Two years ago, a young Hill girls’ track and field team finished second at the Mid-Atlantic Prep League (MAPL) championship, close enough to perennial league power Lawrenceville that thoughts turned toward the possibility of Hill winning the league title in 2020 with all but eight letter winners returning.
Then, the 2020 season was cancelled, as was the 2021 indoor season. When the 2021 outdoor season began, the lingering question was how athletes would respond to losing two seasons of training and competition.
For Hill’s girls’ team, the answer was to complete the best season in program history. Hill finished the dual meet portion of the schedule undefeated and won the MAPL Championship to secure the team’s first perfect season. In the process, Hill ended Lawrenceville’s 20-year reign as league champions.
“I was very confident coming into championships, but only because I know our girls and I know our coaching staff,” said head girls’ coach Pat Lake. “When looking at the official heat sheets prior to the meet and scoring it based on the seeds, we definitively were not the favorites. To then win by 36-points, well, it’s not really even a probable result in a sport that is so thoroughly empirical and therefore really quite predictable. So, our margin of victory was unexpected, but all the sweeter in many ways because it was such clear evidence of how well-prepared our athletes were and how well they executed on meet day. I was elated by the victory—I shed a few tears on the other side of the track when I realized we had won. But I just wanted this win for the athletes. I knew how much it meant to them and the school, and they put in all the hard work to be champions. Hearing the result announced and seeing the pure joy on their faces, that was a moment I’ll hold with me forever.”
After a month of training, Hill traveled to Lawrenceville on April 8 for the first meet of the season, and first competition in 23 months. In the second event of the day, the 4x100-meter relay, the foursome of Kiki Lange ’21, Sarah Kenvin ’23, Susanna Soderman ’21, and Sydney Floyd ’21 broke the school record in the event, a harbinger of the day and season to come. Hill defeated Lawrenceville 74-66, the team’s first victory over Lawrenceville since 2001. The 4x1 relay would lower its own record two more times throughout the season, culminating with a Meet Record time of 49.35 at the MAPL Championship.
Following the Lawrenceville meet, Hill defeated Peddie, Blair, and Mercersburg and then turned its attention to the MAPL Championship Meet, scheduled for May 8 at Peddie.
The day before the league meet, an energetic Hill team received the news that, due to the next day’s forecasted inclement weather, the meet was being postponed. While initially disappointed, the delay did not diminish the team’s enthusiasm, and it allowed a few athletes who were battling nagging injuries to recuperate while also providing an extra week of training to refine technique in field events.
On May 19, Hill arrived at Peddie knowing what was needed to complete the task at hand. Ideally, track and field athletes reach their peak performance for the year-end championship meets. None of the Hill coaches likely would have predicted the degree to which Hill’s athletes performed. Between the girls’ and boys’ teams, Hill athletes registered 60 personal-best results during the meet.
In a dual meet, the top three finishers in an event score points. In a championship scoring system, the top six finishers score points and the point values are increased, which rewards depth more than singular talent. There are 18 total events in the MAPL Championship Meet, three relays and 15 individual events. The Hill girls placed multiple athletes in 12 of 15 individual events, including six in which all three entrants placed in the top-six. Additionally, Hill won two of the three relays, and in total, Hill scored in 17 of 18 events and won nine.
Hill fared particularly well in the field events and the sprints:
* Shot-Put: 1st, 2nd, 3rd places (Lange, Taylor Folk, Kate McCaw)
* Discus: 1, 2, 4 (McCaw, Lange, Laura Null)
* Javelin: 1, 4, 6 (Courtney Bodolus, McCaw, Elle Molyneaux)
* Triple Jump: 1, 2 (Soderman, Mofe Akinyanmi)
* Long Jump: 1, 6 (Soderman, Akinyanmi)
* Pole Vault: 2, 5 (Lange, Lauryn Fudala)
* High Jump: 4, 5, 6 (Fudala, Akinyanmi, Null)
* 100-meter dash: 1, 2, 4 (Floyd, Kenvin, Soderman)
* 200-meter dash: 1, 3 (Floyd, Kenvin)
* 400-meter hurdles: 2, 5, 6 (Adele Harris, Null, Folk)
The 4x800-meter relay consisting of Lauren Yingling ’21, Bodolus, Bella Basile ’21, and Harris finished first in the event and the 4x400-meter relay of Kenvin, Folk, Rowan Karas ’24, and Harris placed second in addition to the record-setting 4x100-meter relay victory.
In the distance races, Colette Zidek ’23 paced Hill with a third-place finish in the 1600 and a fourth in the 3200. Basile placed fifth in the 3200 and Bodolus finished sixth in the 800.
For their efforts, Floyd was named the “Track Athlete of the Meet” and Soderman was named the “Field Athlete of the Meet.”
“This team is full of competitors in the truest sense of the word,” Lake said. “Many talented athletes can shrink back and fail to perform when the stage gets too big and the pressure sets in, but it was obvious that we had the sort of team that turned it on for the biggest moments. The tone set by the leaders on this team and the sixth form class as a whole were both major contributing factors to the team’s success. There was a fun, supportive environment in practice that was coupled with a seriousness of purpose and a dedication to excellence that is practically unrivaled in my coaching career.
In reflecting on the recently completed season, Lake again paid tribute to the team’s sixth formers.
“This is a sixth form class that will always be special. They have helped to establish a team culture that will long outlast them, and they have set records and now won a championship—the first MAPL championship in school history—that will establish them as the greatest girls’ team Hill has ever had,” said Lake. “I look forward for the rest of my career replaying specific moments of this season in my mind, reflecting particularly on how focused these girls remained in spite of a pandemic and in spite of an unexpected delay in the date of MAPLs; in a tangible sense, I look forward to hanging this team’s photo in a place of honor in my classroom and knowing they will someday return to campus with their families, see their team photo, and relive a season that was, in a word, perfect. This class will forever mark a high point in the history of girls’ track and field at The Hill School. These kids that I’ve been so lucky to coach are great athletes. That much is clear, but beyond what they accomplished on the track, they are even better people, and I am filled with anticipation as I think of all the good these girls will do in their lives outside of Hill."
The Hill boys’ team also performed exceptionally well but could not match Lawrenceville’s depth, finishing in second place. Captain Jamie Olson ’21 paced Hill with victories in the 1600 and 3200, while Louis Gimbert ’21 (400-meter hurdles) and Kai Ho ’21 (discus) also were event winners. Quintin Craig ’23 had an outstanding day, placing in four events. Craig ran a lifetime-best 11.15 to narrowly finish as runner-up in the 100-meter dash and placed fifth in the 200-meter dash in addition to running a leg on the 4x100 and 4x400-meter relay teams, both of which placed second. Nicholas Bressi ’24 earned a pair of silver medals, placing second in the 110-meter high hurdles and the triple jump.