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Mar 12, 2020

Middletown North Runners Capture Group Relay Title

By Tim Morris

In an individual sport like track and field, competing for your teammates or your school can provide added motivation.

Just ask the newly crowned NJSIAA Group III 4×800-meter relay state champions from Middletown High School North, Anthony Sclafani, Kevin Carragher, Chris Gambardella and Isa Yilmaz. They ran for each other and school history.

“We’re all very close and great runners in our own right,” said Sclafani, who ran the opening leg of the relay.

Gambardella said his only goal during his leg was “not to let the team down.”

Winning for the Middletown North program carried weight as well, Carragher said.

“Representing our team was a huge part of it,” he pointed out. “It feels so much better winning as a team.”

North Head Coach Ray Convey said the Lions had discussed putting their names on a banner in the school gym as state champions.

“We put an emphasis on it,” he explained. “The message was to run for your school, teammates and personal pride. They are very close friends, they run for their buddies. The championship is a testament to their competitiveness. These guys want to win every time they race.”

Along with their talent, camaraderie and competitiveness, Convey paid tribute to the athletes’ work ethic.

“They work very hard in practice. They push each other,” he said. “It’s great to see that work rewarded.”

The road to the state championship was paved earlier in the season at the Monmouth County Relays where Sclafani, Carragher, Gambardella and Yilmaz won the county championship, setting a meet record with their 8:13.52 (at the time, the third fastest run in the state).

Yilmaz said the county victory was “a big confidence booster.”

The Lion quartet ran like a confident group at the state relays leading from start to finish at the Bennett Indoor Sports Complex in Toms River.

Sclafani explained that he wasn’t concerned about time on his lead-off leg. His goal was to be up front near the lead, where he was. In the last 100 meters, he put in a kick and handed the baton to Carragher with the lead.

Carragher took off, opening up a sizeable lead.

“Carragher was the difference maker,” said Convey. “He ran away from everyone.”

It was then up to Gambardella and Yilmaz to finish it, and they did not disappoint.

“My goal was to keep the lead and not give it back,” said anchor Yilmaz.

The Lions finished just under four seconds ahead of runner-up West-Windsor-Plainsboro North who came in at 8:21.71.

Now, there will be a banner in the gym with their names on it recognizing their state championship.

This was the second 4×800 relay state title for Carragher. He was a sophomore in 2018 when North last won the 4×800 state crown. It was sweeter this time around, Carragher said, because he was a senior leader while in ’18 he was in a support role.

As if their state relay championship wasn’t enough, the 800 runners showed why they are so hard to beat as a team. They did something just as extraordinary at the Monmouth County Indoor Championships, going 1-2-3 in Toms River days after the state relay meet.

Carragher picked up the individual county championship, clocking 2:00.31 just ahead of Yilmaz (2:00.55) with Sclafani in third (2:02.04).

“It was crazy,” said Carragher of the 1-2-3 finish.

The trio didn’t set out to take the top three places, but knew based on seeding and time, that it was a possibility.

Convey said the sweep was “really sweet and rare.”

The trio backed that sweep up, finishing 2-3-4 in the same order at the Shore Conference Championships.