South Orange Jaguar Track Club Wins USA Track & Field Jr. Olympic Titles

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From Jade Dean:

The South Orange Department of Recreation and Cultural Affairs Jaguar Track Club closed out an incredible season this July. Jaguars, established in 1996, has a long track record of training and developing some of New Jersey’s most elite runners, and this year was no different. 

The team, which had taken a small hiatus during Covid, is back strong. This June, Jaguars made their presence known, earning 37 medals at the USATF New Jersey Junior Olympic State Association Championship in Plainfield, NJ, boasting 25 State Champions. First-time runners, Caleb Dean (7yrs) achieved triple gold (100m – 14.38, 200m – 30.15, 400m – 1:12.38) while Jalele Williams (13/14) garnered quadruple gold (100m – 11.59, 200m – 23.21, 400m – 52.82, 4x400m – 3:46.19). Jaguar veteran, Rhia Randolph sprinted to become a 4-time JO State Champion (100m – 12.38, 200m – 24.78, 400m – 56.74, 4x100m – 51.11). Jaguar 13/14 girls Rhia Randolph, Maya Wyche (2nd – 25.82) and Savannah Clark (3rd – 26.19) did a 1-2-3 sweep in 200m. Naomi Akakpo (11/12) earned the State Champion title in the 400m (1:03.04) along with teammate Alexander Shaw in the 1500m running 5:20.30. Nia Freeman, HS Jaguar competed in the 15-18yrs Meet securing both the 200m (26.47) and 400m (59.51) title. 

All of the Jaguar relays secured first place top honors:

  • 13/14 4x100m: Maya Wyche, Celeste Owens, Kendall Aska, Rhia Randolph – 51.11
  • 13/14 4x400m: Maya Wyche, Aubrey Devers, Celeste Owens, Kendall Aska – 4:31.01
  • 13/14 4x400m: Julius Marshall, Quintin Clemons, Joshua Akakpo, Jalele Williams – 3:46.19

“We have had a broad range of athletes this season which has worked to our advantage,” Coach Daneen Cooper remarked. “The experienced and new runners have both shared and learned from one another creating such a harmonious environment.” As a result, sprinters, middle distance, and distance runners from the youngest at 7 to the oldest at 14 attained top 3 medal positions and were able to advance to the Regionals:

  • 7/8: Caleb Dean (100m – 1st, 200m – 1st, 400m – 1st) Lance Alcime (400m – 1:16.56 – 3rd, 800m – 3:02.75 – 2nd) Dylan Scott (1500m – 6:18.40 – 2nd
  • 9/10: Alexander Shaw (1500m -1st, 800m – 2:37.17 – 2nd)
  • 11/12: Sarah Polanco (200m – 27.88 – 3rd), Hudson Mcleod (LJump – 4.47m – 2nd) Naomi Akakpo (400m -1st, 800m – 2:32.38 – 2nd)
  • 13/14: Rhia Randolph (100m – 1st, 200m – 1st, 400m – 1st, relay – 1st), Maya Wyche (200m – 2nd, 100m – 12.73-2nd, relay – 1st), Savannah Clark (200m – 2nd, 400m – 1:01.38 – 2nd), Jalele Williams (100m – 1st, 200m – 1st, 400m – 1st, relay – 1st), Joshua Akakpo (800m – 2:08.71 – 2nd, 400m – 54.28 – 3rd, relay – 1st), Quintin Clemons (800m – 2:09.92 – 3rd, relay – 1st)  

Top 8 performances in each event qualified to compete at the Regionals:

  • 7/8: Nora Saso (100m, 200m, 400m), Avery Harris (100m, 200m, 400m), Rowan Vassell (400m), Dylan Scott (800m)
  • 9/10: Priscilla Frimpong (100m, 200m, 400m), Niall Mcleod (javelin)
  • 11/12: Malia Wyche (400m) Sarah Polanco (100m, 400m)
  • 13/14:  Aubrey Devers (400m, 800m), Cassidy Ortiz (800m), Nahjay Parker (100m, 200m), Julius Marshall (400m, 800m) Quintin Clemons (1500m) 

The team followed up the state meet with a strong showing at the USATF Region II Junior Olympics in Cortland, NY, earning 52 medals and 22 Regional Champion titles. Though the emphasis for the Junior Olympic series is to place to advance, Jaguars focus on performance and achieving personal bests. 

Once again, there are multiple Region II Champs and they dropped times!

