday my third try was way over the bar, but I wasn't able to get deep enough into the pit to keep the bar up.''
That's not stopping the senior, who is undecided about college selection right now but knows he wants to jump at the next level. "I'm shooting for the school record (15-1 by Gabe Knutson in 2004) but of course I need to get over 14 feet indoors first. It's going to happen soon.''
Bergen Catholic senior sprinter/jumper
France had a pretty good first indoor race since the March, 2020 State Meet of Champions when he blasted a 6.49 55 meters race in the Big North United meet, tied for fifth in Bergen County history. He also scored a huge indoor personal best in winning the division 200.
The multi-talented France, who was a second team All-North Jersey defensive back selection despite missing a number of games due to an ankle injury, is headed for the Naval Academy and might be a weapon as a wide receiver for the Midshipmen.
"The best part of my race is my start,'' said France, who also hopes to sprint in college. "I'm taking the winter season slowly, because I'm still in active physical therapy for my ankle. So I think I'm just at the tip of the iceberg for what I can do.''
"My college coaches are intrigued by my speed so I might get the chance to run back kicks also,'' said France. "I can't wait to see what I can do.''
Don Bosco junior distance runner
Maguire has never lacked confidence in his ability, telling a reporter last year that he expected to win the 2021 Bergen Meet of Champions in cross-country. And even though he finished a solid third in November, he knew he hadn't done enough work to live up to his expectations.
"I knew that finishing 50th in the State Meet of Champions wasn't what I wanted and it wasn't going to get me a County championship either,'' said Maguire, who was eager to get a chance to run against most of the best runners in North Jersey in the multidivisional Big North meet.
So while the 9:33.99 win in the 3,200 was stunning to most, it wasn't something totally unexpected from Maguire's standpoint, even though it was a 45 second PR,
"I felt very good in the first mile (4:45) and I knew I could run close to that in the second half of the race,'' said Maguire, who later ran a very solid open 1,600 for the double. "I treated this race like it was the county championship.''
Maguire was a bit cagey in discussing his goals for the rest of the year -- "I have time goals and some other personal goals,'' he says. But a time approaching 9:20, a time run by only four Don Bosco runners and fewer than 20 in Bergen history might be in the cards by the end of the winter.
Northern Highlands junior jumper/sprinter
There's not much Zach Madison can't do. An all-North Jersey wide receiver for the terrific Northern Highlands football team, he stepped right back into track and field after a brief respite after the football season ended.
Madison has been the top high jumper in North Jersey in the early season and he's also jumped more than 20 feet in the long jump, and scored well in the 55 hurdles and 55 dash in the league meet as well.
"I'm ready to do whatever the coach needs me to do so we can win as many meets as we can,'' said Madison. "Its not like me to take more than a couple of says off from anything and I still had some spring left in my legs after football season so I wanted to get to work in track.''
"Track has really helped me in football, the plyometric workouts we do help me for sure in jump balls on the field,'' said Madison, who is hoping to break the school high jump record of 6-4. "I made 6-2 at leagues and barely missed 6-4. I want to keep progressing in both sports.''
Fort Lee senior sprinter/jumper
Another football player turned track and field star, Lowe's highlight reel on Hudl is impressive especially because of his raw speed. But Lowe's best event is easily the long jump, where he has received national and state attention early in the season.
"I feel like I'm flying when I do the long jump,'' said Lowe. "That last step before I hit the board I feel like I'm reaching for the sky.''
Lowe had some good jumps last spring and reached 22-1 in his first meet of the winter, breaking the 15-year-old school record of 22 feet. "And that day I had a foul that made me think I could go 22-9,'' he said.
And on Monday, he flew out to 22-10 1/2, the second best jump in New Jersey this year and one of the top 20 performances in the country. He also had a toe foul that looked to be well over 23 feet.
Lowe has also set a career best in the triple jump and is part of Fort Lee's fine 4-x-400 team. Ironically the only thing he hasn't excelled in so far is the 55 meter sprint.
"I have a bad history in that event,'' he says with a laugh. "The two times I ran it I tripped right at the start and that's not a good event to have chase people in.''
Pascack Hills senior pole vaulter/sprinter/jumper
Until Wednesday night, just two vaulters in Bergen County history had ever cleared 15-6 indoors and only had two cleared 15 feet in the same season.
But at the Big North Patriot division meet at Ocean Breeze Wednesday, both Zuckerman and Connor Munson of Westwood cleared the height moments apart before both came up short in attempts to become Bergen County's first 16 foot vaulter and the sixth in New Jersey history to clear the height.
"It was a good atmosphere, said Zuckerman, who won the title on fewer misses when he cleared 15-6 on his second attempt. "I tried to stay focused on how I was performing but he had a great meet and I enjoyed vaulting against him.''
Munson handed Zuckerman his first defeat against North Jersey competition in nearly three years when he won the Ocean Breeze Freedom Games title the week before and beat Zuckerman in the long jump earlier that evening.
"I wanted to go for it Wednesday night and I thought I vaulted very well,'' said Zuckerman, who is waiting for delivery of a bigger pole before his next attempt at 16 feet. "I went through a lot since the end of last season -- I hurt my ankle and broke my right thumb. But I'm healthy now and can't to see what I can do.''.
Westwood senior multi-events
Before he took his first vault in what turned out to be a classic battle with Zuckerman, Munson has already run a PR in the 55 hurdles (7.81) in a tight loss to Max Weinberg of River Dell, had a seasonal best in winning the long jump (21-2) and was well on his way to winning the high jump.
So Munson cleared 13-6 on his first attempt, 14-0 on his second and 14-6 on his first before finishing up his high jump win at 5-10.
"There was so much going on but I had to keep pushing myself in the pole vault,'' said Munson, one of the nation's top decathletes. "I wanted to go higher.''
He made 15 feet for the first time on his second attempt and 15-6 on his third before fatigue set in and he had three tired misses at 16 feet.
"It was disappointing and a little frustrating,'' said Munson. "But it was exciting, too.''
Paul Schwartz covers high school track and field for NorthJersey.com. For full access to live scores, breaking news and analysis from our Varsity Aces team, subscribe today. To get breaking news directly to your inbox, sign up for our newsletter and download our app.
This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Winter Track: Big North's top performers tell how they did it