Bloomfield wins first track championship of any kind

Terry Iavarone knows that his Bloomfield track teams don’t have the luxury of depth the way nearby rivals Montclair, West Orange and Livingston do. Take in point, short a hurdler on the girls 4×55 Shuttle Hurdles event, Iavarone turned to junior Rylie Sayers, who had never jumped a hurdle, to fill out the lineup.

On Saturday in the first event at the Essex County Indoor Relay Championships at the Ocean Breeze Athletic Complex, Bloomfield’s quartet of Sayers, Mercedes Cruz-Fletcher, Valerie Refuse and Catherine Parelli, running together for just the second time in history, delivered a shocking, championship winning time of 38.80.

Cruz-Fletcher, the anchor, chased down three runners to give Bloomfield its first ever indoor or outdoor County title in the Shuttle Hurdles.

Prior to Saturday, the Bengals had ranked No. 6 in Essex County in the event.

“Riley is completely new to the event,” Iavarone said. “Although a seasoned veteran, she never jumped a hurdle until last month when the team was desperate for a fourth member of the team.

“The shuttle hurdle team only competed one time prior to winning the Essex County Relay title.”

Their performance was one of several eye-opening results by Observer area teams from Bloomfield and Nutley.

Overall, Bloomfield took fourth place, its highest placing ever in the team standings, with 30 points. Nutley took sixth with 12 points.

For the Maroon Raiders, it was a day that saw two school records fall in convincing fashion.

In the Distance Medley Relay, Nutley took second place with a time of 13:31.38, more than 13 seconds faster than its previous time. Standout freshman Meya Ranges ran the first leg, the 1,200, followed by Adrianna Quinn (400), Marcella Blancato (800) and sophomore Jaylin Romero in the 1,600.

Romero, a sophomore, ran the fastest split on Nutley’s 4×800 team at 2:26, which head coach Gerald Ryan admits is rare to see someone who normally specializes in distance running and cross country.

“In the last couple of years or so, (the 800 has) really become more of a long sprint with how fast the run has become, but it just shows the range that she has,” Ryan said. “She’s a very, very talented kid and she’s a competitor too. When she gets on the starting line I see the intensity in her eyes and she just goes out and battles every single race. There’s a fire burning in her belly to compete and succeed.”

Romero was the first leg on Nutley’s record-breaking 4×800 team, followed by Ranges, senior Emma Kirby and Blancato, who is back in top form after struggling with a minor knee injury early in the season.

Their time of 10:31.26 was good for fourth place in the event, more than 17 seconds faster than the previous record.

“When I saw them perform at Group 3 Relays (a week earlier), I knew that the County Relays, once we got on that super-fast track at Ocean Breeze against teams like Montclair and West Orange and Verona and some of the County powers, we would do well,” said Ryan. “I had complete faith that they would not only break the records, but destroy the records which is what they did.”

The Bloomfield girls took second place in two other events. The quartet of Samyah Wilson, Angel Cruz-Fletcher, Sayers and Ashley Toro ran a time of 4:26.61 in the Sprint Medley Relay. The Bengals also finished second in the Shot Put team as Albina Frangu (34-6.25) and Thalia Bell (28-5) were third and ninth respectively on their individual throws.

On the boys side, Bloomfield seniors Cristian Armstrong and Zaire LaRue took gold in the High Jump Relay for the Bengals’ first ever title in the event.

Armstrong’s jump of 6-0 was tied for the best in the meet and LaRue’s jump of 5-10 was third.

While both Armstrong and LaRue are experienced jumpers, this is their first time competing during the indoor season as they had played basketball their first three years in high school.

“As a coach, I am ecstatic that Cristian and Zaire finally decided to come out for Winter Track & Field,” Iavarone said. “This will be a springboard for the Spring season where the duo hopes to repeat as Essex County Champions, along with winning the Long and Triple Jump Relays.”

As a team, Bloomfield was tied for eighth on the boys side with 11 points and Nutley finished 12th in the 14-team field.

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Jason Bernstein | Observer Sports Writer

Jason Bernstein joined The Observer as its sports writer in March 2022, following the retirement of Jim Hague. He has a wealth of sports-writing experience, including for NJ Advance Media (, The Jersey Journal, The Star-Ledger.)