By CHRIS CHRISTOPHER
Ajee’ Wilson sped to numerous successes on her home track at Neptune High School as a member of the Scarlet Fliers’ girls winter and spring teams.
So many that the Neptune Township Board of Education has voted to name the oval the Ajee’ Wilson Track in her honor.
She noted that the donation to the Neptune girls track team would not have been possible without the help of her sponsor, Adidas.
Wilson sped to her latest success on Staten Island, N.Y., the scene of the New Balance Grand Prix at the Ocean Breeze Athletic Complex.
Wilson sped across the finish line in the women’s 800 meters in 2:017.9. Her splits were 29.89, 1:01.39 and 1:32.78. Wilson competed in lane four. She nosed out Kaela Edwards, an American (2:021.17). The field consisted of eight runners–six Americans, one from Canada and one from Great Britain.
“No matter where I travel, where I train, Neptune is always home,” she told The Coaster. “People from the community have been encouraging and are an important part of my why.
“The athletic legacy in Neptune is such a strong one. My success is a testament to the people who came before me.”
Wilson hopes to qualify in the women’s 800 in the Olympics in Tokyo. She made her Olympics debut in 2016, finishing 12th in the semifinals in 1:59.75 in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil as a member of Team USA.
Wilson recently gave back to her community, donating and selecting Adidas warm-up jackets and Scarlet Fliers red sneakers to their girls track and field team.
“This partnership with Wilson is just one example of alumni giving back,” board president Chanta L. Jackson said. “We are appreciative of any alumni who chooses to provide resources, mentorship and outside-the-box opportunities for our students.”
“We are very grateful to Ajee’ for this very generous donation,” said Dr. Tami Crader, the superintendent of the Neptune Township School District. “More importantly, we are thankful that our athletes, especially our female athletes, have in Ajee’ a wonderful role model. Her years of self-discipline, hard work and commitment to her goal serve as an overall powerful message to our students.”
Jackson said Wilson will be honored on a date to be determined.
“There will be an official dedication and track renaming ceremony,” she said. “However, due to the coronavirus pandemic, a date has not been set.”
Jackson said the idea of naming the track in Wilson’s honor was born in 2016. In September of 2017, the board in conjunction with Neptune Township held a parade and unveiled a rock dedicated to Wilson’s honor. On that day, the district hosted a track meet for middle school students. The meet included a couple of other Monmouth County schools.
“It allowed them to personally engage with Ajee’,” Jackson said.
During the event, Wilson also autographed Kellogg’s cereal boxes that featured her image. She was one of five athletes to grace the cover of Kellogg’s cereal as part of the company’s motivation campaign leading up to the 2016 Olympics.
“Although we had this event, it did not turn out the way those of us who shepherded the idea envisioned,” Jackson said.
In January, the majority of the board voted to name the track in Wilson’s honor.
“The board agreed to give Ms. Wilson the recognition she truly deserves from her hometown,” Jackson said. “Over the years, Neptune has become known for producing track legends. While we have had many greats, Ajee’ Wilson is the Scarlet Fliers’ only Olympian. I believe it’s important to celebrate our own, particularly when they sing Neptune’s praises all over the world. It’s also essential to provide our students with the role models who look like them and grew up in their neighborhood as a way of reinforcing that they, too, can achieve greatness if they are willing to put in the work.”
The work has paid off.
Wilson has sped to 11 USA Track and Field national championship gold medals. She has sped to both versions of the American record for the 800 (1:55.61 outdoors, 1:58.29 indoors). She sped to the top spot in the most recent complete edition–2019–of the Diamond League circuit of highest stakes global invitational meets. And she has competed in five editions of the World Championship.
Using speed as her passport, Wilson has become quite the globetrotter, competing in Canada, France, Spain, Russia, Poland, the Bahamas, the United Kingdom and Qatar. She has also sped to successes in New York State, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Michigan, Iowa, Oregon, Indiana, New Mexico and California.
The Scarlet Fliers’ head coach is Dawn Bowles-Fitch, who nurtured Wilson in winter and spring track and field. Bowles-Fitch also was one of world’s top women’s track and field athletes after starring at Neptune as she competed in the 100-meter hurdles in the Pan American Games, the World Championship and the World Indoor Championship.
