MADISON _ Parsippany hurdler Karen Lobaton looked and looked for Samantha Kral but she was nowhere to be found.
The word was that Kral, of Randolph, was sick and wouldn't be competing at the Morris County Winter Track Championships on Wednesday, Jan. 18 at Drew University.
Kral's absence improved Lobaton's odds. However, instead of being glad, Lobaton was disappointed.
"I kept saying 'Where is she?'" Lobaton said. "She's really good. I wanted her here to push me. Of all the days to not be here..."
Lobaton not only survived, she claimed the gold in the 55-meter hurdles, the first event of the evening, with a time of 8.84.
Mendham took the girls team title - the first in school history - with 61 points, ending Randolph's three-year reign. Mount Olive was second with 44 points and Parsippany third with 32.
"This is so great," said Mendham senior Sarah Gillespie, who has won the 300-meter dash at this meet each year of her high school career. "This is my last year. We thought we could do it. It's a good way to end the season at Drew."
Mountain Lakes junior Colette Richter sizzled in the 3,200-meter run, completing the race in a meet-record time of 10:51.25. She broke the record of 11:00.57 set two years ago by Mendham's Laura Vigilante.
Although Lobaton missed Kral, she was able to garner her first MCWTC gold medal. Her improved form enabled her to come out ahead of Morris Knolls' Kiki Baldassari (9.05).
"I attacked. I went at it with more force," Lobaton explained. "I was going over with my left leg bent but I needed my lead leg to be straight. I tried to touch my toe with my left arm and stay low."
Taking the top spot helped erase her effort at last week's Wayne Valentine Invitational when she finished third behind Daria Chadwick of Summit and Kral. Lobaton, also a midfielder for the Red Hawks soccer team, hoped for an 8.6 because 8.7 is her PR indoors.
"This is fine," Lobaton said. "I had a letdown last week. That's why I'm happy to win."
Gillespie reveled in being a four-time champion in the 300-meter dash, crossing the finish line just ahead of Mount Olive sophomore Keturah Orji. She was third in the 55-meter dash with a 7.45 and was part of the winning 4x400 relay team along with underclassmen Margo Medenbach, Laura Papili and Sierra Tonnesen.
"Coach (Roy) Hamblen told me to run the race like a 200 to the cones (150 meters into the race) then to stride it out and give it all I have," Gillespie said of the 300-meter dash. "It was really close this year. I was a little more nervous than usual."
Junior Abby Seel was another key performer for the Minutemen, registering a first-place finish in the 1,600-meter run and nabbing third in the 3,200-meter run.
Seel's teammate, Mackenzie Barry, led for much of the 1,600-meter race. Hamblem recommended Seel surge on the fifth lap but she "saved it for the end."
"I just wanted a championship," Seel said. "I'd rather be first than get a specific time. I figured Mackenzie would surge and I'd go with her. I'm very excited about winning. I just wish I had a better time."
Barry played a significant role in Mendham's success as well. Besides the 1,600-meter run, she was second in the 3,200 meters.
West Morris sophomore Kylene Cochrane emerged victorious in the 1,000-meter run with a 3:06.33. She won the 1,000 and 1,600-meter runs at the Freshman-Sophomore Championships on Jan. 9.
"I really poured it on and was focused," Cochrane said. "I knew most of the girls in the race from cross country. They're all good. I couldn't think a negative thought. When you run, that's what you need to do."
Lisbeth Lopez, a Randolph senior, prevailed in shot put for the second time in three years with a PR throw of 39-1, which is 13 inches longer than her previous best.
She attained the mark on her second throw in the finals. Lopez, nagged by what she believes is tendinitis in her elbow, shocked herself with the 39-1 heave.
"I've cut down on my throwing lately in practice," Lopez said. "I've only been practicing my form. I've done some lifting to strengthen my elbow."
Lopez said she was an uncharacteristic "emotional wreck" prior to and during the competition.
"This is my last time throwing here," Lopez said. "It's bittersweet. I've spent so many hours of my time here. Winning is the cherry on top of my career."
Ashley Tomasula of Mount Olive was the champion in the pole vault with a 10-6. Tomasula, though, was not pleased with her top vault, which was a foot less than her PR.
"My running was off," Tomasula said. "It was just an off day for me."
Orji of Mount Olive triumphed in the 55-meter dash with a 7.37. Chatham's Julie Williamson took the 600-meter run in 1:39.04. In high jump, Hanover Park's Alexa Perkins cleared five feet.
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