The 51st NJSIAA Boys Track and Field Meet of Champions, scheduled for Saturrday, Feb. 23 at 10 a.m. at the Bennett Center in Toms River, promises to deliver some of the best performances in meet and state history.
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What could happen? Well, Mario Heslop of Franklin could become the first athlete to ever win the 55, 200, and 400!!!! Devin Hart of Point Pleasant Boro and Sincere Rhea of St. Augustine could take down meet records!!!
Hold on. I have an idea. What do you say we just take a look at what could happen in all 12 events?
Sound good? Here goes!!
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Boys Meet of Champions Preview
55 Meter Dash - State Rankings
All eyes will be on Mario Heslop in this race, and in all three races he runs.
Heslop, a senior at Franklin Township, will attempt to do what he narrowly missed accomplishing last year when he aims to win the 55, 200, and 400, something that's never been done before.
Last year, Heslop nearly pulled off the sprint triple when he won the 400 and 200 before placing second to Gabriel Nash of Elizabeth in the 55 dash. Heslop defeated Nash, 6.38 to 6.46, to win the Group 4 title last week.
The 55 dash will probably once again be the toughest of the three races for Heslop to win because it comes just a few minutes after he runs the 200 and will be his final race of the day.
Heslop, the 100 and 400 winner at the outdoor M of C last spring, owns a share of the state record in the 55 dash with the 6.26 he ran at Easterns last year, and he's coming off a NJ#1/US#2 6.32 at the Eastern States Championships this past Tuesday.
Whether or not Heslop wins the 55 dash and completes the historic triple will probably come down to how much he has left in the tank.
In order to make history, Heslop will not only have to overcome probable fatigue, but he'll also have to beat a strong field.
Other strong contenders to keep an eye on are Nash, Javon Porter of Hamilton West (6.42), Group 1 winner Thomas Hampton of Clayton (6.44), Non-Public A champion James Bivins of Donovan Catholic (6.46), and Group 2 champ Daniel Duncan of North Plainfield (6.47).
200 Meter Dash - State Rankings
How big of a favorite is Mario Heslop in this race?
Well, the senior at Franklin is the state record holder at this distance (21.09 last year), ran a NJ#1/US#2 21.11 to win the Eastern title this past Tuesday, and he's run more than a half second faster than the No. 2 seed, Rahmir Johnson of Bergen Catholic (21.68).
The next fastest sprinters entered are Richie Luzzi-Liggins 21.90), Ivan Daniels of Ferris (22.10), Guinove Joanus of Elizabeth (22.19), Justin Eastman of Shabazz (22.28), Jacob Leigh of Scotch Plains-Fanwood (22.47) and Devin Anderson of Mainland (22.55).
400 Meter Dash - State Rankings
Mario Heslop's quest for history will begin with this race when the senior at Franklin defends his title.
Heslop, who is trying to become the first athlete in meet history to win the 55, 200, and 400, ran a NJ#1 49.23 to win the Group 4 title last week, and seems ready to drop a sub 49.
Who can give Heslop a run for his money?
Elijah Brown of Union Catholic, the Non-Public A winner, and Group 2 champion Zach Murray, a senior at Haddonfield, are the next two fastest quarter milers as both have run 49.38 this season. Brown is also one of the favorites in the 800 and is expected to run the 4x400, so there's a chance he'll skip this race.
The best of the rest are Zach Hall of Matawan (NJ#3 49.58), Daniel Fenton of Millville (NJ#4 49.63), Ramy Berberena of North Brunswick (49.72), Liam O'Hara of CBA (49.92), Terris Burton of Hamilton East (50.00), and Group 3 winner Jared Conte of Ocean Township (50.14).
800 Meter Run - State Rankings
When Luis Peralta of Passaic, who won the 800 at the 2018 Indoor and Outdoor Meet of Champions and captured the New Balance Nationals Outdoor title last June, decided not to run the indoor state meets this season, it opened the door for a new champion and made this race a toss up.
Among those looking to take advantage of Peralta's absence are senior Miles Liggins of South Brunswick and junior Elijah Brown of Union Catholic, who are both undefeated this season in the 800.
Liggins, the Group 4 champion, is the only runner in this race under 1:55 with a NJ#2 1:54.67, which he ran to win the Ocean Breeze Invitational last month.
Brown, primarily a 400 runner prior to this season, has blossomed into one of the state's best half milers. He won the Non-Public A 800 title and ran a NJ#3 1:55.81 to finish first at the Varsity Classic earlier this month.
