A trio of county champs for Kearny track — Waters, Castillo and Reyes bring home gold

It may be the indoor track season, but to get ready for the big championship meets, the Kearny High School track and field team practices outdoors.

Yes, that means running in 17 degree temperatures like the area had to endure recently.

That thought brings about one word: Brrrrrrrrrr.

But the kids simply don’t mind. It’s part of their routine and regimen.

“We make the best of it,” said senior do-everything Xavier Reyes. “We’re out in 20 degree temperatures and focusing on our form in the harsh conditions. So when it comes time to compete, then everything else is second nature. I think it helps us, because we’re getting it the hard way.”

“It is freezing, but you do what you have to do,” said junior hurdler Melissa Waters. “A lot of other schools don’t have that opportunity.”

Kearny head track and field coach Al Perez says that it’s not a big deal that the indoor track team practices outdoors in the winter.

“The whole team practices outside,” Perez said. “We’re outside 99 percent of the time. We use what we have. It’s not ideal, but it’s better than nothing.”

The runners are able to train with their spikes and by dragging the hurdles out to the track twice a week.

“We’re able to simulate a race on our track,” Reyes said. “It helps us build a mental toughness.”

The approach must be working, because three Kardinal athletes captured gold medals at the recent Hudson County Track Coaches Association championships held at the Armory Track and Field Center (formerly known as the 168th Street Armory) in New York.

Reyes captured gold in the 55-meter hurdles, crossing the line in a new school record 7.78 seconds, breaking the mark set by Brian Kelly in 1976. Reyes defeated friend and teammate Breisly Franco by a tenth of a second. Franco won the event last year, so Reyes got a little revenge on his buddy.

Reyes and Franco were both part of the shuttle hurdle relay team that competed in the United States Track and Field Nationals last spring in North Carolina.

“Xavier and Breisly have been going back and forth,” Perez said. “Their competition is good for each other. Right now, it’s likely that the school record will be broken by each of them. Breisly beats Xavier most of the time, but they feed off each other. They have been racing each other in practice. I had a good feeling they were going to run 1-2.”

“To be completely honest, Breisly has been faster than me all season,” said the affable Reyes, one of the best interviews ever conducted by The Observer. “He’s definitely having a better season than me. I knew that I was due for a breakout race. All my training is definitely paying off.”

Reyes said that the competition between him and Franco has been outstanding.

“We’re been pushing each other for as long as I can remember,” Reyes said. “We’ve been trading wins back and forth. It was first a major PR (personal record) and then it ended up being the school record. It was really enjoyable for me.”

Reyes also broke the school record in the long jump, clearing 20 feet, nine ½ inches, breaking the old record held by former teammate Rauly Cordero. Reyes finished second in the long jump to St. Peter’s Prep’s Adonis McGee. He was also fifth in the high jump.

Reyes is also an excellent student, posting a 3.96 grade point average and securing a score of 26 in the ACT, now considered the leading achievement test for aspiring college students. Reyes is looking into the possibility of attending either Rutgers or Bucknell in the fall.

“I definitely have a lot of confidence now,” Reyes said. “I’ve definitely set the bar. It takes the stress off because I’m finally performing like I should be.”
Reyes also finished third in the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group IV meet in Toms River last Friday night, punching his ticket to the overall Group IV championships Feb. 15.

Waters also captured gold in the hurdles, winning the 55-meter hurdles in 8.74 seconds over Alicia Campbell of Snyder, who crossed the line in 8.81 seconds.

Waters also broke the school record set last year by Daniris Calcano, who won the county title in 8.98 seconds.

“I think the whole day, I was thinking about the school record,” Waters said. “Daniris is a good friend of mine and we talk a lot. Warming up for the race, I felt pretty confident and thought about the record. When I was a freshman, Daniris used to talk to me a lot about the hurdles. Just watching her perform gave me inspiration. She encouraged me.”

“Melissa has been improving rapidly from last year,” Perez said. “She’s spent a lot of time in the weight room and it’s made a huge difference in her.”

Waters finished sixth at the state sectional meet Friday and will also compete in the overall Group IV championships Feb. 15.

“It’s definitely something amazing,” Waters said. “All the dedication and hard work I put in is paying off. I think I’m just scratching the surface.”

Castillo, also a junior, won the 800-meter run gold medal.

“It was a complete surprise to me,” said Castillo, who is also a standout soccer player in the fall. “I really didn’t think I had a shot of winning. I was just going to try my best. But I was pretty determined. I knew that if I stayed close with the first pack of girls, I had a shot.”

Sure enough, Castillo outkicked Milani Bethel of St. Dominic Academy to take home the top honors in 2:28.03.

“Honestly, when it came to the last lap, I was just so determined that I just had to have it,” Castillo said. “I had a talk with (Coach) Perez and he said it was time for me to run with the big girls. It was always in the back of my mind that I had a shot.”

Bethel was second in 2:28.28.

“I’m pretty excited about it,” Castillo said. “It still hasn’t sunk in really that I won. I’m just a soccer player who decided to run. I guess I’m doing okay.”
Castillo was eighth at the NJSIAA North 1, Group IV meet Friday in the 800-meter run, punching her ticket as well to the Group meet Feb. 15. That outdoor stuff seems to be paying frigid dividends for sure.

“I am shocked,” Castillo said. “No, never did I think this could happen.”

“Julie is a hard worker who is very versatile,” Perez said. “She can run the sprints, do the short hurdles, the jumps. She’s a good athlete. She always had talent. Now, she’s more mature and more confident.  I think her confidence is a key that she’s able to compete on a higher level.”

Perez was happy for all three of his athletes.

“It’s nice to see,” Perez said. “I’m happy with what has happened. Now it’s on to the Group meet and we’ll see what happens there. It’s nice to see their hard work and commitment to the sport paying off.”




From left, Kearny High School’s Melissa Waters, Xavier Reyes and Julie Castillo all won gold medals at last week’s Hudson County Track Coaches Association meet at the Armory Track and Field Center in New York. Photo courtesy of Al Perez




Learn more about the writer ...

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.”