By ELLIOTT DENMAN
PISCATAWAY, N.J. - “This is spring in the Northeast, man, get used to it,” said Manhattan College coach Dan Mecca.
Heading to the javelin throwing runway at the Bauer Track and Field Complex at Rutgers University Saturday, he was reminding a cynic that the show that was about to unfold - the annual Metropolitan Intercollegiate Track and Field Championships - was going to rage right on, regardless.
Day Two of the meet started with mere cold Saturday morning, then proceeded to drizzle, then driving rain, and finally what almost seemed to be a hail storm. It had been shivering cold and windy through Friday’s Day one action, in the throws, the distances and the first half of the multis.
But, just as Mecca and everyone else gathered at Rutgers knew all along, this was one show that was going to go right on.
“I’ve seen rain, I’ve seen snow, I’ve seen just about everything, at these early-season meets in the spring,” Mecca continued. “It may be miserable, it may be awful, but it’s something you live with. That’s spring in the Northeast.”
It surely was awful, it surely was miserable, but no one was about to wash out the Met IC’s, one of the nation’s most history-laden collegiate conference meets.
Over the years, virtually all of the Met schools have produced great champions - the likes of Fordham’s Tom Courtney and Sam Perry; Manhattan’s Lindy Remigino. Lou Jones, Tom Murphy, Jake Freeman and Aliann Pompey; NYU’s Leslie MacMitchell, Reggie Pearman, Moon Mondschein and Gary Gubner; St. John’s Tom Farrell and Peter Close; Columbia’s Ben Johnson and George Shaw; Seton Hall’s Andy Stanfield and Andrew Valmon; Rutgers’ Balasz Koranyi and Mike Roche, Fairleigh Dickinson’s Franklin Jacobs, Solomon Chebor and Candy Young. And on and on and on.
Well, the 2011 Met IC Championships were designed to showcase their successors - but the brutal weather situation made it simply impossible. Even the results-keepers suffered along with the athletes, coaches, officials and spectators
Not until Sunday night were the results formulated and put on line. And only then did Dan Mecca learn that his Jaspers had edged Rutgers for the men’s title, 136 points to 131. And James Robinson, the Rutgers women’s coach and official Met IC’s meet host, learn that his Lady Knights had emerged triumphant, 164.33 points to runner-up St. John’s 141, with much-improved St. Peter’s College a solid third at 79.
A total of 15 Met schools took part and broke into the scoring columns, but not all of the Met area’s big guns were there. Taking the day off - and taking no chances with the weather - were such luminaries as Leonard Korir, Iona’s NCAA indoor 5,000-meter champion; Stony Brook’s sensational distance twins, Holly and Lucy Van Dalen, and Craig Van Leeuewen, the NCAA Division III indoor pole vault champion from Ramapo.
And some simply opted not to hang around to the bitter end in Saturday’s awfulness, electing to take an early bus ride home.
“How did your guys fare?” someone asked Rutgers head coaches Robinson (women) and Mike Mulqueen (men) as the Bauer Complex emptied out Saturday.
“We have no idea,” they chorused. “Even the timing service people took off as soon as they could,” said Mulqueen.” So it was Sunday night before the full sums were revealed to the Met IC world.
Some respectable performances were produced despite Mother Nature’s wrathful behavior.
The men’s high jump bar was raised to 2.14 meters - 7 feet and a quarter inch - before the duel of David Fajoyomi and Adam Bergo was decided. Both gave it their best shot but neither could clear, so the gold medal went to Fajoyomi, the 6-foot-5 St. Francis College freshman from Budapest. Hungary, over Bergo, the Rutgers junior from Westfield, NJ, on the misses rule at the top height cleared, 2.09 meters, or 6-10 1/4.
A week earlier, Rutgers junior James Plummer had whirled the discus 194 feet, 9 inches, to win his specialty at the Sun Angel Classic in Tempe, Arizona, and climb to third on the NCAA 2011 ranking list. A wet circle and a slippery disc precluded Plummer from doing anything near that Saturday but he still won his specialty easily, with a toss of 165 feet even.
Another impressive thrower was Rutgers senior Natalie Clickett, who won both the women’s shot put (45-11 1/4) and discus throw (137-0) by decisive margins. Still, she’s not the best thrower in the Clickett family - big brother Justin, a Virginia Tech grad, is a 63-foot-plus shot putter.
But the Mets’ busiest thrower was Manhattan junior Roman Ewald of Germany, who took the hammer throw title at 186-10 , on top of a second in the shot put and a third in the discus.
Rutgers tossers won both javelin titles - Jeremy Pennino (202-3) and Alexandra Kelly (137-1.)
In the interests of preserving hamstring muscles, the men’s and women’s 100-meter races were decided on a time basis in just a single round and no final. Marist College’s Mike McCloskey led the men (10.71) and Rene Cousins of St. John’s the women (12.16.)
Harking back to the days of such NYU sprint greats as Ed Conwell, Ira Kaplan and Lenny Grace, freshman Gilson Cortes brought the Met 200 title back to the Washington Square campus, running 22.20.
St. Peter’s displayed its newfound strength in the women’s 400, where freshman Gina Nocerino (59.86) and Melody Lopez-Bernstein (1:00.04) ran 1-2.
The Met league had once produced the 400-meter world record-holder (Manhattan’s Lou Jones at 45.40 in 1955) but the wind-rain-cold battered 2011 Met winner was Columbia freshman Billy Kovelczyk in a modest 50.51,
Just five Met 800-meter men - led by Columbia senior Dylan Isaacson in 1:56.75 - broke 2 minutes. Kerri Gallagher of Fordham led the lady two-lappers in 2:18.54.
St. Francis - surprise-surprise - delivered a 1-2 punch in the men’s 1500 meters, with sophomore Brian Nersten (4:07.87) and Rafal Ksepka (4:08.55) leading the way. Yet another winner for the Brooklyn Terriers was steeplechaser Paul Gilhuley (9:34.4.) Samantha Meyerhoff of St. John’s led the women steeplers (11:15.80.).
After winning the women’s 100 hurdles in 14.31, Rutgers freshman Vanessa Airentyl had hoped to claim a second gold in the 400 hurdles. But she settled for third there in 1:06.24, a race won by Columbia sophomore Julie Alexander in 1:05.37.
Columbia made it a 400 hurdles double when freshman Cody Love (55.20) led the men.
Rutgers sophomore Chris Wyckoff soared an impressive 16 feet and 3/4 of an inch to take the men’s pole vault crown; Columbia junior Sarah Engle led the lady vaulters at 11-5 3/4.
With conditions steadily worsening, the last three relays were run as combined races, with men and women sharing the track.
The 4x400 winners: Stony Brook men (3:32.12) and St. John’s women (4:02.13); the 4x800 champions: Rutgers (8:04.88) and St. John’s (9:43.62), and the distance medley winners: Rutgers (10:58.70) and Columbia (12:55.48.)
For sheer perseverance, the king and queen of Met IC track were surely decathlon champion Felix Siljerback-Larsen and heptathlon winner Andrea Nyback, both Manhattan College sophomores from Sweden.
Through two days of just awful weather, Siljerback-Larsen won only one of the 10 events outright, the discus, but compiled 6,525 points to win it all. By contrast, deca-runnerup Sam Houston, a Fordham freshman - not from Texas but Florida - won five events, the 100, long and high jump, 400 and 1500, but still wound up second at 6,258.
Nyack took firsts in five of her seven - high jump, 200, long jump, javelin and 800 - to total 4,856 points and claim the Met hep crown.