A few weeks prior to the COVID-19 shutdown in March 2020, the Kingsway boys and girls winter track teams both shocked the state with wins at the New Jersey Group 4 State Relay Championships. Shortly afterward, the winter track world shut down and stayed that way, for all intents and purposes, until this winter.
With the veterans on this year’s team being contributing underclassmen in that last state title team, they were anxious to defend their championship. Stalwarts such as outdoor mile state champion Kyle Rakitis, middle distance star Jeff Heineman, and sprint prodigies Evan Corcoran and Damon Dukes Jr. were members of that team and had something to prove, especially since they entered the meet as heavy underdogs to a well-rounded Elizabeth team.
However, the Dragons came out strong in events that Elizabeth was projected to dominate. The Kingsway distance team, buoyed by Rakitis, Heineman, Thomas Driscoll, Sean McShea, and Nick Allen, did what they always do, scoring expected double digit points in the distance medley, 4×800, and sprint medley relays combined- all relays that have been key in the Dragon’s previous state title wins.
However, it was the strong presence of the Dragons in the sprint and jumping events which was not only eye-opening but also defining in their push towards a championship. They scored a huge second in the 4×400. Two sophomores, Patrick Neyer and Dillon Dukes, came up with an absolute surprise by finishing 4th in the high jump relay.
But no other event made a bigger announcement of the Dragon’s refusal to give up their crown than the 4×200. An event that Kingsway never has scored points in, the boys 4×200 jumped out to an early lead against favored East Orange and Elizabeth thanks to a dominant first leg by Damon Dukes. After Mathias Alexander and Benny Liles III ran solid legs to keep the Dragons in the lead, Evan Corcoran ran one of the most dominant, emphatic 200 legs in recent state championship history to win the race and tell the rest of the state that the Dragons would not be denied on that day.
At the end of the day, the Dragons held off distance powers Westfield and Ridge as well as Elizabeth and Southern, the defending outdoor state champion, to win with 40 points. This was the fourth state relay team title for the boys program and the ninth state title for the Kingsway winter track teams overall.
“We refused to let go of our state championship,” said Rakitis. “We knew we would have to be close to perfect to catch Elizabeth in the projection, and we were. Every single guy stepped up and did their part in order to make this happen. I’m just proud of my guys.”
And that’s how state titles generally are won.
By Christian Lynch