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Indoor Track: SJTCA names Coaches and Performers of the Year

03/24/2015, 1:30am EDT
By Zach Bates, SJSD

Kingsway's Lynch, Timber Creek's McHugh are named Coaches of the Year; Haddon Township's Petela and Winslow Township's Bennett are Performers of the Year

DEPTFORD – Kingsway High School Athletic Director June Cioffi was pretty happy as she left the South Jersey Track Coaches Association’s Winter Track Banquet held at Auletto’s Ballroom last Monday. 

And she wasn’t just super happy for her head boys’ coach Christian Lynch, who was named the SJTCA Boys' Coach of the Year.

Two schools ago, Cioffi was the Athletic Director for Timber Creek and she hired the 2015 SJTAC Girls' Coach of the Year, Shawn McHugh while she was working there. 

“I was equally excited and proud of both coaches,” Cioffi said. “Since Timber Creek is where I started, I had the opportunity to hire Coach McHugh. I still have a special bond with many of those coaches, with Shawn being one of them. We had many successful teams and I am proud of how he has grown as a coach.

“Now being at Kingsway, I walked into already very successful and established programs. The track program and Coach Lynch was one of the big attractions for me to want to be the Athletic Director at Kingsway. I am proud to be a part of this program. He goes way beyond the X’s and O’s of coaching. The students, faculty and community adore him and he is so well respected across the state.”

Both coaches led very successful programs this indoor season.

For Lynch, this could have been one of the best team performances, winning the Group 3 State Relay title, the South Jersey Group 3 title and tying with Old Tappan for the State Group 3 Individual title. Besides the titles, Lynch also coached a handful of top six finishers, including four top relay finishes and one top sectional finisher. Lynch was also able to coach his 4x800 team to ninth at both the Milrose Games and the 81st Eastern States Meet, and 19th at the New Balance National Championships Meet.

“He is a huge part,” said Kingsway senior Kyle Evernham. “He always talks about how running is more mental than physical and the way he goes about that is by giving us an hour pep talk each day. In those hour talks, and sometimes longer, are his words of encouragement as well as advice on what to face and how to get through the different challenges, not just in running but also in life.”

“It’s hard to see, for other people, how large of a part he has in the success in this program, but a lot of us have been a long work in progress,” added fellow Kingsway senior Noah Culbreath. “A lot of us haven’t been special athletes until we met Coach Lynch. He had me out there since I was in fifth grade, just preparing me for situations like this, like going to a state meet and performing. So a long decade of work has finally paid off for a guy like him. I am really glad to see that.”

To no surprise, Lynch was quick to pass the credit off of himself and to the athletes and the other coaches in South Jersey.

“When you talk about something like that, to me it’s a team award,” said Lynch. “That award is indicative of a program doing the right things and accomplishing all of their goals over the course of the year and that’s the only thing I really look at with that award. The kids were happier than I was.  I was actually a little taken back. I am honored, but really it’s about the kids and you can see that it really meant a lot to them.”

Throughout his acceptance speech, Lynch repeatedly told the other coaches in the room how the Dragons’ program has grown because of them.

McHugh also had much success throughout the season, taking second to Winslow both at the Group 3 State Relays and the Group 3 Individual State Championships while also falling to Kingsway in the South Jersey Group 3 Individual Championships.

Like Lynch, McHugh also had many runners in the top six of each race this year including a sectional champion, a state champion and a fifth place at the Meet of Champions.

“This means a lot to us,” said McHugh. “I won this award a few years ago with the boys and we had the pride, the tradition and building this one from the bottom like we did with the boys, it was great. Just having the girls, they worked so hard and they bought into that. We just fell a little bit short, but we definitely got Timber Creek on the map and the respect of some of the greatest coaches and athletes in the country.”

“It is so exciting (to have coach McHugh) win the award,” said Timber Creek senior captain Daijah Davis-Hines. “I knew that Coach McHugh is a really good coach and he pushes us to do well and I am just so proud of him.”

Besides the Coach of the Year awards, Haddon Township’s Luke Petela and Winslow’s Gabby Bennett were named the male and female Performers of the Year. 

“It means a lot to me (to have been named the Performer of the Year),” said Bennett. “I am so grateful for the opportunities that I have gotten. God has been so great to me. I am excited and proud of my team. I think we had a great season.”

For Petela, this is his second performer of the year award this school year after winning the 1600 at the winter track Meet of Champions at the Bennett Center in February. And just last week, he set a Camden County record in the mile at the New Balance National Championships at the Armory in New York City. Petela's time of 4:13.36 crushed the mark of 4:15.5 set by Cherry Hill West's Marty Ludwikowski 40 years ago. It was also the third-fastest time ever by a South Jerseyan and 16th in NJ history.

He was named the SJTCA Boys' Cross Country Runner of the Year back in December after winning the NJSIAA Meet of Champions title in 15:40 and followed that up with a second-place finish at the Foot Locker Northeast Regional (15:33.40). 

Last spring, Petela ran a personal best of 4:14.39 to place second in the 1,600 at the Meet of Champions. He also won the state Group 1 championship in both the 800 and 1,600 in 2014.

"I'm beyond grateful to be given the award again," said Petela, who will attend college at the University of Pennsylvania this fall. "It's an honor to be able to represent such elite athletes from the South Jersey region and I believe the community as a whole displays such a high level of both competitiveness and sportsmanship like nothing else."

The All South Jersey Teams were also honored as well as the State Champions from the area. 

Zach Bates is a staff writer for South Jersey Sports Digest. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @ZachBatesSJSD.

**Editor's Note: A table with the All-South Jersey Teams can be found below.**

2015 South Jersey Track Coaches Association's Girls All South Jersey Team

Event Athlete School
Performer of the Year Gabrielle Bennett Winslow
55 Dash CeCe Gerstenbacher Delsea
55 Hurdles Keisha Williams Camden
200m Jasmine Staten Lenape
400m Kiara Lester Deptford
800m Briana Gess Haddonfield
1600m Megan Quimby Lenape
3200m Devon Grisbaum Ocean City
Long Jump Ariel Mitchell Lenape
High Jump Kai Starnes Timber Creek
Triple Jump Ashley Edwards Northern Burlington
Shot Put Cameron Daniels Vineland
Pole Vault Elizabeth Dougals West Deptford
Multi-Event Thalia Cooper Kingsway
4x400 Jasmine Staten, Shannon Storms, Marissa Topolski, Carly Pettipaw Lenape
Scholar Athlete Jenifer Plummer Hammonton

2015 South Jersey Track Coaches Association's Boys All South Jersey Team

Event Athlete School
Performer of the Year Luke Petela Haddon Township
55 Dash Caleb Williams St. Joe's (Hamm.)
55 Hurdles Chais Hill Highland
200m Sterling Pierce Rancocas Valley
400m Norman Morris Penns Grove
800m Isaiah Curbello Rancocas Valley
1600m Justin Branco Delsea
3200m Aaron Groff Cherry Hill East
Long Jump Chase Campbell Lenape
High Jump Devin Bradham Williamstown
Triple Jump Zakiyy Williams Rancocas Valley
Shot Put Ryan Addlesberger Cinnaminson
Pole Vault Chad Shire Kingsway
Multi-Event Jake Liebling Lenape
4x400 Walter Victor, Anthony Hernandez, Shaquille Dixon, Eric Hill Deptford
Scholar Athlete Walt Victor Deptford

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