Several meet records will be under siege, a historic double could be attempted, a huge star will be missing, and lots of mystery surrounds the boys distance races at the 53rd NJSIAA Meet of Champions.
After not being held last year because of the pandemic, the Meet of Champions returns to the Bennett Center in Toms River on Friday (field events) and Saturday (running events) after being held at Ocean Breeze on Staten Island for the first time in 2020.
Here's a look at some of the top storylines to follow.
The biggest news heading into this meet is the absence of the electrifying Shamali Whittle of Hamilton North, who said on Thursday night that he's a little nicked up and has decided to opt out of the meet.
Whittle, who was planning to try to become the first boy to ever win both the 55m and hurdles at the same meet, said he hopes to be back for the New Balance National Championships next week.
The University-of Georgia-bound Whittle, who won the 200m at the 2020 meet and captured the 100m and 200m at the outdoor M of C last June, is one of the best sprinters in state history. He has run a NJ No. 1 6.33, which is No. 5 in state history, in the 55m this season, and leads the state with a 21.05 in the 200m, No. 2 in all-time in NJ.
FRANCE/LEDGISTER PART 2
France won their last showdown at the State Non-Public A meet with a PR and NJ No. 3 time of 6.39. Ledgister, who owns a NJ No. 2 time of 6.36, was second in 6.43. Keep an eye on the meet record of 6.3, which was set in 2020 by Louis Akpadago of Hamilton North).
One of the biggest question heading into this meet is which races will the top distance guys run?
Everyone wants to see another matchup between Marco Langon of Bridgewater-Raritan and Jackson Barna of Ridge in either the 1600m or 3200m, and don't forget Shane Brosnan of Union Catholic, who will be just as much of a contender in either race.
So what will they run?
Ridge coach Nicole Gilhuley said Barna is planning to run the 3200m, and is considering running the 1600m as well, which is earlier in the meet. Langon is leaning toward the 3200m, and Brosnan seems likely to run the 1600m.
Barna and Langon have squared off four times in the last few weeks with Barna winning both 1600m showdowns, and Langon avenging those defeats by capturing the 3200m. Langon ran 9:02.60 and Barna 9:07.33 at the Group 4 meet last week.
If they do meet in the 3200m, we could see an epic battle that produces a pair of sub 9 times, just like what happened at the last two indoor Meet of Champions when Liam Murphy of Allentown and Devin Hart of Point Pleasant Boro went 1-2 in 2019, and Murphy and Jack Jennings of Mendham were 1-2 in 2020.
Barna, who won the 3200m at the Meet of Champions last June in 8:52.00, and Langon, the M of C winner in XC, have the talent to push each other under the meet record of 8:54.22 set by two-time champ Murphy in 2019.
What about the 1600m?
Well, if Barna and Brosnan are in this, that means we could see two runners under 4:10 for the first time in meet history.
Barna lit up the track with a NJ No. 3 all-time 4:06.27 when he beat Langon in the Group 1600m, and Brosnan ran 4:09.83 for the mile at the Millrose Games.
Collin Boler of Delbarton is another guy with options. Will he go 1600m or 800m? Boler has run 4:12.39 in the mile and is NJ No. 2 in the 800m with a 1:53.55.
PEREZ HAS RECORD IN HER SIGHTS
Angelina Perez of Lakeland, the defending champ in the girls 3200m, has the meet record of 10:24.73 set by Dana Giordano of Bernards in 2012, in her crosshairs. Perez ran a meet record (all groups combined) of 10:21.29 to win the Group 2 title, so it would be surprising to see Perez, who has no problem running fast when she isn't pushed, not take down the record.
There has never a shot put competition in meet history that's produced two throwers over 62 feet, but that could change when Joe Licata of Gill St. Bernard's and Jason Nwosu of Delsea trade shots in the circle.
Licata is the state leader with a 63-8, and Nwosu has hit a NJ No. 2 62-0.25 this winter.
Licata is also attempting to join his brother CJ as a M of C winner in the shot. CJ, who recently won his second straight Ivy League shot put title for Princeton, won the indoor and outdoor M of C titles in the shot put in 2018.
O'Sullivan, a junior, is the state leader with the 16-0.50 he cleared to win the Central Jersey, Group 4 title, so the meet record of 16-0.25 set in 2020 by Bradley Jelmert of Watchung Hills is in jeopardy.
Munson, the Group 2 champ, and Zuckerman have each made made 15-6 this season, so we could three guys over 15-6 in the same competition for the third time in meet history. It also happened in 2019 and 2020.
STATE OF THE UNION
There is a possibility that Union County could sweep the sprints and horizontal jumps, and win the hurdles, 800m, and shot put in the girls competition.
Christiana Nwachuku of Kent Place is the favorite in the 55m dash after blasting a 6.95 to win the Eastern title on Tuesday, and she's the second seed in the 200m with a 24.56. In case you're wondering, the meet record in the 55m dash is 6.92 by Dominique Booker of Montclair Immaculate.
Jackson, a huge favorite to add the indoor title to the outdoor crown she won last June in the quarter, burned a 54.08 to win the Eastern title, which is No. 4 in state history and No. in the nation this season. Kennedy checks in ranked No. 2 in the state this season with a 56.01, and Berry is No. 5 in the state with a 57.54.
In the 4x400m, Scotch Plains, the state leader with a 3:57.46, is favored to win, but Rancocas Valley is right on their heels with a 3:58.
Union County is also home to the No. 1 ranked hurdler, junior Ajanae Thompson of Union Catholic, who has run 8.14, and the No. 3 ranked hurdler, Union Catholic freshman Taylor Cox (8.22). Look out for Anabella Chin of Rancocas Valley, who dropped a huge PR and NJ No. 2 8.21 on Tuesday night when she won hurdles at the Eastern meet.
In the field, Alexandra Bonn of Union Catholic is the top seed in the triple jump (36-4.75), Celine-Jada Brown of Plainfield is the state leader with a 18-8.75, and Eastern champion Jada Mia Puryear of Union Catholic is No. 3 in the state in the shot put with 42-10.25. The No. 1 ranked shot putter in the state is Casey Sullivan of Demarest, the outdoor M of C winner who has throw 44-11 this season. Sullivan will be seeking to bounce back after her loss to Puryear at Easterns,
Lilly Shapiro of Colts Neck could make history by pulling off an unprecedented double.
The University of North Carolina-bound Shapiro, who won the 800m at the Meet of Champions last spring, may try to become the first girl to ever win both the 1600m and 800m at the same meet.
Shapiro, who owns the top times of anyone in the 1600m and 800m fields with a 4:45.39 mile, No. 2 in state history, and 2:10.11 in the 800m, is planning to run the 1600m, where she could make a run at the meet record of 4:48.23 set in 2009 in Jillian Smith of Southern. Then she will decide whether to comeback in the 800m, which should be a little less than an hour later. At the M of C last June, Shapiro placed second in the 1600m and came back to win the 800.
Shapiro's biggest challengers in the 1600m should be Nicole Clifford of Cherokee, who won Group 4 1600m in 4:53.85, and Christina Allen of River Dell, who has run 4:53.95 for the mile this season. Allen won the 3200m at the outdoor M of C last spring.
TUCKER AIMING FOR MULTIPLE GOLDS