April 5, 2015

RIDGEWOOD — They or their parents were born in the Dominican Republic, Bulgaria, Israel and Egypt. They’re from different cultures, with different languages and different religions. So when Jelmi Chamalian, Ireya Slavova, Lior Peri and Maryam Hassan gather at Cresskill High School, the air is thick with controversy and contrast, right?

Not so much.

They usually talk about their mutual passions as part of one of North Jersey’s best girls track teams.

“Track’s a sport that’s popular all over the world and we all love it,” said Hassan, a junior, who is the only one of the quartet born in the U.S. but whose parents are native to Egypt.

Saturday, the four helped Cresskill easily win the small-schools title at the Pawlowski Relays held at the newly christened Jacob Brown Track & Field Complex. They combined to win the triple jump and long jump on the opening day of the major track season.

Cresskill scored 101 points to best Pequannock in the small-schools division and the Cougars nearly took the overall girls title, which was won in storybook fashion by Brown’s Ridgewood team by a half-point over Ramsey, 110 1/2-110.

“We all work really hard together and we’re all really dedicated and talented people who set high goals for ourselves,” said Hassan.

“Everybody supports each other in everything we do. Our coaches are all great and we’re all really close on and off the track — everyone on our team is, no matter where our family is from,” said Peri, a senior who moved to the U.S. from Israel four years ago.

Hassan and Peri are members of both the triple- and long-jump teams, with Hassan leading all triple jumpers Saturday with an effort of 34-1 1/2.

Slavova, a sophomore who led Cresskill’s long jump team by jumping 15-6 1/4, moved from Bulgaria at six months but returns to visit family each summer. “These girls push me to do so much that I can’t let them down,” said Slavova.

And Chamalian, the senior who moved from Dominican Republic at age 2, is part of the triple-jump team and is one of the area’s top high-jumpers.

Each season everyone on Cresskill sets team and personal goals on index cards, and the goals are higher this year: a state sectional title, sub-4:10 on the 4-x-400 relay, sub-50 in the 4-x-100, and personal records in the varied events.

Despite their diverse backgrounds, they all bleed Cresskill gold and black and for each other.

Ridgewood’s win was powered by four event wins, more than any other girls team, and clinched by a win over Ramsey in the 4-x-400 relay.

State power Christian Brothers Academy edged the Rams, 113 1/2-107 in the boys large-school division, and Emerson used three medal-winning performances on the track and a fourth in the pole vault to win the small-school division with 52 points.

Individually the top performances were in the weights, with Westwood’s Jessica Molina, the Bergen County indoor shot record holder, propelling the outdoor shot a personal-best 45 feet 8 1/4 inches. That’s fourth on the Bergen list.

Ramsey’s Frank Ahearn improved his discus best to 160-2 and might have broken the school record of 162 feet if he had received a better mark on the windy day.