GET YOUR NJ MEET OF CHAMPIONS ON!!!!
After having the NJ T&F outdoor season canceled last year due to the pandemic, the long road back to the state's biggest meet is finally complete, and it sure feels good to get here!
Congrats to all the NJ athletes who have worked so hard and waited so long to reach this moment!
The 52nd Meet of Champions on Saturday, which promises to be one of the most memorable ever, returns to Frank Jost Field in South Plainfield for the first time since 2015. The meet is scheduled to start at noon, and admission is free.
There are so many great storylines to keep an eye on, and several meet records could go down!
So let's dive into it!!!
Here is a look at some of the biggest things to watch out for.
DYNAMIC DISTANCE DUO
Can they run even faster?
That's the big question regarding Jackson Braddock of Southern and Angelina Perez of Lakeland, who are getting ready to fire up their engines and chase the meet records in the 3,200 after after they smashed the All Groups records last week.
The answer is yes!
The University of Virginia-bound Braddock, coming off a NJ#5 All-Time 8:48.64 victory in the Group 4, is targeting the boys meet record of 8:46.08, set in 2010 by Jeramy Elkaim of Livingston.
Perez, a junior who ran 10:20.25 to win the Group 2 race last week, and is aiming to take down the meet record of 10:15.02 set in 2013 by Sarah Disanza of High Point.
Let's dig a little deeper.
Last week, Braddock hit 1,600 in 4:27.56 and ran a big negative second half split, which included a 2:06.37 final 800 and 61.41 last 400. Look for him to try to get as close to 4:20 as he can for the first 1,600 in pursuit of the record. If he can do that, then who knows, maybe, just maybe, he can make a run at the state record. The state record is held by Joe Rosa of West Windsor-Plainsboro North, who went 8:44.06 for two-miles to finish first at the New Balance National Championships in 2010. Rosa's time coverts to 8:41.02 for 3,200.
Braddock will have Jackson Barna of Ridge to contend with again. Barna, a junior, ran 8:56.49, also under the former All Groups record, when he placed second to Braddock last week. Colts Neck senior Matt Bogdan ran 9:13.74 to win Group 3, but is capable of making a huge drop if he elects to run this race. He also qualified in the 1,600.
As for Perez, she showed again last week, just as she did during the cross-country season, that she doesn't need to have anyone pushing her to run fast. She has become very comfortable hitting her splits, and racing the clock. Last week she hit mostly hit 77's and 78's, and went through 1,600 in 5:07.57. To go under Disanza's record, Perez will need to average a shade over 76 seconds per lap.
There has never been a father-daughter combination who have won outdoor Meet of Champions titles. It's happened indoors (current Willingboro coach Martin Booker and his daughter Dominique), but not outdoors. There's a group of talented triplets, Amirah, Arianna, and Ariel Sharpe, who are ready to try to change that.
The Sharpe triplets, seniors from Clayton, head into the M of C seeking to join their famous father, Fred, as outdoor champions.
For those that don't know, when Fred Sharpe was running for Paulsboro he electrified the crowd at Frank Jost Field at the 1997 Meet of Champions with a performance for the ages. He opened the meet by winning the 400m hurdles in a then meet record 51.62. He followed that up by placing third in the 1,600 in 4:15.73, and then came back to win the 800 in 1:53.40!
Now, 24 years later, his daughters take center stage.
While all three girls are talented, Amirah has the best chance to join her dad as a M of C winner.
Amirah (pictured above) is ranked No. 2 in the state this season in the 400 hurdles with a 1:01.63, .50 behind state leader Adelaide Asante of North Brunswick, and is No. 2 in the 400 with a 55.16, just .18 behind Julia Jackson of Scotch Plains-Fanwood. Amirah has also qualified in the 200 and the 4x400.
Arianna has qualified in the 100, 200, 400, and 4x400, and Ariel is scheduled to run the 400 and the 4x400.
GREATEST 4 LAPPER EVER
The greatest boys 1,600 in meet history took place in 2012 when Chris Marco of Toms River South led four guys under 4:10 with a winning time of 4:07.31, which still stands as the meet record. It's the only race in M of C history that has seen four runners break 4:10 (the other three were Stephen Lewandowski of Mountain Lakes (4:08.28). George Kelly of Christian Brothers Academy (4:09.09), and Blake Udland of Millburn (4:09.92).
This race has the potential to be even faster!
The favorite is Kingsway junior Kyle Rakitis, who has run a NJ#2 4:08.58 this season and won the Group 4 title last week. But there are several other runners capable of going under 4:10 and winning this race.
