Sectional Track Recap — Rojas gives North Arlington first title since 2021

Daliana Rojas had already had one of the most successful individual performances by a North Arlington girl in recent memory during Friday’s first day of the North Jersey, Section 2, Group 1 Championship when she medalled in the Javelin and Shot Put. But as the Vikings made the return trip to Ridge High School for day two, head coach Kevin Blackford had a feeling the best was yet to come.

“There was no doubt in my mind that she could place in all three events and I expected her to place in all three events,” said Blackford, noting he believes that the Discus is Rojas’ best event. “But I woke up Saturday morning and on the bus ride to Basking Ridge, I had this feeling. I said, I think Dail can do it today. I think she can be a sectional champion. I had a feeling that Saturday was the day and she was going to be a sectional champ.”

That feeling turned into reality as Rojas set a personal record with a throw of 106-3 to take first in the Discus. Rojas became the first North Arlington girl to win a sectional title since 2021.

It was a moment that was a long time coming, not just for the Vikings, but for Rojas as well. The senior, who will throw next year at nearby Felician University, has taken several second and third place finishes this season but hadn’t taken gold until Saturday.

“She’s always been up there with the best of the best throwers, but she never came in first place and that was something I wanted from her is to get that first place title,” Blackford said. “Knowing that she hit it this weekend with Discus, I was ecstatic. I can’t think of a more deserving athlete. She puts in so much hard work for these opportunities.”

Rojas also set a personal record in the Shot Put when she threw a 31-6.5 for second place. She also took third in the Javelin at 97-02.

While Rojas is the only North Arlington track performer – boys or girls – to qualify for the Group Championships this coming weekend, it proved to be a significant moment for a program that is rebuilding itself after not even competing in sectionals a year ago.

“I said, listen, this is the standard going forward. Want to start building up the program now.We don’t want to have just one athlete advancing. We want the expectation to be that we’re going to sectionals, we’re going to have a few sectional champs and we’re going to send as many athletes to the group championships as possible.”

For the weekend, Rojas was one of five Observer area athletes to win a sectional title and one of only three to medal in three individual events.

At Warren Hills in the North Jersey, Section 2, Group 2 Championships, Lyndhurst’s  Anthony Santana took gold in the Boys Long Jump with a 22-04.50 that not only was a personal best, but ranked among the top 35 of all jumpers in the state.

The senior also set a new personal best in the Boys Triple Jump at 42-10.25 which was good for third place. Santana also finished third in the 110 Meter Hurdles (15.70).

On the girls side, Nikalena Iacono’s breakthrough season continued when she took first in the Shot Put at 33-06.50.

It was the first career outdoor sectional golds for Santana and Iacono. Teammate Julia Tozduman, captured the fourth of her incredible career when she repeated in the Long Jump with a 17-03. Tozduman also took second in the Triple Jump with a 36-03.50 as she vied to be a three-time champ in the event.

In Livingston, two-time Essex County champion Charles Lisa can now add North Jersey, Section 1, Group 4 champion to his resume after a 12-06 in the Boys Pole Vault.

Lisa’s teammate, Nicholas Obiedzinski, placed fourth in the event at 11-06. Bloomfield’s Maxwell Hatton was sixth in the Javelin at 136-02 and Kearny senior Robert Kennedy placed fifth in the 800 Meter Run with a 1:57.84.

On the girls side, Kearny’s Gabriela Pifano was a dual medalist, placing third in the Javelin (100-03) and fourth in the Discus (107-04).

Bloomfield’s girls team had another large contingent advancing to the Groups led by freshman Alana Dennis, who took fourth in the 100 Meter Dash (12.71) and fifth in the 100 Meter Hurdles (15.85).

Dennis was also a part of the Bengals’ third place 4×100 Meter Relay team alongside Mercedes Cruz-Fletcher, Angel Cruz-Fletcher and Samayah Wilson, which timed at 50.48.

Individually, Bloomfield took two second place finishes with Mercedes Cruz-Fletch (100 Meter Hurdles, 15.19) and Victoria Feliciano (Javelin, 100-06). Candace Chapman finished fourth in the Shot Put (35-05.75), Thalia Bell was sixth in the Discus (104-04) and Angel Cruz-Fletcher placed sixth in the Triple Jump (33-05).

Additionally, Bloomfield’s 4×800 Meter Relay team of Olivia Adams, Sasha Klotz, Audrey McLaughlin and Ashley Toro took fourth place with a time of 10:14.65.

The best overall team performance belonged to Lyndhurst’s girls, who placed fourth in North Jersey, Section 2, Group 2.

Yasemin Ugurlu, returned to the Javelin after missing nearly two months due to a shoulder injury and placed third with a throw of 104-07. The junior also took fifth place in the Triple Jump (34-10) and sixth in the Long Jump (16-00).

Rola Mustafa was another multi-medalist, placing third in the High Jump (5-00) and fourth in the 100 Meter Hurdles (16.97). Asya Akar also medaled in two events, taking fourth in the Triple Jump (34-11) and sixth in the Discus (99-00).

Freshman Taylor Paglio placed fourth in the 3,200 Meter Run and two of the Golden Bears’ relay teams finished on the medal podium. The 4×100 Meter Relay team of Natalie Voza, Hanna Akegnan, Elise Ferschweiler and Sophia Nazzaretto took sixth with a time of 52.54. In addition, the all-freshman 4×800 Meter Relay team of Paglio, Madison Mason, Emma Marnik and Cathia Nogueira took sixth with a time of 10:48.00.

Athletes from Lyndhurst will compete in the Group 2 and 3 Championships held at Delsea High School on Friday and Saturday and those from Bloomfield, Kearny and North Arlington will compete in the Group 1 and 4 Championships held at Franklin High School.

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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.)