After his team lost to Memorial in the Hudson County Track Coaches Association Relays last month, St. Peter’s Prep head track and field coach Mike Burgess wondered whether his team had the intestinal fortitude to bounce back in time for the HCTCA championships, held last week at the New York Armory.
“We knew we could have won the Relays,” Burgess said. “It was a disappointment. We dropped the baton twice. That really hurt us. We were our own worst enemy.”
So Burgess talked to his team before the county championship.
“I told them that the meet was theirs,” Burgess said. “I told them that only one team could take it away from you and that was them. I said that no one was going to give it to you. You have to earn the respect that you deserve.”
Obviously, the Marauders heard Burgess’ message loud and clear, because they went out and put on perhaps the finest all-around performance in the history of the county indoor meet.
The Marauders destroyed the rest of the field in a display of dominance not seen in ages. The Marauders compiled 140 team points. The closest competitor was Dickinson. The Rams had 45. The margin of victory was beyond comprehension.
“That was impressive,” Burgess said. “I hadn’t seen anything like it before.”
It was the largest margin of victory in the HCTCA indoor track history. The closest was the 112-34 margin that Memorial won by in 2001.
And Burgess has only been coaching track and field in Hudson County for more than 30 years.
“I’ve seen teams win by 30 or so and thought that was impressive,” Burgess said. “But by close to 100? We were definitely in the zone. I couldn’t believe it.”
It was the first HCTCA championship for the Marauders in eight years.
“It was definitely enjoyable,” Burgess said. “It was a total team effort. We won the shot put and we hadn’t done that in a while [last time was James Tindall in 2005, the last year the Marauders won the meet]. We won the 800 [meter run] and that was a surprise. We know how the competition has been in the past, so our main objective was to try to score in every event.”
Little did Burgess know that the Marauders would score early and often.
The meet started with the 3,200-meter run and it couldn’t have had a better result. Ryan McGann won the race in 10:08.30, followed by teammates Jimmy Sauce and Fritz Heinrich. The Marauders had 1-2-3 in the first event and already had 24 team points.
“We just started rolling from the beginning,” Burgess said.
The Marauders then went 1-2 in the 55-meter hurdles, with Randall Wall winning in 7.85 seconds and Barrington Bennett finishing second.
“Randall Wall just started hurdling two years ago and now he’s the county champ,” Burgess said. “That’s a sign of how far he’s come.”
But after the 3,200 and the hurdles, Prep had a team total of 42 team points.
It just steamrolled from there. Minkah Fitzpatrick and Jonathan Hilliman, both of whom are football standouts in the fall, each won their respective events – Fitzpatrick the 400-meter run, Hilliman the long jump. They also finished second and third respectively in the 55-meter dash.
“We’ve been fortunate to get some guys from the football program who believe in what the track program can do,” Burgess said. “We’re very supportive of each other. It’s not about us and them. We’re all together.”
Wall was second behind Hilliman in the long jump, so the Marauders went 1-2 in that event as well.
They also achieved the same success in the 1,600-meter run, where Dan Apicella won in 4:32.18 and McGann was second three seconds behind. Now, you can see how the point total just skyrocketed.
Chris Butko, who was coming off an injury, won the 800-meter run in 2:02.66. That was a win that surprised Burgess.
The winning didn’t stop there. Kurt Espiritu won the shot put in another shocking victory, throwing the shot 46-4.
And Eamonn Dwyer, the former Marist basketball ball boy, whose father, Rich, was a fine basketball player in his day at Prep, won the high jump, clearing the bar at 6-2, which is almost as tall as his father.
The younger Dwyer has gone a long way from chasing after basketballs to becoming a county track champion.
The Marauders only failed to win the gold medal in two events. The rest was a clean sweep. It was a beyond shocking display of dominance – especially after losing the county relays only a few weeks prior.
“Going into the meet, I thought that if we crossed our ‘T’s’ and dotted our ‘I’s’ that we had a chance,” Burgess said. “Sure, on paper, it might have looked like we were the favorite, but when you’re supposed to win, that’s when it gets tougher. I’ve seen teams fail a lot of times. But this was a good team victory. I’m very proud of them. I just hope we can continue thus through the outdoor season.”
The Marauders had an impressive cross country season in the fall, capturing the HCTCA team title. But the cross country success was nothing like what unfolded last week at the New York Armory.
“I have to give the assistant coaches credit,” Burgess said. “Chris Caulfield does a great job and Gerry McCann [the former Jersey City Mayor] works well with the distance runners. Pete Camacho works with the shot putters. We’re very lucky to have great assistants.”
There’s one other fact about the Marauders – they’re still very young. Only McGann and Wall are seniors. The rest of the dominating crew all return.
“I’m really happy to have such kids who are willing to buy into what we’re preaching,” Burgess said. “These kids went out and showed what they could do. They earned the respect of the rest of the county.”
Winning a county championship by 95 points can surely command just a little respect from everyone else, that’s for sure.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com. You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com.