By Tim Morris |
Growing up, Marcello Pinnero and Matthew Sapienza knew each other from attending the same schools in Holmdel.
But it wasn’t until they joined the Holmdel High School boys track and field team that they became friends. And good friends at that.
Along with their friendship and being teammates, the duo just became the two best hurdlers in Monmouth County.
Pinnero ran a personal best and school record 7.88 in capturing the 55-meter hurdles at the Monmouth County Indoor Championships held Jan. 12 at the Bennett Indoor Athletic Center in Toms River.
Finishing right behind Pinnero in second place was his teammate Sapienza, who stopped the clock in 8.06.
“This (a one-two finish at the county championships) was something we talked about last spring after we went one-two at the Lion Invitational,” said Pinnero. “We race well when we run together.”
The teammates had every reason to believe the one-two was possible because five days earlier, they sparked the Hornets’ 55-meter shuttle hurdles relay team, which included Anthony Prestigiacomo and Derek Vander Woude, to victory at the Monmouth County Indoor Relays.
“It boosted our confidence a lot,” Pinnero remarked. “We knew we had a big chance to get it.”
The two Hornets were lined-up side-by-side for the final after running the two fastest times in the preliminaries – Sapienza even ran a personal best 8.04. It was a great situation for two best friends who race their best when they’re together.
“It was a pretty close race, very intense,” recalled Pinnero. “At the end when I knew I had done it I realize it was very sweet.”
It became sweeter when Sapienza closed in fast to take second.
“I had a good start,” Sapienza remarked. “In the middle I slowed down. Towards the end I slid into second place by running through to the finish line.”
Sapienza said the Hornet teammates “kind of earned” that one-two finish.
Pinnero and Sapienza have a unique relationship for teammates competing on the same high level. For one, it’s not destructive and they appreciate having a competitor there to push them through workouts and bring out their best. There is no damaging rivalry.
Not only do they race well together, Sapienza noted, but they also work out together well. Whether its sprinting, practicing their hurdle form, working on their starts out of the blocks or hitting the weight room, they push each other to new heights.
Holmdel head coach Jonathan Cole said the seniors are a model their teammates should emulate.
“They are the perfect example of teammates who work hard for themselves and for each other but, also because of each other,” said Cole. “They work hard every day not just to be better than the other guys, but also because they know the rest of their team depends on them and they don’t want to let the other guys down.”
Neither Pinnero nor Sapienza looked at themselves as hurdlers when they went out for the track team. They were sprinters first. Cole puts an emphasis on hurdling and looks at every sprinter to see who could be excel at it. It’s how Pinnero and Sapienza started, and also how they have flourished.
“I decided to give it a try the winter of my freshman year,” said Pinnero. “By my sophomore year I was beginning to get my form down and racing better.”
Sapienza said he took his first try at the event as a sophomore and by the indoor season of his junior year, he too had become a top-notch hurdler. He credited it to “improved form.”
The two Hornets pay a great deal of attention to form and technique as its paramount to winning races. That’s why plenty of practice time is spent on it. The key is to hold your form through to the finish line you, allowing hurdlers to fly past those losing form and slowing down as a result. That exact scenario enabled Sapienza to slide into second place at the county championships.
Both Pinnero and Sapienza showed significant improvement hurdling last spring, getting second and fourth at county championships, which set them up for big things their senior years. So far, it has been just that.
Together, they both would like to make it individually to the Meet of Champions in the hurdles and they will run any relays that will help the team.
Cole has turned Holmdel track and field into a hurdling power with plenty of depth behind his two stars. The shuttle hurdles relay team has already qualified for the New Balance Indoor Nationals on March 9 to 11 at the Armory’s New Balance Track and Field Center in New York City. At the Jan. 19 NJSIAA State Group 2 Relays, Pinnero, Sapienza, Prestigiacomo and Vander Woude lowered the shuttle hurdles relay school record to 30.72 in finishing second behind Rahway at the Bennett Center.
It’s been that kind of a record-setting season for the friends and teammates, and there is no sign of it slowing down.
This article was first published in the Jan. 25-Feb. 1, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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