Wilson attended the Academy of Health & Science in Neptune. She turned down opportunities to compete at the collegiate level at Florida State University and Temple University, opting to turn professional. Wilson, 26, graduated from Temple where she studied kinesiology. She turns 27 on May 8.
She trains under coach Derek Thompson with the Juventus Track Club in Philadelphia where she resides.
The following are the previews of the Ocean Township, Neptune, Monmouth Regional, St. Rose, the Ranney School and Trinity Hall teams.
Head coach: Ryan Pringle, first season
Assistant coach: Gregg Krzyzanowski
Key returners: Senior guard Evan Peters (7.5 points per game, 52 three-pointers made last season), senior forward Jack Savare and senior guard Matt Shaw
Key newcomers: 6-2 senior guard-forward Michael DiDario, 6-foot senior guard Reif Birzin, 6-3 senior forward Rusty Todd, 5-10 senior guard Evan Lowther, 6-2 junior forward Cord Birzin, 6-3 junior guard Justin McMahon, 6-5 sophomore forward Brandon Loughlin, 5-8 junior guard Ethan Brewer, 6-1 sophomore forward Shane Garrett and 6-5 freshman forward Devon Simms
Outlook: Pringle, a former Ocean player who has had a highly successful career as the Spartans’ girls softball coach, hopes to work his magic during the winter season.
“We are a hard-working team with some athletes,” he said. “After the last four years of having a go-to scorer, it will be fun to get back to sharing the ball. We will be a much more balanced team. The fluidity of the season will be a challenge.”
Pringle said the Spartans will be without Eddie Aldarelli, who has undergone foot surgery.
BOYS TRACK AND FIELD
Head coach: Timothy Patterson, second season
Key returners: Sophomore distance runner Anjan Bagchi (800 meters, 2:20), junior hurdler Nikhil Surech (55 hurdles, 18.92), sophomore sprinter Ethan Defonseka (55, 7.18) and junior thrower Ethan Morris (shot put, 32-8)
GIRLS TRACK AND FIELD
Head coach: Patterson, second season
Key returners: Sophomore distance runner Emily Brown (800), junior hurdler Rose Critelli (55 hurdles), sophomore sprinter Ava Wnorowski (55) and sophomore thrower Taylor Cerafice (shot put)
Outlook: The Spartans may be challenged in the depth department.
“We have a smaller team with some key returners missing due to the unusual circumstances of the season,” Patterson said. “We will be looking to take a new approach to helping our athletes focus more on specific events with the limited time, resources and competition. We have three freshmen newcomers, but they are unknowns at this point.”
Head coach: Matt Goldfarb, third season
Assistant coaches: Paul Casner and Cassie Della Pesca
Key returners: Juniors Gabriel Oliveira and Leo Failla and seniors Redding Thomas and Dylan Stewart
Head coach: Goldfarb, third season
Assistant coaches: Casner and Della Pesca
Key returners: Junior Elizabeth Shotter and senior Elise Wanner
Head coach: Shane Toohey, ninth season
Career record: 68-24
Assistant coach: Stephanie McEwan
Key returners: Seniors Cristian Herrera, Aidan Matthews and Sam Lynch and sophomores Louden Jobes, Joseph Juliano and Jock Tinik
Key newcomers: Freshmen Joshua Hariegel, Max Paino, Aeden Martin and Christopher Booker
Outlook: Toohey hopes the Scarlet Fliers enjoy a winning season.
“We have a very hard working group of swimmers,” he said, “and I am excited to see how they are going to perform in the meets. We are young, but the boys are willing to work and push each other to be the best they can be.”
Head coach: Toohey, ninth season
Career record: 50-43
Assistant coach: McEwan
Key returners: Seniors Nicolette Paino, Molly Silva and Madelyn Weinstein, juniors Catherine Moloughney, Campbell Wall, Mallory Underwood and Emily DiLello-Allen and sophomores Marissa Berrocal, Julia Kelly and Katelynn Norris
Key newcomer: Freshman Ashton Jobes
Outlook: Toohey is optimistic of a winning season.
