MATAWAN, N.J. - The big question on everybody's mind before Thursday's NJSIAA Meet of Champions was delayed because of rain: How were the competitors dealing with the heat?
Temperatures were approaching triple digits. Spectators were having a hard time staying hydrated.
For the athletes competing, the heat was like a nemesis that constantly had to be fought off.
"It just drains you," Winslow Township's Ste'yce McNeil said. "Your nerves get to you a lot more, you can't stop shaking, and you have to constantly be focused on staying hydrated."
It was a battle all afternoon for everyone who packed the middle school in Matawan. But for McNeil, it was a winning battle.
After helping her team to second place in the 4x100-meter hurdles, McNeil, a junior, took first in the 100 hurdles with a time of 14.23 seconds. Kingsway's Jasmine Waddell was second in 14.29.
"I wasn't really expecting to finish first," said McNeil, whose time was a personal best. "But I'm glad I was able to exceed my expectations. It's an amazing feeling."
The meet was delayed about 20 minutes because of rain and lightning, and then suspended. Officials planned to meet Friday to discuss plans to resume the meet.
McNeil credits much of her success this season to first-year Winslow Township coach George Horne.
"He can give you just the smallest advice and have it make such a big improvement," McNeil said.
Horne, who previously coached at West Philadelphia, spoke highly of McNeil's work ethic and maturity.
"It's been so nice to see her come around and grow up this year," Horne said. "The kids love her and it's all working really well. The entire team has been great this season.
Horne was particularly proud of McNeil for giving up her chance to run in the 400 hurdles, for which she would have been highly seeded, to run in the 4x100. For her efforts, Winslow Township finished second in the relay in 47.87. McNeil said it was her pleasure to run in the relay. And for her hurdles win:
"It just feels really good to be able to win a race like this. And I'm happy I was able to win this race my junior year, so hopefully I can win it again next year."
Discus. As a freshman in 2010, Cherokee's Jess Woodard faulted on two of her discus throws and finished a disappointing third in the Meet of Champions. It has been only a year since that letdown, but for Woodard, it feels like an eternity.
Woodard capped an enormously successful season with a throw of 142 feet, 5 inches, good enough for first place in the Meet of Champions.
"Last year, I was a freshman. I didn't know what to expect," Woodard said. "This year, I knew how to prepare myself and deal with the heat.
"So it feels great to come back and win this year. To overcome anything feels great."
Woodward beat out Kingsway senior Taylor Johnson, who finished second with a throw of 132-7. The matchup between the South Jersey throwers was one of the better rivalries in area track and field this season.
"We're friendly," Woodard said. "But when it comes to competition, nobody is really friendly."
4x800. It was the run Lenape was waiting for all season.
"We're ecstatic," Emily McGee said. "We just kept telling each other, 'We can do this.' We wanted it so bad."
Lenape entered the 4x800 relay as the sixth seed but led, often by a large margin, for the entire race, winning by a seven-second margin in 9:18.71.
The team had sophomore Natalia Ocasio, freshman McGee, sophomore Amanda Restivo, and senior Jackie Maynes.
Also notable. Delsea junior Ashley Woodards won the 400 with a time of 1:02.59.