Junior Shane Brosnan won the Non-Public A title in 4:12.12, Edwin Klanke of St. Peter's Prep, third in Non-Public A, ran 4:10.56 at the Hudson County Championships, and junior Marco Langon of Bridgewater-Raritan, the Group 4 runner-up, has run 4:12.70. Matt Bogdan of Colts Neck, who ran 4:16.31 to win Group 3, would also be a factor if he chooses this race over the 3,200.
Rakitis has shown the ability to win in different ways. When he ran 4:07.58 in the SJ Group 4 race, he was able to handle the fast pace by Braddock (64.5/2:05.0/3:11.2) before using a big kick over the final 100 to rally for the victory. Last week with the pace much slower (65, 2:10 and 3:16), he dropped a 56.71 last 400 to win. Langon showed off his wheels last week as well, closing slightly faster (56.60) than Rakitis. With his big kick, Langon could win this if he stays with the leaders through the 1,200. It's shaping up to one of heck of a kick to the finish with Rakitis the pick to win?
FLAIR IN THE AIR
The boys pole vault record of 16-4 has stood since Will Nesbitt of Millburn cleared that in 1980. But McSweeney, who tied the Group 4 record and took over the state lead when he cleared a Middlesex County record 16-0 last week, and Zuckerman are capable of breaking it. Zuckerman, the Group 2 champ, has made a NJ#2 and Bergen County record 15-8 this season.
MORE GOLD FOR PRINCZ'S CROWN
Lauren Princz, who already owns two Meet of Champions titles, could be the biggest winner at the meet as the senior at Egg Harbor is favored to add three more gold medals to her collection.
The Penn State-bound Princz, who burst on the scene when she won the 200 as a freshman at the M of C in 2018 and added an indoor M of C title in the 55 dash in 2020, wants to go out with a bang. Winning the 100, 200, and anchoring the 4x100 to victory would certainly do that.
Princz won the 100, 200, and anchored the winning 4x100 at the State Group 4 meet, and she is ranked NJ#1 in the 100 (11.73), and 200 (24.23), and her Egg Harbor squad owns the state's fastest 4x100 time of 47.79, so triple gold is certainly within her grasp.
Jailya Ash of Eastern, who has already won Meet of Champions titles indoors in the straightaway dash and the hurdles, will attempt to become the first in meet history to ever win both the 100m dash and 100 HH.
Ash, who won the 55 dash at the 2019 M of C, and the 55 hurdles at the 2020 M of C, doesn't have the fastest times in the state in either the 100 or the HH, but she earned the top seed in the HH by winning the Group 4 race in a PR of 14.10, edging state leader Andree Celestin of West Orange (14.26). Celestin ran a NJ#1 13.89 at the NJ. Sec. 1 meet.
In the 100 dash, Ash will have to contend with state leader Lauren Princz of Egg Harbor. Last week, Princz won the 100 at the Group 4 meet, 11.92 to 12.08 over runner-up Ash. Princz leads the state with an 11.76, while Ash own a PR of 11.90.
Old Bridge's Nick Medeiros, second in the 800 at the 2020 indoor M of C, is the clear favorite in the two-lapper, but the Georgetown-bound star wants more than just his first M of C title. He wants to cement his legacy by becoming just the 17th runner in state history to go sub 1:50, which he's is more than capable of doing. Medeiros is coming off a PR of 1:50.98 last week when split 54.48/56.49 when he won the Group 4 race. If he drops his first quarter under 54, Medeiros should be able to come back in at least 56 point and use his great closing speed to get that sub 1:50.
Medeiros will have plenty of fast company, led by Union Catholic junior Myles Plummer. Plummer, who has taken a big step forward this year and is now a contender in every race he runs. Plummer won the Non-Public A title with a PR of 1:52.55. Westfield junior Charlie Stock (1:52.46) and Domenick Wallace of Morris Hills (1:53.34) are the next fastest guys in the race.
STILL CHASING NORRIS
For the second time this season, junior Lilly Shapiro of Colts Neck will be chasing Tenafly legend Josette Norris.
Shapiro was able to race past Norris on the state's all-time list last month when she ran 4:40.15 in the 1,600 at the Holmdel Twilight meet to break the state record of 4:41.61 that Norris set when she won the Meet of Champions race in 2013.
So, here we go again. Shapiro will once again be targeting the 4:41.61 to take down Norris' meet record.
Shapiro, an All-State runner before this season, has increased her stamina and speed and taken her running to another level this spring as she's put together of the best seasons in recent years. In addition to her 4:40.15, Shapiro has run 2:09.82 for 800, 10:18.36 for 3,200, and has split 57 point in the 4x400!