“This is a great group of student-athletes who are working really hard to get ready to compete in this shortened season (because of the coronavirus pandemic),” he said. “They are willing to put in the effort and swim the event that is needed to help the team compete with the other teams in the conference.”
GIRLS TRACK AND FIELD
Head coach: Mark Gottdenker, 11th season
Assistant coaches: Danny Rapcienski, Charles Seelinger and Lynda Crawford
Key returners: Junior Abby Sjosword and junior Faith Williams
Outlook:The Falcons have been hit hard by graduation.
“With multiple quality girls lost to graduation, the team looks toward the next wave of up and coming members,” Gottdenker said. “How rapidly they are able to learn and perform will determine the team’s character. Sjosword and Williams will need to lead by example in our practices and meets. They have the ability and the drive, but they need to prove they can handle the bright lights as they emerge from the shadows of past high achieving team members.”
BOYS TRACK AND FIELD
Head coach: Gottdenker, 11th season
Assistant coaches: Rapcienski, Seelinger and Crawford
Key returners: Junior Omar Ahmed and junor Evan Skurat
Outlook: Gottdenker hopes Skurat scores plenty of points for the Falcons.
“He’s coming off a big cross country season where he made a big step forward in competitiveness,” Gottdenker said. “He should be poised to make a big splash during the indoor season. Ahmed will need to lead by example in our practices and meets. He has the ability and the drive, but he needs to prove he can handle the bright lights as he emerges from the shadows of past high achieving team members.”
Head coach: Adam Latesta, first season
Assistant coaches: Jillian Miller and Jackie Van Lew
Key returners: Junior Aiden Scott-Bryceland (200 medley relay, 500 freestyle, 100 breaststroke, 400 freestyle relay), senior Joseph Bryceland (200-yard medley relay, 50 freestyle, 100 backstroke), senior John Gould (missed last season because of an injury), senior Matthew Kirkpatrick (200 medley relay, 50 freestyle, 200 freestyle relay, 400 freestyle relay), sophomore Logan Maypother (200 individual medley, 100 butterfly, 200 freestyle relay, 400 freestyle relay)
Head coach: Latesta, first season
Assistant coaches: Miller and Van Lew
Key returners: Junior Christie Anne Barton (200 freestyle, 200 freestyle relay, 100 backstroke, 400 freestyle relay), senior Abigeal Gammond (50 freestyle, 100 freestyle, 200 freestyle relay, 400 freestyle relay), junior Emily Kelly (200 medley relay, 200 freestyle, 100 backstroke) and junior Ava Tarzian (100 butterfly, 200 freestyle relay, 100 breaststroke, 400 freestyle relay)
BOYS TRACK AND FIELD
Head coach: Tara Hodson, fourth season
Assistant coach: Ronald Crocker
Key returner: Junior Evan Woska (1600)
GIRLS TRACK AND FIELD
Head coach: Hodson, fourth season
Assistant coach: Crocker
Key returner: Senior Abigail Schaaff
Head coach: Bill Lynch, second season
Career record: 8-2
Assistant coaches: Hunter Romanowski and Shannon Slate
Key returners: Seniors Jessica Zebrowkski, Courtney Cushman, Brianna Vogel and Grace McEvoy, juniors Rylee Carroll, Olivia Havens and Caroline Cashman and sophomores Eileen Bergen, Gianni Cofone, McLane Gmelich and Molly McKenna
Key newcomers: Freshmen Jennifer Basile, Anne Clough, Parker Gmelich, Olivia Haney, Kaylin McCarthy, Emma Pedone, Julianna Pia, Lily Russoniello and Samantha Szenzenstein
Outlook: The Monarchs should again be one of the state’s strongest teams.
“The team will be competitive with a core group of experienced and talented swimmers,” Lynch said.
“The team will have depth and numbers. The freshmen should be very good. We should be ranked among the top five teams in the Shore Conference during the preseason.”
Contact Chris Christopher at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check Chris out on Twitter (@cchristophernj) and Facebook (Chris Christopher).