COLUMBUS — Neither Brielle Smith nor Sincere Rhea were particularly satisfied with their performances on Saturday at the 51st NJSIAA Meet of Champions at Northern Burlington High School. And yet, both seniors walked away with gold medals around their necks. Such is the level of expectation among the elite track and field athletes New Jersey has to offer. It’s not enough just to win, they want to reach personal bests, leave legacies.

But while they might not be happy with their performances, the huge crowd certainly was appreciative of the efforts of Oakcrest’s Smith, St. Augustine Prep’s Rhea and a host of other Cape-Atlantic League athletes. Smith, the reigning national champion in the javelin, threw 157 feet to win gold by eight feet. Rhea, one of the nation’s best hurdlers and an indoor national champion, was trying to become the first athlete to win both the 400 and the 110 hurdles, but he spent so much energy winning the 400 that there simply wasn’t anything left in the tank less than a half hour later when he tried to give it a go in the hurdles.

“The same thing happened at the indoor MOC, I went right to the 55 hurdles and then ran the 55-meter dash. Even the 400 was a game-time decision. We saw that Mario (Heslop, Franklin Township, the 100-meter champion) pulled out, so that opened up the window of opportunity,” said Rhea, a Millville resident. “So we were going to take a run at (both). Knowing what I did for New Jersey in bringing a national championship (in the hurdles), an MOC title, state titles, I was trying to make people notice that I’m more than just a hurdler, that I can do it all. I think that’s what I definitely did today.”

Rhea, a Penn State commit, looked to have a good start in the hurdle event, but pulled up after clearing the second hurdle, knowing his legs were about to give out. He had the best preliminary time at 13.93 seconds, but when he couldn’t continue after the second hurdle, Jaheem Hayles of Roselle clocked in at 13.55 to win the gold medal. Alix Oge of Nottingham and Naseem Smith of Deptford finished second and third, respectively, at 13.93 and 13.95.

“It was really disappointing, but I have to keep my head up. Seeing my boys win and do well, I’m so happy for them. We’re all really close friends,” Rhea said. “Jaheem and Naseem, we’re all really close, and to see (Jaheem) go 13.55, I was just like, ‘that’s my man!’ I really wanted to try to be the first person ever to win the 400 and high hurdles, but it just wasn’t destined for me. My career was awesome. Freshman year, my first milestone was being the first freshman in 10 years to break 15 seconds, and starting there I just built. That national title was just amazing. Being an elite athlete, you want to show out in everything you do, but at the end of the day you’re still human and your body works how it works. You just have to be happy with what you get, and I feel blessed.”

Smith’s biggest challenge came from Alianna Eucker of Bergen and Danielle Mills of Morris Catholic, but neither of those two star throwers could come close to Smith’s best throw. Eucker finished second at 149 feet, 1 inch, while Mills’ best throw was 136-5, good for the bronze.

“I’m happy, I’m just disappointed in the last couple of throws. I was hoping to PR, but it’s still a good throw,” said Smith, who won the event last year and will be heading to Stanford University this summer to begin her collegiate track career. “I had a setback in the middle of the season with injuries, so just to be able to come close to where I was — there was a lot of overuse stuff with my back and elbow — but to be able to come back and throw in the 150s and win it again is awesome. It’s a great accomplishment, I just wish my performance was a little better.”

The Cape-Atlantic League crowned one other champion, as Atlantic City senior Claudine Smith took gold in the triple jump with a leap of 42 feet, 2 inches. She also finished second in the 100-meter hurdles, as Grace O’Shea of Ramapo clocked in at 13.58 with Smith hot on her heels at 13.67. On the boys side, Egg Harbor Township senior Mubeen Momodu came in as the No. 8 seed in the triple jump, but came on strong late to finish third and win the bronze medal.

“It’s crazy. I didn’t really expect top three. My goal was top six, but PRing with a 48 (48-1.5) and setting the school record, it felt great. It’s amazing,” said Momodu, who plans to further his education this coming fall at Harvard University. “The biggest thing I was working on was my run-through. What was getting me messed up was I was stuttering when I was running through, but I just kept hammering that the last couple days at practice. The field here is crazy because everyone is so good.

“I was only jumping 45 feet and my coach said, ‘you need 47 to get into the finals.’ So I just shut everything out and did my thing,” he continued. “Starting out this season, I was jumping 43, but got into sectionals, knew it was championship season and I knew what I had to do for my team and for myself. I got out there and hit massive PRs with 47s and 48s. I came into high school with two goals: one was to qualify for nationals and the second was to place at the Meet of Champions. Being able to do both of those is surreal.”

There were also some outstanding performances from some underclassmen from the Cape-Atlantic League at Saturday’s championships, most notably from EHT sophomore Lauren Princz and Millville freshman Brianna Craig, daughter of Bolts coach Rafael Craig. Princz nearly won the 100 meters, just getting edged out by Woodrow Wilson senior Dennisha Page in a photo finish. Page clocked in at 11.86 and Princz at 11.87. Princz also took fourth in the 200 meters, and Craig went second in the high jump, eighth in the 400 and 14th in the long jump in her MOC debut. Millville’s 4×100 team of Brionah Patterson, Ciera Bowman, Malea Broome and Zaniah Bowman just missed out on a medal, finishing fourth. Tereana Parker, a junior at Millville, finished 10th in the shot put, and EHT Michaela Pomatto, a sophomore, scored an eighth-place finish in the discus.

Boys top 10 finishers included Pleasantville junior Gabriel Moronta (8th in 400), EHT senior Gobi Thurairajah (10th in 1,600 meters), Lane Owens of Ocean City (5th in javelin) and EHT’s Joshua Cohen, who took 10th in the pole vault. EHT’s 4×100 team of Anthony Vazquez, Ahmad Brock, Luis Rivera-Turell and Trey Henry scored an eighth-place finish.

“The CAL is an amazing conference. Everyone is always pushing everybody to be their very best, and if you’re caught slacking you’re going to fall down in the pecking order,” Momodu said. “Everybody is always so supportive of each other, and that always helps.”

Added Rhea, “to see the CAL, and South Jersey in general, show out like this, it’s crazy. I hope we really put South Jersey and the CAL on the map to show how good we are. In boys, girls, sprints, hurdles, throws — it’s crazy. And it’s even better that (me, Brielle and Claudine) come from the CAL.”

Contact Dave O’Sullivan:; on Twitter @GDsullysays

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