Immediately after the boys’ pole vault event at Saturday’s Woodbury Relays, Delsea’s Marco Morales was seated on the grass, hunched over an iPad, rewatching his performance.
His identical twin, Nico, sat beside him, staring off into to space like he was deep in thought and might have been reliving his own jumps in his mind.
They weren’t talking to each other. And neither looked particularly happy. And when asked, they answered that, no, they weren’t happy with their results.
And it’s not that the two had turned in bad performances. Marco finished second. And it’s not that there aren’t bigger meets and grander stages in the near future that the two juniors were building toward. There are.
But their moods that afternoon reflected their approach to the sport: They never seem satisfied.
“I hear a lot of people say, ‘I bet you guys push each other [to be better],’ ” Marco said. “We do, in a sense, but I don’t really think a lot about pushing myself to be better than him. It’s just: I want to be better.”
In a remarkable accomplishment for the Morales family, both brothers will compete in the Penn Relays this week at Franklin Field.
The event is the latest benchmark in a fast rise for the brothers who picked up pole vaulting as freshmen and immediately took to it.
There’s a novelty factor that makes a set of twins in the same event interesting to watch. But what makes the Morales twins most impressive during meets is that neither stands out physically.
They’re both a wiry 5-foot-8. And neither fits the mold of a prototypical pole vaulter. These are limitations that both had to overcome, and they did so independently.
The basic facts sound even more impressive than the family connection: They’re two undersize pole vaulters from the same school — and they both made it to Penn Relays.
Beyond the Morales twins, Delsea also features senior Ryan Jillard, who is also one of the area’s best pole vaulters.
“It’s an honor to coach them because they want to be here, they want to work hard, they don’t just want to be OK, they want to be great,” said Delsea’s pole vault coach, Dave Allonardo.
The twins aren’t prone to giving pep talks to each other. They study the sport, they lift weights, they constantly work on their technique. More than anything, both credit their individual drive and their self motivation for their fast rise.
It has been that way since the two decided to give up soccer and baseball and focus exclusively on track and field from their freshman season.
This winter, Nico firmly staked his flag as one of the state’s best pole vaulters when he tied South Jersey’s indoor pole vault record with a height of 15-foot-6.
That caught Marco’s attention.
“I wanted to catch up,” he said. “And it wasn’t about me competing against him. It was about me competing with him.”
And when Nico saw his brother was closing in on him and has since recorded a vault of 15 feet, he added:
“I knew I had to start pushing myself more, because I don’t want to be beat. Even though it’s my brother and it’s a cool story and it’s still in the family, I still want to be the best I can. So it’s great to have someone who lives in your own house who you can compete against every single moment and every single practice. And you know there’s always room to get better.”
For the most part, the two take a businesslike approach to the sport.
“I don’t think it’s really clicked in my head yet, I think I’ll realize it after the season or after high school, or when we’re done jumping,” said Nico on what going to the Penn Relays means to him. “I don’t really think about it as ‘Wow, we’re gong to Penn Relays.’ It’s more: ‘This is another meet. I need to make sure I’m trying to perform.’ I know it’s a big deal. But I’m trying to think of it as another meet so I don’t throw myself off.”
Marco’s vault of 14 feet earned him a second-place finish at Woodbury on Saturday. Even though they looked at the event as a way to build up to what’s coming, they still wanted more.
The twins have bigger goals beyond the Penn Relays. Nico took fifth in the indoor Meet of Champions in the winter while Marco took seventh.
Both recognize how fast their rise is, and how improbable their story, and both said they’re proud of what they accomplished. But they want more.
“There was a point where I thought, ‘I don’t know if I can do this,’” Marco said of when he first started pole vaulting. “But that’s what makes this sport so fun. When you’re frustrated and you break through — it’s so rewarding. You feel like you’re making a step up. And that’s what we’re trying to do.”
In addition to the Delsea pole vaulters, Germantown Academy’s Caleb Johnson is back in the Penn Relays pole vault. Johnson was third last year with a leap of 15-9.
In the javelin, Coatesville’s Ricky Ortega is back after finishing eighth last year with a throw of 183-10. Lower Merion’s Devon Tate was 12th at 171-5.
Among area girls, Christina Warren of Perkiomen Valley, Inara Shell of Friends’ Central and Ridley’s Meghan Lynch are back after strong performances in the 2018 triple jump.
