QP’s Negroni leaves incredible legacy with 5 gold medals in NJSIAA meets

Photo by Jim Hague Queen of Peace senior track standout Natalie Negroni.
Photo by Jim Hague
Queen of Peace senior track standout Natalie Negroni.

When it comes to Natalie Negroni, it’s safe to say that soccer’s loss was track and field’s gain.

Negroni was always a fine soccer player growing up and loved playing the sport.

When she entered Queen of Peace High School almost four years ago, Negroni thought that she was simply play soccer in high school.

“But I decided to go out for track,” Negroni said. “It just interested me. I was always a defender in soccer and always used my speed to run down players. I always knew I had the speed, so why not try running. I knew I was fast.”

Just like that, the most prestigious and versatile performer in Queen of Peace track and field history was born.

Veteran head coach Nick Mazzolla always took a liking to hurdlers and decided upon seeing Negroni that she could be a good hurdler.

“The first thing he said to me was that I was a hurdler,” Negroni said.

“She was a natural,” Mazzolla said. “She was very coachable and was willing to learn.”

Negroni wasn’t exactly fluid the first time she jumped over a hurdle.

“My friends said that I looked like a leprechaun,” Negroni said.

Of course, at that time, it was jumping over a hurdle – like a single hurdle. The school had one hurdle, located right in the middle of the practice field, now called the Ralph Borgess Memorial Field. But there was one hurdle for Negroni to jump over. So she did – over and over.

“She realized that her true love was track,” Mazzolla said. “Her motivation and determination drove her.”

But back then, Negroni was a still a raw novice.

“I didn’t even know that there were county and state meets,” Negroni said. “And now, here we are.”

Where we are is the end of a spectacular track and field career. Negroni graduated recently as the top point collector in the history of QP track and field, scoring more points than former Observer Athlete of the Year Janine Davis and superstar Kevin Momnohin. She scored more than 835 points in dual track meets in her career.

Two weeks ago, Negroni won gold medals at the NJSIAA Non-Public B North state sectionals in the 100-meter hurdles, the 400-meter hurdles and the high jump. Negroni won the 400-meter hurdles in 1:05.59, the 100-meter hurdles in 16.54 seconds and cleared 4 feet, 10 inches on the high jump. Three state sectional championships in one meet. Not a bad haul at all.

A week later, Negroni went to the overall Non-Public B state championships and collected more hardware, winning the 100-meter hurdles in 15.94 seconds and the 400-meter hurdles in 1:05.41 seconds. She also finished seventh in the high jump.

Last Wednesday, Negroni made her fourth and final appearance at the NJSIAA Meet of Champions, where she broke her own school records in both events, finishing 19th  overall in the 400-meter hurdles and 33rd overall in the 100-meter hurdles.

For her efforts, Negroni has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week. She is the final honoree of the 2014-2015 scholastic sports year. The Observer will present the Male and Female Athletes of the Year in the coming weeks.

Mazzolla just admired Negroni’s perseverance.

“It’s pretty amazing,” Mazzolla said. “I’ve been coaching since 1980. I’ve had a lot of good athletes over the years. I also like to think I specialize in the hurdles. But I had a lot of champions over the years. Natalie was truly special. She’s truly one of the top, if not the top. I think she had motivation to get better from within. She actually loves what she’s doing. She really enjoys it. Her love of the sport and her natural attributes carried her and made her one of the best hurdlers around.”

Mazzolla also loved the way Negroni got others involved.

“The other kids saw what she was doing and wanted to do the same,” Mazzolla said. “We got kids who came out for the team who wouldn’t have otherwise. That’s a credit to her. You don’t get many like her in a lifetime. She was definitely a find. She’s an all-around good person. You wish you had kids like her that makes a difference on and off the track. She’s truly a role model.”

Negroni was happy that she went out on top.

“It’s great,” Negroni said. “I won those meets in the past, but I was younger and didn’t appreciate it as much. I’m thankful I was able to run my race and win it. I’m usually very nervous before a race and usually don’t calm down until I’m on the line and the gun goes off.”

Negroni relayed a funny story about one of her first races.

“It was the state sectionals as a freshman,” Negroni said. “I was really nervous and the track officials told us not to move. But I did the Sign of the Cross right before the race and was almost disqualified for moving.”

Negroni, who is Roman Catholic and takes her faith very seriously, said that she now does the Sign way before the start of the race, as well as saying her rosaries.

“It gives me a center and a focus to pray,” Negroni said. “I always say a prayer before a race. I believe that God is a really big part of what I do and He has really helped me.”

Negroni is also a standout student. She graduated from Queen of Peace with a 4.90 grade point average out of a 5.0 standard and was No. 5 in her class. She’s headed to Monmouth University in the fall to major in biology, with the hopes of one day going to medical school.

“I look forward to going to college and running,” Negroni said. “I’m excited for it. I always wanted to be a surgeon. I’ve done a lot over the last four years. It’s bittersweet that it’s coming to an end, but I’m looking forward to the next step. I never dreamed that all of this could happen. I never thought it was possible.”

All it took was that single hurdle sitting in the middle of a football practice field. That and some determination made Natalie Negroni become a state champion.

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Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer

Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.

It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.

In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.

In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.

He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.

During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.

Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.

Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”