For any school, having one athlete qualify for the National Championship meet is an accomplishment.
But at CM, there were seven competing with the nation’s best.
The road to the New Balance National Indoor Meet in Boston is different for those in New England compared to Florida. With cold weather and snow often the expectation, the training environment is rarely ideal.
“You have to roll with the punches. If it’s not sub-0, snowing or freezing rain and the temperature is over 35 degrees, we’ll try to go outside as long as the track isn’t covered in snow,” says CM head track and field coach, John Finn ’89. For CJ Sullivan ’23, Jelani Semper ’27, and 4×200 meter relay members Mekhi Dodd ’25, Datrell Jones ’23, Eric Perkins ’24, Jaylin Rainford ’23, and Jaedn Skeete ’23, qualifying for nationals showed that CM athletes have the talent to compete locally and with the best high school athletes in the nation.
As a fifth-year senior, Sullivan was ineligible to compete in local high school meets. The Villanova-commit, spent his winter running against Division 1 college athletes at meets at Boston University, sometimes waiting until 9:30 p.m. on a Saturday to race.
“It was tough not getting that many races. But it still worked out with me being able to train with the team, and I was able to get more workouts in,” Sullivan says.
Sullivan, along with two-mile national qualifier and Boston College-bound John Garvey ’23, trained under Finn and Jon Sheehan with a simple philosophy – go run and when you’re done running, run some more.
“I think Finn and Sheehan work well together and ensure the mileage is right for each person,” Sullivan says. “Finn knows the type of workouts we do the best with, so he knows which one we need for a confidence boost. In races, he’ll tell you to keep moving up and when to make your move, so you don’t get too comfortable.”
Expectations at Nationals were high for one of the fastest 5K fields in national meet history. Far from the lead pack, Sullivan made his move around the halfway mark. With Finn yelling strategy, Sullivan picked off runner after runner before crossing the finish line at 14:31.30 – a seventh-place finish, a new school record, and a new Massachusetts record in a race where the winner broke the national record.
While Sullivan spent most of his high school years on the track, it took others longer to make the realization that they had the speed to race with the best. Rainford saw himself as a soccer player until he accepted Finn’s recommendation to try sprinting.
In his first relay of the year, with teammates still recovering from a long football season, he saw the team’s potential.
“After our first time running the 4×200 together, we were equivalent to where the team was last year,” Rainford says. “We began thinking, if everybody’s healthy, we could be even better.”
The team racked up wins, including at the Division 2 State Relays and MSTCA Coaches Invitational, and college coaches took notice. By the end of the season, Rainford committed to Bryant University for track and field. It wasn’t all fast times and first-place medals. The team faced adversity when a hamstring injury sidelined Jones, the Division 2 champion in the 100-meter for outdoor track, for most of the postseason.
With Dodd subbing in for Jones, the relay edged Natick by three-hundredths of a second to win the MIAA Division 2 State Championship and finished fifth at the MIAA Meet of Champions.
“I was excited when I started thinking our names were going on the state championship banner in the gym because it will be there forever. I’m graduating this year, so it was important to me to see that happen,” says Rainford. Of all the CM athletes at indoor nationals, it was a middle school long jumper who produced the most surprising result.
Jelani Semper ’27 took his first jumps two years ago during a summer workout with his father – a jumps coach himself. While he competed at some small youth meets and Bay State Games, an appearance at nationals was the furthest from his mind.
Semper was satisfied to gain experience by competing at the meet. Then he had his best performance of the season. All six jumps were greater than his personal best, including a leap of over 18 feet and nine inches that was good enough for third place.
“That was really special,” Semper says. “I was really surprised. Before the meet, I was jumping high 17s. I didn’t know I could jump 18-9, but my coaches kept pushing me and I got the mark,” Semper says.
The relay team, Sullivan, and Semper weren’t the only members of the team to have postseason success. In addition to his relay victory, Perkins won the Division 2 State Championship in the 55 meter and Garvey won the two-mile, adding to the tradition of CM excellence on the track.
Online Bonus: CM at Outdoor Nationals
Garvey, Semper, and Sullivan continued to find success during the outdoor track and field season, qualifying for New Balance Nationals: Outdoor at the University of Pennsylvania's Franklin Field.
In the 5,000 meter run, Sullivan placed second with a time of 14:29.94 and earned All-American honors, making him the 14th All-American in CM history. He also placed seventh in the two-mile and his time of 8:53.28 broke the school record.
Garvey finished 16th in the steeplechase and lowed his school record to 6:09.97. The race was his second attempt at the event.
Semper continued to improve, jumping 19-06.75 at the MSTCA Coaches Invite. He went on to win the Massachusetts Middle School State Championship in the 100 hurdles and long jump before placing sixth in the middle school long jump at Nationals.