Warren finished fourth last year at 41-0.5. Shell was 11th at 37-10, and Lynch was 14th at 37-5.25.
Natalie Kwortnik of North Penn and St. Basil’s Tia Taylor return in the long jump. Kwortnik was seventh last year at 18-9.25, and Taylor was 12th at 17-8.
In the pole vault, Liliana Cohen of Germantown Academy was fourth last year at 12-3.5 for Benjamin Cardozo of Bayside, N.Y.
Tierra Hooker of Timber Creek is back in the high jump after taking sixth last year at 5-7.25.
In the shot put, Germantown Academy’s Meaghan Toscano and Haddon Heights’s Cydney Thomas return. Toscano finished 15th at 38-11.75 last year, and Thomas was 20th at 37-11.5.
The javelin is loaded with locals this year, with seven of the 20 entrants coming from the Philadelphia area.
Oakcrest’s Brielle Smith, second last year at 145-4, returns and is joined by Garnet Valley’s Riley Beebe, Millville’s Kira Parsons, Egg Harbor Township’s Mya Pomatto, Villa Maria’s Kara Schiek, Pennsbury’s Christine Cataldo Smith and Perkiomen Valley’s Grace Ramsey.
In the discus, Quakertown’s Adria Retter is the lone local.
In the mile, Jess Schneider of Notre Dame Academy is back after being fifth in 2018 in 5:01.32.
Jewel Ash of Eastern returns in the 400 hurdles. She was 16th last year in 1:04.22. 22. Swenson’s Jada Smith will try to top her 24th-place finish in 1:06.47, and Cheltenham’s Bria Barnes is back after finishing 26th in 1:08.15 in 2018.
South Jersey athletes to watch at the Penn Relays:
Kevin Antczak, Mainland junior, 3000 meters: He’s run 9:18.59 in the 3,200.
Quentin Bundy, Pleasantville senior, 400 hurdles: He qualified with a time of 53.96.
Jabari Higgs, Haddon Heights senior, long jump: He leaped 22-7 ¾ earlier this season.
Emmanuel Lewis, Willingboro senior, discus: He’s thrown 161-5.
Marco Morales, Delsea junior, pole vault: He’s cleared 15-0.
Nico Morales, Delsea junior, pole vault: He went 15-6 indoor this winter.
John Purvis, Winslow junior, discus: He’s thrown 166-0.
Martin Riddell, Haddonfield junior, 3000: He ran 9:12.43 to capture the 3,200 at Cherokee last week.
Relay teams: Camden Catholic and Kingsway in DMR, Haddonfield and Rancocas Valley in 4x800.
Jewel Ash, Eastern junior, 400 hurdles: She’s run 1:0171.
Alijah Caul, Sterling senior, shot put: She’s thrown 41-8.
Leah Ellis, Millville freshman, long jump: She’s leaped 19-3.
Aliya Rae Garozzo, Paul VI junior, 400 hurdles: He’s run 1:01.41.
Tierra Hooker, Timber Creek junior, high jump: She cleared 5-10 to take second at Meet of Champions last spring.
Kira Parsons,Millville junior, javelin: She’s thrown 133-11.
Mya Pomatto, Egg Harbor junior: She’s thrown 129-7.
Brielle Smith, Oakcrest senior, javelin: She is the No. 2 seed behind Lewistown, Pa.’s Skylar Ciccolini, who won the event last year with a meet record throw of 172-2. Smith set state record with 168-6 at the Woodbury Relays on Saturday.
Claudine Smith, Atlantic City senior, triple jump: She’s leaped 40-1 ½.
Katy Storti, Bishop Eustace senior, 3000: She’s run 10:57.95 in the 3,200.
Cidney Thomas, Haddon Heights junior, shot put: She’s the No. 3 seed with a qualifying thrown of 46-1.
Tionna Tobias, Winslow senior, long jump: She has a P.R. of 19-11 ½.
Kambi Walker, Paul VI junior, high jump: She’s cleared 5-7.
Relay teams: Haddonfield, Kingsway and Lenape in the 4x800.
-- Phil Anastasia
Overbrook to honor its own
On Thursday from 6 to 9 p.m., the track, field and cross-country alumni of Overbrook High School in the city will honor three outstanding men.
Former head track coach Jonas Harding, sprint/speed coach Mervin Jones and former head track coach Fred Rosenfeld will be honored in the school’s auditorium. There will be a reception in the lower level at the school after the ceremony.