Kearny hurdle relay team goes to New Balance Nationals; places ninth

A year ago, the Kearny High School 110-meter shuttle hurdles relay team just missed qualifying for the New Balance High School Track and Field Nationals by one measly second and a half.

During the indoor season, it was more of the same. They missed the Nationals this time by a tenth of a second.

“To not get it by a couple of milliseconds really hurt,” said senior Diego Torales. “It was very frustrating. We put a lot of hard work into that relay.”

Just missing qualifying for the national championships wasn’t enough. The Kardinals wanted to get another shot at the big time.

“It was a lot of hard work,” said junior Breisly Franco. “We never took a day off. We wanted to accomplish something together.”

So the shuttle hurdle relay team of Torales, Franco, senior Rauly Cordero, junior Xavier Reyes and alternate Tyler Monllor, a senior, pushed themselves this spring to be able to get the necessary qualifying time to reach the Nationals, held annually on the campus of North Carolina A&T in Greensboro, N.C.

It wasn’t going to be an easy task, considering a lot of the local outdoor track meets do not offer the shuttle hurdles relay. There are only a select few meets that offer the event.

“But I thought they had a chance,” said Kearny head track and field coach Al Perez. “They set this as a goal to be successful. They were in the weight room twice a week in the morning at 7 a.m. and practiced six days a week. They were dedicated and determined.”

The relay team got the qualifying time they needed at the East Coast Relays at Randolph High School last month, winning the race and sealing the deal.

Last Saturday, the Kardinals competed at the Nationals and finished the race in 1:00.98, good for ninth in the entire nation. That’s not a bad way for this group to end their high school careers together.

“It was truly a blessing for us to go to the Nationals,” Torales said. “Just missing the way we did for the last two years really motivated us to work harder. We knew that we didn’t have that many more opportunities to do something special like this.”

Reyes, who has the potential to be a truly great athlete next season, said that he changed his entire lifestyle to get ready this year.

“I really took my weight training and weight lifting more seriously,” Reyes said. “I did it more consistently as well. I drank plenty of liquids every day. I ate a lot of fruit, mostly bananas. I ate carbs (carbohydrates) and protein the day of meets and the day after. I took everything to heart and followed the plans that led me to success.”

Reyes said that he also ran cross country in the fall for the first time.

“That helped me with endurance and helped me to be able to do multiple events,” Reyes said. “I wanted to score as many points as possible for the team in the triple jump, the high jump and the hurdles. I was able to build muscle mass and strength.”

Reyes eventually won the Hudson County Track Coaches Association’s championship in the triple jump. He was also keeping the Nationals within his sights.

“It’s actually what we’ve been dreaming of,” Reyes said. “To be there with all the best teams on the big stage is remarkable and then having a good chance of competing. It’s all been fantastic.”

Torales spoke of the camaraderie the relay team displayed.

“It’s truly amazing how close we are,” Torales said. “It’s a great experience to be able to share that closeness one more time. It’s a very rewarding feeling.”

“I’ve been with these guys since I was 12 years old,” Franco said. “We’ve basically been together our whole lives.”

Cordero had mixed emotions about the weekend.

“I feel great, but I also feel sad,” said Cordero, who will attend St. Peter’s University and try to walk on to their track team. “We created this family bond together. We’re not just teammates. We’re brothers. I feel honored to have a chance to get this opportunity. It was pretty difficult, but I just had to go in there and get it done.”

Cordero had to learn how to become a hurdler this year.

“At first, I watched and thought that it wasn’t hard,” said Cordero, who also played football at Kearny. “But then I had to race and it was hard. I just had to get it down.”

Perez gave a little insight on each kid.

“Breisly is an excellent hurdler,” Perez said. “He’s very technical and he’s into it. He’s the one who was the motivator on the team. Xavier came along this year and continued to develop. He’s like a sponge. He soaks up everything we tell him and he’s able to convert it. He has a lot of ability and works hard. Cordero has been a sprinter and a long jumper for four years and this year he took to hurdles. He developed into a nice hurdler. Torales is a good athlete who did whatever was asked of him. Monllor is a 12-season athlete who has come a long way. He’s a solid team leader.”

Torales will head to Hudson County Community College and will compete for a track club called the New Jersey Warriors. Reyes and Torales return.

“The future of the Kearny track program is very promising,” Reyes said. “Even if we don’t have huge overall success, we can achieve some great things when before it wasn’t even an idea.”

All in all, Perez is impressed.

“It’s exciting for these kids to end their season competing at the elite level,” Perez said. “There were tons of future Olympians there and National Football League players there. It was exciting to be there with this group. With the work they put in, they deserved to go.”

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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.”