By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
It would be hard to argue with the success that the Queen of Peace track and field program has enjoyed since the school hired local veteran Nick Mazzolla as the head coach.
The major proof came last week, when 12 members of the Golden Griffins’ track program headed to South Plainfield to compete at the NJSIAA Meet of Champions.
“I’m extremely proud of how far the program has come over the last two years,” Mazzolla said. “The kids worked extremely hard and got a chance to compete with the state’s topnotch competition. I’m very proud of them and I’m sure the school is, too. Their work and dedication has brought a lot of notoriety to school, something the school is definitely in need of. Hopefully, it will lead to others coming into Queen of Peace and joining the track program at the school.”
Leading the way for the girls’ team was sophomore Natalie Negroni, who two weeks ago won both the 100-meter and 400-meter hurdles championships at the NJSIAA Non- Public B North sectionals, then won the 400-meter hurdles and finished fourth at the overall Non-Public B state championship, punching her ticket to the Meet of Champions.
A year ago, Negroni had no idea what she was doing and practiced her race jumping over a single hurdle over and over again. But this season, Negroni was more seasoned and it showed.
“It helped me a lot, knowing what I had to do in different situations. The experience definitely helped me.”
Negroni missed a portion of the season due to an ankle injury she suffered during soccer season.
“I already have plans for next year,” said Negroni, who won the 100-meter hurdles in 16.42 seconds and the 400-meter hurdles in 1:08.27. “I have a plan already for next year to get in better shape.”
Negroni finished 26th overall at the Meet of Champions.
The top boys’ performer was junior Kevin Momnohin, who won the 400-meter hurdles and ran a leg on the QP winning 4×400-meter relay team that won at the Non-Public B North state sectionals. Momnohin also won the 200-meter dash gold medal at the sectionals.
A week later at the Non- Public B overall championships, Momnohin won the 400-meter hurdles and was second at the 200-meter dash.
“It proved that a lot of training I did paid off,” said Momnohin, who is also a fine football player at the school. “It’s something special for me. It really hasn’t hit me that I’m a state champion. It’s really a blessing for me. Words can’t explain the feeling. I am glad that I won and I want to keep the winning tradition going.”
Kevin Momnohin finished 25th in the 400-meter hurdles and the 200-meter dash at the Meet of Champions.
Kevin’s twin brother, Keith, was fourth in the triple jump and seventh in the long jump in the Non-Public B state meet.
Junior Michael Akanbi won the 110-hurdles at the sectional meet and finished second at the overall state meet.
Shot putter Andrew Gonzales also earned medals at the state sectional and overall state championships.
Lia Rodriguez, who has become one of the best allaround female athletes in the area, was second in the sectionals in the long jump.
The Rozalski sisters, Michelle and Kas, excelled in the pole vault. Michelle won the state sectionals, while Kas finished second in the overall Non-Public B championships. Kas then finished eighth overall at the Meet of Champions. The QP girls’ relay also did a fine job, qualifying for the M of C.
“It was tough on the kids, especially with the travel the last three weeks,” Mazzolla said. “We then went from the rain and cold one weekend to the desert the next. They had to endure all of these things while competing with the best of the best.”
Mazzolla believes that the Golden Griffins achieved a slice of history.
“We were there competing,” Mazzolla said. “We were there for numerous events. It was the most individuals at the Meet of Champs in the school’s history. Just the fact that we were there says a lot. I’m very proud.”
Mazzolla promised that the Golden Griffins will be strong again next season.
“If we can get 10 more boys and 10 more girls to the team, I know we can compete for some kind of team championship,” Mazzolla said.
“Hopefully, we’ll keep moving forward.”