Local track stars punch ticket to the Meet of Champions

Track & Field wasn’t even something that Lyndhurst’s Anthony Santana considered before he was cut from the school’s baseball team before his junior season.

A little more than a year later, Santana, who moved to New Jersey from the Dominican Republic seven years ago,  is set to compete on the state’s biggest stage for track – the NJSIAA State Meet of Champions.

Santana punched his ticket to the MOC during this weekend’s Group 2 Championships at Delsea High School, when he jumped a 22-0 to take fifth place. The jump was good enough to earn one of the 18 wild card spots in the event for Wednesday’s MOC, which will be held at Pennsauken.

“Last year was really his first year ever doing track and field and he fell in love with it,” head coach Rich Tuero said. “He did winter track this year and hard work pays off. Look where he is at.”

A week earlier, Santana set a personal best with a jump of 22-4.5 to take first place in the North Jersey, Section 2, Group 2 meet. Despite the accomplishment this past weekend, Santana was far from satisfied with his performance.

“He was (ticked) with that fifth place finish and Anthony never shows emotion,” said Tuero. “To see him (ticked) off, I’m excited. He has a chance to place this week.”

Santana, who recently committed to continue his track career at Felician, won’t be the only Golden Bear heading down to Pennsauken with medal aspirations on Wednesday.

Senior Julia Tozdumon is making her third trip to the MOC in the Girls Long Jump after leaping an 18-0 to take third place this weekend.

Each of the last two seasons, Tozdumon was inches away from the medal stand, placing ninth at MOC in the Long Jump.

“She’s looking forward to this meet,” Tuero said. “She can definitely medal in this meet and she’s all ready to go.”

Tozdumon ultimately fell less than two inches short of qualifying again in the Girls Triple Jump. While surely disappointed, having fresher legs from only doing one event on Wednesday could prove to be a blessing in disguise as she attempts to get the state MOC Long Jump medal that has eluded her the past two years.

Lyndhurst will be represented in the Girls Triple Jump however as teammate Yasemin Ugurlu earned a wild card spot in the meet.

Ugurlu, a junior, punched her ticket to her second consecutive MOC after jumping a 36-2.25w, which was good for sixth place in the Group 2 meet.

“Yas had made a real name for herself,” said Tuero. “Everyone knows who Yasmin is now.”

The three overall qualifiers is believed to be the largest contingent Lyndhurst is sending to the Meet of Champions in recent memory.

Another Observer-area athlete, poised to make history is Bloomfield’s Mercedes Cruz-Fletcher. This weekend during the Group 4 Championships at Franklin, the junior punched her ticket to the MOC in both the Girls 100 Meter Hurdles and the 4×100 Meter Relay. Cruz-Fletcher is believed to be the first Bengals girl to qualify for multiple events in the MOC in more than a decade.

Cruz-Fletcher’s 15.13 in the 100 Meter Hurdles was good for sixth in Group 4 and was just the latest accomplishment in what has been a breakout season.

“She really wanted to get here this year to the Meet of Champions. That was the ultimate goal coming in,” Bloomfield coach Terry Iavarone said. Winning the (Essex) County title and taking second in the (North 1, Group 4) section gave her a lot of confidence.

“If we have good weather (Wednesday), I think that she’s going to break the school record and has a really good chance of getting top eight in the state.”

In the 4×100, Cruz-Fletcher will be joined by Alana Dennis, Angel Cruz-Fletcher and Samayah Wilson. The Bloomfield quartet ran a time of 49.38 this weekend, which was good for eighth in the Group 4 Championships and to earn one of the wild card spots.

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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 (nj.com, The Jersey Journal, The Star-Ledger.)