A couple dark horses who will look to score the upset are junior Gabriel Moronta of Pleasantville, who ran a huge PR and NJ#5 1:56.71 to win the state Group 2 title, and Group 1 champion Marcus Hardy, a senior who has gone a NJ#6 1:56.78. Dylan LoPresti of Matawan, the Group 2 runner-up in 1:57.54, should also be right in the mix.
1600 Meter Run - State Rankings
Just like the 800, the 1,600 will be missing the reigning national outdoor champion.
Sean Dolan of Hopewell Valley, the New Balance National champion in the mile last June, opted to qualify for the Millrose Games rather than run at the state meet. That choice resulted in Dolan dropping a NJ#1/US#3 4:09.55 to place third Millrose.
Without the Villanova-bound Dolan in this race, there's much more suspense.
The fastest qualifier is Group 2 champ Devin Hart of Point Pleasant Boro, who has run a NJ#2 4:14.60 in the mile this season. But because of the limited recovery time between the 1,600 and 3,200, there's a good chance that Hart will just focus on defending his 3,200 title.
With or without Hart, this race should be a hot one.
Tim McInerney of Christian Brothers Academy, second in the 1,600 at the Meet of Champions last spring, has gone a NJ#3 4:16.01 in the mile this season. The Georgetown-bound McInerney is coming off a 4:13.87 anchor split on CBA's DMR team that ran a US#1 10:12.18 to finish first at the Eastern Championships this past Tuesday.
Among the other strong contenders that should battle it out are Group 4 winner Will Baginski of Ridgewood (4:17.87 in the mile), Jack Stanley of Mendham (4:18.12 for 1,600), Derek Gess of Haddonfield (4:18.68), Group 1 winner Jared Cooper of Mountain Lakes (4:18.93), Non-Public B winner Connor Melko of Bishop Eustace (4:19.01 for the mile), and Stone Carracio of Kingsway (4:19.09).
Mendham coach Roy Hamblen said Stanley, who has qualified in both the 1,600 and 3,200, is planning to run the 1,600. Whether he tries to double back in the 3,200 remains to be seen.
Stanley has already proven he can rise to the occasion in a big race.
Stanley was a big underdog in the epic duel he had with Hart at the XC Meet of Champions when Stanley nearly pulled off the upset, losing by an eyelash as he and Hart crossed the line together. Stanley followed that up by winning the Foot Locker Northeast Regional XC title and earning All-American honors at both the Nike and Foot Locker XC Nationals.
3200 Meter Run - State Rankings
There could be a lot of fireworks in this one as Devin Hart of Point Pleasant Boro takes dead aim at his second straight title and the meet record.
The Stanford-bound Hart, who owns five Meet of Champions titles in his career in the three seasons combined, comes into this race with a NJ#1/US#2 8:59.32 on his resume this season, which he ran at the Central Jersey, Group 2 meet. That places Hart No. 6 in state history.
Now Hart has the meet record of 8:58.81, set Jon Vitez of Haddonfield in 2010, in his crosshairs.
Hart will have to be sharp to keep his crown because this race is loaded with talent. But for someone to knock off Hart they will most likely have to drop a huge PR.
The list of contenders is led by junior Liam Murphy of Allentown, who looked very strong when he won the Group 3 title in 9:14.93, and possibly Princeton-bound Jack Stanley of Mendham.
Stanley was second to Murphy in Group 3, which came after he won the 1,600 in 4:18.12. Stanley has run a NJ#4 9:17.61 this season, but it remains to be seen if he'll run this race since he's planning on running the 1,600, which is earlier in the meet.
Junior Jack Jennings of Mendham has also been under 9:20 this season with a NJ#3 9:17.58, and there are several other sub 9:30 runners in the field.
They are Non-Public A champ Shaw Powell of CBA (9:21.40), Troy Hill of CBA (9:22.67), Kevin Antczak of Mainland (9:26.69), Liam McHale of Pope John (9:27.69), Ethan Wechsler of Cherokee (9:28.00), John McGovern of Somerville (9:28.44), Matt Coffey of Camden Catholic (9:29.04), Group 1 champion Jared Cooper of Mountain Lakes (9:29.15), and Stephen Daly of Delbarton (9:29.26).
55 Meter Hurdles - State Rankings
Sincere Rhea of St. Augustine isn't just targeting his second straight title in this race. He's also looking to take down the meet record of 7.19 set in 2012 by Jermaine Collier of Trenton.
The Penn State-bound Rhea just went a NJ#5 all-time 7.20, which is No. 2 in the nation this season, to win the hurdles at the Eastern States Championships this past Tuesday, so Collier's record is on shaky ground.
