Southern Regional’s Bulger Swipes Fourth in 400 Hurdles at Meet of Champions

By DAVID BIGGY | Jun 13, 2018
Photo by: David Biggy Southern sophomore Karagan Bulger clears the last hurdle en route to a fourth-place finish in the 400-meter hurdles during the NJSIAA Meet of Champions on June 9.

Showing four fingers of her right hand and a big smile on her face, Ashley Furlong walked toward Karagan Bulger, who suddenly got teary-eyed and hugged the Southern Regional assistant track and field coach.

“I can’t believe it,” said the sophomore sensation, still huffing and puffing, not only from a killer 400-meter hurdles race, but also from the excitement of finishing fourth in the state. “I really can’t believe it. This is amazing.”

Oh, and by the way, this was Bulger’s first season competing in the event.

“I wasn’t expecting to even win my heat,” she said immediately after her race in the NJSIAA Meet of Champions on June 9. “I knew to break the top eight, I’d have to win my heat and get a personal record. This is my first year in the event, so I wasn’t really expecting anything.”

At the least, Bulger expected to run well enough to be a top-10 finisher among the best in New Jersey. And as soon as she left the starting line, things fell into place for her. She cleared the first four hurdles without a hitch, and then along the backstretch of the track at Northern Burlington High School she noticed something.

“I noticed a lot of the other girls leading with the wrong foot as they went over their hurdles, and that’s when I decided to make my move,” she said. “I got to the front pretty quick at that point of the race.”

By the time she cruised around the last turn, Bulger led the third of the unseeded heats and had three hurdles left to clear. After easily clearing the final one, she simply outran the other seven girls on the track, finishing with a time of 1:01.87 to break her own school record.

Then it was a waiting game to find out where she finished overall, as the eight seeded hurdlers took their turn. Nobody was touching West Essex’s Reandra Richards, who zipped to the finish in :59.05, but the benefit of coming out of the unseeded heat became apparent as only two of the other seven seeded hurdlers finished under 1:02 – Trinity Eason of Woodbridge at 1:00.93 and Allya Rae Garozzo of Paul VI at 1:01.41.

Even Eastern’s Jewel Ash and Franklin’s Gabrielle Davis, who had finished first and third, respectively, around Eason in the Group IV meet a week earlier – all three ahead of Bulger – didn’t seem to realize Bulger’s fast time. Ash ended up fifth (1:02.01) and Davis was sixth (1:02.03).

“The goal today was to run another PR and see where I finished,” Bulger said. “Looking at the seeds, I wasn’t even the top hurdler in my heat, so I really had no idea what to expect. I just wanted to have a good race.”

Of course, now, having broken the school record in the event multiple times and becoming Southern’s top finisher in the event at the Meet of Champions as a sophomore, lends the question: Has Bulger found her place to be dominant?

“I thought coming out of the indoor season that it was the 1,600,” she said. “But as we had dual meets this spring, I was doing that and the 400 and the 400 hurdles, and I was doing really well in the hurdles. So, my coaches asked me to choose the one I really wanted to go after in the state meets, and I picked the hurdles. It’s my favorite.”

One of Nico Adorno’s favorite events during the past few seasons has been the 100-meter dash. And while the Barnegat High School senior wasn’t running it as an individual in the Meet of Champions, he was anchoring the 4x100-meter relay behind Ralph Cruz, Justin Gomez and Dewight Smith-Fernandez.

“It’s been a great ride with these guys,” he said. “As I waited for the baton, it was like a quick movie scene running through my head – every important race I’ve run, every important relay we’ve run. The last four years have been really special.”

Going in as the 19th-seeded foursome, the Bengals were led by the sophomore Cruz, who handed off to classmate Gomez for the backstretch leg, before giving the baton to Smith-Fernandez for the third and fourth turns. When Adorno took the baton for the final time in a Barnegat uniform, he had a slight lead ahead of the anchor runner from Hamilton West.

Adorno maintained the lead through the final 100 meters, culminating in a blazing run of 42.75 seconds. After awaiting the results of the other two heats, the final numbers revealed Barnegat had tied for 10th place with West Windsor-Plainsboro North. The Bengals finished slightly behind ninth-place Willingboro (42.70) and eighth-place Camden (42.60) – the two teams in front of them at the Group II meet the week before. Deptford won the event in 41.47 seconds.

“Getting to the Meet of Champs was our goal again this season, and we just wanted to finish with a great race,” Adorno said. “The goal was to win the heat we were in and see what happened. That’s all you can do is win your heat. We did that, so this is a great way to end my career and our time together as a relay.”

Barnegat classmate Joe Herod also fulfilled the goal of reaching the Meet of Champions in the triple jump, and while he didn’t hop, skip and jump to his best distance, he managed to place 23rd in the state, topping off with a distance of 42 feet, ¾ of an inch.

“I wanted to get to the final, but I knew it was going to be a hard battle,” Herod said after his third attempt was well into the 43-foot range but ruled a foul by the runway official. “I just wanted to do my best today and see what happened.”

Despite not cracking the top 20 – falling short by only 4¼ inches – Herod was happy just to be competing against the best in the state on the last day of the season.

“Considering I didn’t make it past sectionals my sophomore or junior years, I just wanted to get here,” he said. “This season, I really put a lot of focus into my workouts, and I really dialed it in on the little things to make myself better. And all that hard work paid off. To be in the same atmosphere with some of these other guys is an honor. It’s really a blessing to be here.”

The only other senior among the locals competing was Southern thrower Joe Miele, back in the Meet of Champions after missing it last year. Unfortunately, he didn’t finish the way he would have hoped – 25th in the discus with a top throw of 141 feet, 1 inch.

“I just didn’t feel right, and it was like that all week, even during practice,” he said. “Sometimes you have those weeks where things just aren’t going right, and this was one of those weeks for me.”

Still, there’s no doubt about the success Miele has had throughout his career. He had been one of the best throwers in Group IV for years, despite battling through multiple injuries the past two seasons.

“It’s been a great experience,” said Miele, who’s planning to set a course toward being a physical therapist upon graduation. “After my first two years, it seemed the ceiling kept rising higher, and then I hit a wall my junior year. I missed a lot of time last season, so I’m glad I got here. Overall, I’m happy with how things turned out. Everything’s a lesson, and I’m glad I was able to end my high school career here.”

As for Southern javelin thrower Joe Guglielmo, he expects to be back at the Meet of Champions next year. This time around, the junior didn’t make the final flight but still finished 14th overall with a top throw of 170 feet, 6 inches.

“I’ve been here two years in a row, so that’s a good thing,” he said. “I felt good coming into the meet, and I threw 180 in practice, so I was confident. But I was a little slow on the runway and just couldn’t get the distance today.”

Interestingly, even if Guglielmo would have fired the spear 180 feet, that distance would have landed him in eighth, well behind the top six throwers – five of whom are graduating – including winner Nickolas Mirabelli of Rancocas Valley, who topped out at a state record 227 feet, 10 inches.

“There are lot of good guys here,” Guglielmo said. “For me, it’s just a matter of fine-tuning things, and I’ll be working with a new coach during the offseason to do that. I had some ups and downs this season, but I’m glad I was here again.”

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