Successful winter has Nottingham Northstars ready for spring

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Dana Ridley, Shamali Whittle, Louis Akpadago and Alix Oge display their Meet of Champions medals.

There has not been this level of excitement for a spring track and field season at Nottingham High since early this decade.

“I cannot wait!” head coach Jon Adams said with enthusiasm. “These guys will be ready.”

There’s a good reason for that. Bolstered by a team of multi-talented sprinters, the Northstars winter track team produced arguably the greatest indoor season in school history.

Nottingham took first place in the Mercer County Championships and second in the NJSIAA Group III Relays, the Central Jersey Group III sectional meet and the Group III state meet. Adams pointed out that if scores were kept at the Mercer County and Lavino Relays, the Stars would have won those as well. He also guesses that Nottingham would have scored a Top-3 finish in the Meet of Champions after bringing home four medals, including a gold.

The Stars also won the Egg Club and Mid-Winter Classic Novice Division championships and claimed numerous medals at the Marine Corp Holiday Classic in New York City. The 4×200 and shuttle hurdle relay teams qualified for the New Balance Nationals, and the shuttle hurdle team thought it took third at Nationals until it was disqualified after the race was reviewed.

So many things went right that, when asked for the season highlight, senior Alix Oge said, “The season in general.”

“I can’t remember and (former indoor coach) Melissa Persichetti can’t remember having as many medal champions in the winter as this team,” Adams said. “The only team we’ve had at the Meet of Champions that had this kind of performance was our 2011 spring team that obliterated all the records.”

There could be some more obliteration this spring if some other things fall into place.

“Dave Tees is working hard with our distance group, and I am excited about our javelin kids who are returning,” Adams said. “It will be very interesting this spring.

“We will not be a great dual meet team as we will de-emphasize the dual meets. We are focusing on the invitational, county and state meets. Mercer track is strong. West Windsor North and South, Notre Dame, Hamilton, Steinert and Princeton are all loaded. It should be a great spring in the county. We will be ready to compete with the best in the state.”

They proved ready for that in the winter behind the efforts of such sprinters as Oge, juniors Louis Akpadago and Dane Ridley and freshman Shamali Whittle, who all won Meet of Champion medals.

“We pushed each other hard at practice; where we would compete against each other during the workouts,” Oge said.

That was some of the best competition they got, as MOC medalists were going against each other. Akpadago took home the biggest prize of the campaign when he tied a Meet of Champions record by winning the 55 dash in 6.38. He also won the event in the county, sectional and state meets.

“Louie Akpadago is amazing,” Adams said. “I knew he was going to be special. He did not let himself, the team or me down. He works every day and has already crushed the school record. He has the eighth fastest indoor time in the country.”

Oge took second in the 55 hurdles in the county meet, followed by first in the sectionals and states and third in the Meet of Champions.

“That meant a lot to me,” Oge said of his MOC medal. “This was the second time I made it to Meet of Champs. I made it last year during spring track but didn’t place. And this year I actually placed in just my second year doing winter track.”

That doesn’t surprise Adams, who has marveled at Oge’s athleticism in football and track for four years.

“He has a strong desire to be the best, it is what sets him apart from most,” the coach said. “He is not afraid to work every day. He has become a real leader on this team. He is an absolute delight and pleasure to coach. Just an awesome young man who loves challenges.”

As does Ridley, who Adams called “Just as impressive as anyone on this team.” Ridley won the 200 in the counties and finished third in the MOC despite not running in the fastest heat, therefore not being pushed as hard.

“He’s just a really great young man, a pleasure to be around,” Adams said. “On the track he really pushes himself to improve. This year however, I saw him move to the special category when he started running the open 400 and relay. He knew that our team needed him to run in those spots — his favorite is the 200 — and did it for the team. I have been really impressed by his work effort and selfless attitude.”

The biggest splash made by a Northstar freshman since the days of Grace Dwyer came from Whittle, who has been running competitive track since grade school. Shamali won the 55 hurdles at counties, finished second in sectionals, sixth in states and eighth in the Meet of Champions, where he medaled twice by taking seventh in the 200.

Whittle impressed both his coach and teammates.

“I think he’s a very talented and humble young man that works hard just like everyone else,” Oge said. “He handles pressure very well competing against other good athletes.”

“Wow!” said Adams when Whittle’s name is mentioned. “The young man is impressive for sure. But what separates him is his competitive edge. He has no fear on the big stage. He has no fear of the big moment. I also have to say that he is a pleasure to be around. He jokes with the team and shows leadership and encourages his teammates.”

While the sprinters and hurdlers were mainly in the spotlight, Adams noted that several other contributors helped make it a great year. He pointed to junior shot-putter Geordany Alexis, hurdlers Kernley Charles and Cory Louis-Jean, relay men and middle distance runners Jalen Corbin, Eric Patrone, Emilio Selesnick and Christopher Negron, and Louis-Jean in the pole vault.

Despite the outstanding season, Adams termed it “bittersweet” because Nottingham missed out winning the state relay title when a runner was pushed to the ground during a key race. Despite the foul being called, the runner was injured and could not continue.

“To be so close and work so hard and see our kids upset was tough as a coach,” Adams said.

Oge agreed that Nottingham didn’t reach its full potential.

“I think we did pretty well this season; we were expecting a lot more but we were fine,” he said. “This gives us a head start going into spring season. It shows where we stand, what we need to work on. We are expecting more from everyone on the team than what we did this winter season.”

And while Adams is enthused by the momentum the boys bring into the spring, he is equally optimistic about the girls’ potential.

“I am excited to see what our girls’ team does this spring,” he said. “While they have not enjoyed the same success yet, they are a hard-working and dedicated group of ladies. Having only coached boys teams for most of my career, it is a real pleasant change to work with such wonderful young ladies like we have in our track program. I think they will turn some heads this spring.”