In case you are wondering, the state record of 7.07 was set in 2017 by Cory Poole of East Orange, who currently stars at the University of Florida.
While Rhea is the clear favorite, there are some great hurdlers who will look to spring the upset if Rhea is off.
Among those seeking to dethrone the champ are Group 2 champ Ola Akande of Rahway, who has run a NJ#2 7.40, Naseem Smith of Deptford (NJ#3 7.46), and Group 1 winner Sam Aviles of Palmyra (7.49)
High Jump - State Rankings
This is shaping up to be great battle over the bar between co-state leaders Adonis McGee of St. Peter's Prep and Jamier Wright-Collins of JFK Paterson, who have each cleared 6-8 this season, Mark Anselmi of Middletown South, and Christian O'Neal of Trenton.
Collins, a junior, made 6-8 when he finished first at the State Group 4 meet and when he won the Eastern States Championships. Anselmi has made 6-7 ½ this season, and O'Neal has a PR of 6-7.
Also keep an eye on Bergen Catholic senior Ivan Jacob, who upset McGee to win the Non-Public A state title last week. Although Jacob's PR is just 6-4, he has improved his PR by two inches in each of the last two meets and seems ready for another big breakthrough.
Pole Vault - State Rankings
Liam Landau of Pascack Hills is the man to beat in the vault.
The senior is the state leader with a 15-9, won the Group 2 title by clearing 15-6, and has made at least 15-0 in six different meets this season. If Landau is on his game, he has the ability to make 16-0, which would tie the meet record.
While Landau is the favorite, there are four juniors in the field who have made 15-0 this season and are capable of pulling off the upset.
They are Group 4 champ Bradley Jelmert of Watchung Hills, No. 2 in the state at 15-07.25, Nico Morales of Delsea (15-6), Marco Morales of Delsea (15-0), and Non-Public A champion Conor Reilly of Union Catholic.
At the Eastern Championships this past Tuesday, Landau finished first on misses at 15-0, and Marco Morales and Jelmert also made 15-0.
Shot Put - State Rankings
Kyle Lipscomb has been the king of the ring in the state all season.
The senior at Linden extended his state lead to 58-6.75 when he won the state Group 4 title last week, has thrown at least 56 feet in five meets this season, including the last four, and is 11-0 this season.
There are four other throwers with PR's over 55 feet who should all contend for a top spot.
They are Nicholas Morris of CBA (57-9.5), Group 3 state champ Brendan Loftus of Red Bank (57-8.5), Non-Public A champ Roman Oben Jr. of St. Peter's Prep (56-1.25), and Caseem Akinruli-Dewitt of Seton Hall Prep (55-9.25).
4x400 Meter Relay - State Rankings
This race is as wide open as its gets and features the three fastest teams all from the Shore Conference.
Christian Brothers Academy, which has come agonizingly close multiple times to winning its first 4x400 at the M of C, heads into this showdown as the fastest team in the race with the NJ#2 3:23.14 it ran at the Millrose Games two weeks ago at the N.Y. Armory.
Jackson moved up to NJ#3 this past Tuesday when it placed second at the Eastern States Championships in 3:23.51 at the N.Y. Armory, and Matawan earned the top seed when it ran 3:24.65 to win the Group 2 race. Matawan also owns the fastest time in the state this season at the Bennett Center with the NJ#5 3:24.56 it ran at the Group 2 Relays last month.
Rahway and Union Catholic are the next two fastest teams. Rahway ran a NJ #5 3:24.95 at Easterns, and Union Catholic, which defeated CBA to win the Non-Public A 4x400, owns a NJ#6 3:25.00, which it ran at the Marine Corps meet at the N.Y. Armory in December. UC is seeking its fourth title in the last six years.
4x800 Meter Relay - State Rankings
With four sub 8:00 teams squaring off, they could push each other near the meet record in a race that has all the makings of a thriller.
St. Peter's Prep comes in as the top seed based on the NJ#2/US#6 7:54.40 it ran to place fifth at the Millrose Games, one spot ahead of sixth-place Ridge (NJ#3/US#7 7:55.16).
East Brunswick made itself a strong contender when the Bears dropped its season best all the way down to NJ#3/US#8 7:55.19 when it finished first at the Eastern States Championships. Haddonfield ran a NJ#4/US#11 7:57.56 when it finished first at the Varsity Classic.
With this much firepower going head-to-head, there's a chance that the meet record of 7:57.34 set last year by Hopewell Valley could fall. But keep in mind that the 10 fastest teams in this race all ran its best times on the much faster Armory track in New York.