  • Caleb Dean (7/8): 100m (14.76), 200m (29.52), 400m (1:09.77)
  • Naomi Akakpo (11/12): 400m (1:02.37)
  • Rhia Randolph (13/14): 100m (12.40), 200m (24.48), 400m (55.10)
  • Jalele Williams (13/14): 100m (11.58), 200m (23.00), 400m (52.01)
  • Nia Freeman (17/18): 200m (25.43), 400m (57.25)

Jaguar relay teams got that stick around to secure first-place finishes. Jalele Williams battled to the finish line against a HS 4X400 squad splitting 50.4! Our boys also swept the 400m.

  • 13/14 4x100m: Maya Wyche, Celeste Owens, Aubrey Devers, Rhia Randolph – 50.36
  • 13/14 4x400m: Maya Wyche, Aubrey Devers, Celeste Owens, Cassidy Ortiz – 4:16.19
  • 13/14 4x400m: Julius Marshall, Quintin Clemons, Joshua Akakpo, Jalele Williams – 3:33.57

Other Region II top 3 medalists include: 

  • Avery Harris (7/8): 100m (16.60) 3rd 
  • Lance Alcime (7/8): 200m (32.94) 2nd, 400m (1:13.39) 2nd, 800m (2:55.41) 2nd 
  • Alex Shaw (9/10): 800 (2:39.82) 2nd, 1500 (5:21.53) 2nd 
  • Naomi Akakpo (11/12): 800m (2:32.28) 2nd
  • Aubrey Devers (13/14): 800m (2:30.32) 3rd 
  • Maya Wyche (13/14): 100m (12.59) 2nd (ran 12.43 in prelim), 200m (25.33) 2nd.
  • Joshua Akakpo (13/14): 400m (53.93) 2nd, 800m (2:07.26) 2nd
  • Julius Marshall (13/14): 400m (55.21) 3rd 

The top 8 finishers advance to Nationals. The athletes below also earned an opportunity to compete in these additional events in Oregon:

  • 7/8: Avery Harris (200m, 400m), Dylan Scott (800m)
  • 9/10: Priscilla Frimpong (100m, 200m, 400m)
  • 11/12: Malia Wyche (400m), Sarah Polanco (200m, 400m)
  • 13/14: Aubrey Devers (400m), Cassidy Ortiz (800m), Julius Marshall (800m), Quintin Clemons (800m, 1500m)

To finish out the season, 13 Jaguars competed at the USATF National Junior Olympics (July 25-31st), traveling across the country to run at the historic Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon. Although 19 Jaguars qualified, some athletes were not able to attend due to camps or family vacations. Notably, due to a slip and fall injury, Jaguars had to run without Rhia Randolph, a USATF and AAU National Champion and All-American. This would have been her last meet prior to HS; although a major disappointment, Rhia did travel to Oregon with the team to support her fellow athletes anyway. 

As expected, the competition was stiff. Five team members advanced to the semifinals for their events. Jalele Williams – 200m (22.92), 400m (51.84); Maya Wyche – 100m (12.53), Naomi Akakpo – 400m (1:02.44), Quintin Clemons – 800m (2:05.37), Caleb Dean – 100m (14.18), 200m (29.24), 400m (1:06.80). The 13/14 girls 4x400m (Maya Wyche, Aubrey Devers, Cassidy Ortiz, Celeste Owens) dropped 7 seconds, down to 4:09.09, narrowly missing the finals.

Two athletes advanced to the finals, clinching All-American honors. Quintin Clemons, placed 4th in the 13/14 800m, setting a personal record of 2:03.92 and establishing himself as a USATF All-American before his freshman year of high school. Caleb Dean, after running all 3 rounds of the 100m, 200m and 400m became a 3X All-American in his Junior Olympics debut by placing 3rd in the 200m (29.22), 4th in the 400m (1:09.57) and 5th place in the 100m (14.67) for the 7/8 age group. Quite an accomplishment for this new young runner!

Head Coach Maurice Cooper shared, “Our team makeup this year was incredibly balanced; that being, across age, gender, and event discipline. All our postseason qualifiers were competitive at the highest [JO tournament] level. It certainly showed in the local [and regional] medal haul. But more impressive was individual & collective performance goal achievement. Kids setting [and resetting] PRs throughout the series was extremely impressive, satisfying, and showed team excellence. It reflected their sustained season-long commitment level, growth, and poise. That applies to our coaching staff too. That sprint/distance balance certainly didn’t happen by accident. Big UPs to Coaches Daneen Cooper, RO (Rolando Ortiz), Seth Toney, and Derrick Williams. Can’t ask for anything else! Great, memorable season. In fact, one for the ages.”

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