In would be a monumental upset if Shapiro didn't cross the line first when you consider that no one else in this race has broken 4:50. Who are Shapiro's biggest challengers? That remains to be seen. As of now, Westfield senior Katie Hamilton, the indoor M of C 1,600 winner in 2020, hasn't decided if she will run the 1,600 or the 800. Hamilton won the 800 (2:10.86) and the 1,600 (4:51.47) at the state Group 4 meet.
If Westfield's Katie Hamilton skips the 1,600, then Shapiro's biggest competition should come from Group 4 runner-up Alexandra Carlson of North Hunterdon (4:51.75).
So what if Westfield's Katie Hamilton, who is expected to run the 4x800 in addition to an individual race, chooses the 800 over the 1,600? She would be the favorite.
Hamilton has run a NJ#2 2:09.80 this season, more than two seconds faster than anyone in the field. Columbia freshman Peyton Hollis (2:11.91), senior Amanda Mircovich of River Dell (2:12.53), and junior Caroline Donohoe (2:12.83) are the next fastest.
But if Hamilton runs the 1,600 instead, then the 800 becomes one of the biggest toss up races of the meet. Stay tuned!
ROOKIES OF THE YEAR
Bethea, a junior, is a major threat to win both horizontal jumps. She is the No. 1 ranked triple jumper in the state with a 39-9.5, and is No. 3 in the state in the long jump (18-8). Robinson, a senior who swept all three jumps at the State Group 2 meet, is NJ# 3 in both the LJ (23-9.75) and the TJ (47-10.50). Could he pull off the upset and win one of the jumps?
There is a very good chance that all three boys throwing events will be won by Shore Conference athletes. If that happens, it would be the first time in 30 years that the same conference swept all the boys throws, and the first time ever that three different athletes from the same conference swept the throws.
In 1991, Aaron Echternacht of Hopewell Valley (shot put and discus) and Nick Kutovy of Hamilton East (javelin) captured the throwing events as the Colonial Valley Conference pulled off the sweep. It also happened in 1983 when Jim Gilligan of Toms River East (shot and discus) and Bob Amabile of Wall (javelin) gave the Shore Conference the sweep.
Now, senior Cole Tucker of Colts Neck (shot put), sophomore Fabian Gonzalez of Southern (discus), and junior Tyler Zawatski of Freehold Township are favored to capture the throwing titles. Tucker is NJ#1 in the shot with a 65-4.75. Gonzalez leads the state in the discus with a 183-0, and Zawatski, a junior, is NJ#1 in the javelin (188-3)
Tucker, who has emerged as one of the biggest stars in the state, has a good chance to win two gold medals. He's a big favorite to win the 400 hurdles after he ran a NJ#1 52.68 to win Group 3. That's the second fastest time for a sophomore in state history behind the 51.69 run by Taylor McLaughlin of Union Catholic in 2013. Tucker will also be anchoring Pennsauken's state leading 4x400 that ran 3:18.36 last week with Tucker splitting 47.14!
Potts is the the only high jumper in the state to clear 6-8 this season, and Gonzalez is the state leader in the discus with the 183-0 he launched to win Group 4.
SUPER SPRINT SHOW
There have been several sprinters who have completed the 100/200 double at the M of C, but only three athletes have ever run under both 10.50 and 21.20 at this meet. Shamali Whittle has his sights in becoming the fourth. The junior at Nottingham has run state leading times of 10.54 and 21.19 this season, and he has a knack for always rising to the occasion when the stakes are highest. Look for Whittle to put on a sensational spring show, and join that elite sub 10.50/21.20 club.
LOOK OUT FOR RAIDER NATION
The Scotch Plains-Fanwood girls have never had a Meet of Champions winner (indoors or outdoors), but that drought appears ready to come to a screeching halt as the Raiders have two titles in their cross hairs.
Junior Julia Jackson will take the line in the 400 with the NJ#1 time of 54.98, and she'll also anchor the state's No. 1 ranked 4x400, which has gone 3:47.91. That's more than six seconds faster than No. 2 seed Hillsborough (3:54.49). Junior Grace Kennedy, senior Corinne Lyght, and sophomore Jenai Berry will run the first three legs of the 4x400 for SPF.
Woods, a junior, is ranked No. 1 in the state. Eucker, a senior, is No. 2 with a 139-10, and Group 2 state champ Romero, a junior, is No. 3 with a 135-1. Eucker, who underwent knee surgery in October after suffering a torn ACL while playing soccer, defeated Woods at both the sectional and State Group Championships
There is also a possibility that the Demarest girls could take out the brooms and sweep all three throwing events. In addition to Woods, Demarest junior Casey Sullivan is the top ranked shot putter in the state with the 45-5.50 she threw to win Group 2, and teammate Julietta Ambartsoumian won the Group 2 discus with a throw of 126-9, which is NJ #3.