It's the race everyone wanted to see at Saturday's 53rd NJSIAA NJSIAA Meet of Champions, and after Barna scratched from the 1,600-meter run, the stage was set for the two distance running titans to clash in a 3,200m matchup that was hyped up as having the potential to be an epic showdown.
After the Georgetown-bound Barna opened a big lead early in the race, Langon came charging back and used a big burst with about 250 meters left to open a gap on the final lap before hammering across the line first, freezing the numbers on the clock at 8:48.28!!! Barna was second in this instant classic 8:51.94.
And they did it on a flat/slow track. Imagine the times if this meet was held on a much faster/banked track, like it was in 2020 when it was held at Ocean Breeze!! That needs to happen again-permanently!
Langon's time is No. 2 in state history and No. 2 in the nation this season. Barna is now No. 3 all-time in NJ, and No. 3 nationally. Both guys ran well under the meet record of 8:54.22 set in 2019 by Liam Murphy of Allentown. This is the third straight indoor M of C 3,200 that produced a pair of sub nine times!
The only runner in state history to run faster indoors than Langon and Barna is the legendary Edward Cheserek of St. Benedict's Prep, who went 8:39.15 for two-miles when he ran vs. the pros at the 2013 Millrose Games.
When Langon crossed the line he was his usual animated and entertaining self as he celebrated with his friends, teammates, and coaches.
"I knew it was going to take a time like this to win, and I knew I was ready to do this,'' said the Villanova-bound Langon. "Barna is a great runner and he took it out fast (Barna split 2:12.5 and 4:27.1) and opened about 20 meters on me, but I just wasn't going to lose. I wrote on my wall with a Sharpie "3200 MOC Champion,'' and nothing was going to stop me from making that happen. To get the meet record that Liam (Murphy, his future teammate at Villanova) had, and to be way up there on the all-time list is pretty cool. But this was all about getting the W.''
After Barna's aggressive front-running to start the race, Langon was able to slowly reel him in and jumped to the front with 875 meters left. But Barna exploded back in front with 275 left. Langon immediately matched that move by surging back ahead with about 250 left. Langon, who ran the final 1,600 in 4:18.4, the last 800 in 2:05.1, and the final 400 in 60.1, put an exclamation point on his memorable triumph by cranking out a 29.9 last 200.
"I had to get back ahead of him as quickly as possible, and then it was time to let it rip on that last lap,'' said Langon.
Langon and Barna have been pushing and hammering each other ever since the state cross-country meets this past fall.
Langon finished first at the XC Meet of Champions and Barna was second, and Langon now holds a 3-2 edge on Barna this season. Barna, who won the 3,200 at the Meet of Champions last spring, has won both 1,600 matchups, and Langon has captured the three races at 3,200m.
"To have Barna and myself come around at the same time in New Jersey is pretty incredible, and we've brought out the best in each other,'' said Langon. "This is the race everyone wanted to see, and we gave them a great show.''
FITZ GETS REVENEGE
Fitzroy Ledgister of St. Peter's Prep got the revenge he was seeking and nearly broke the meet record when he used a rocket start on his way to victory in a NJ No. 8 all-time 6.35, just off the meet record of 6.34 set in by Louis Akpadago of Hamilton North at the 2020 meet at Ocean Breeze. Ledgister's 6.35 is the fastest time ever run on the slower Bennett Center track.
"I didn't get a very good start last week, and he got me,'' said the Rutgers-bound Ledgister. "So I worked all week on my starts, and I got much better today and that was the difference.''
Conspicuous by his absence in this race was Shamali Whittle of Hamilton North, the state leader in the 55 dash at 6.33 and the winner of the 100 and 200 at the Meet of Champions last spring. The University of Georgia-bound Whittle said he was a little "nicked up'', so he scratched from the meet.
Ledgister said that even know the race would have obviously been much tougher to win if Whittle competed, he was disappointed to not have the chance to race him.
"Shamali is such a great talent, and you always want to race against the best there is,'' said Ledgister. "I am sure he will be back running strong next week at New Balance Nationals, so that will be a big challenge for me.''
Elizabeth senior Greg McQueen, who has been chasing a M of C title for the last couple years, didn't let a recent calf strain prevent him from winning his first title when he churned out a 21.82 to win the one-lapper.
McQueen's time is tied for No. 4 in meet history, and is the second fastest time ever in the Bennett Center.
"I've been thinking about this moment for a long time, so it feels good to finally get one of these,'' said McQueen. "I've been dealing with a sore calf, but I've been wearing compression sleeves that have helped, and I just put it out of mind and went after it today.''
HUGE FINISH FOR MAZERO
All season long, Michael Mazero has used his strength over the final 200 meters to power his way to victory in the two-lap race.
This time, the Cornell-bound star summoned his big finishing prowess to rally for the win when he overtook Bryce Tucker of Pennsauken to win the biggest title of his career with an indoor personal best of 49.02. Mazero is the first indoor M of c winner from Paul VI. Tucker was second in 49.59.
"Bryce is a great runner and I knew it would be tough race,'' said Mazero. "He got out quick on me, so I had work to do on the last lap, and I was finally able to get around him with about 100 to go. Then I just gave it all I had to stay in front.''
Charles Stock has always used a catch me if you can strategy when he races, so it wasn't a big surprise when the Westfield senior opened a big gap on the field with a 53.5 first 400. Stock continued to pour it on over the final two laps as he maintained his lead en route to victory in 1:52.70, which lowers his own state leading time and school record, is No. 8 in meet history, and No. 11 in the nation this season. Union junior Gabriel Rodriguez was second in 1:55.21
"I like to go out fast and keep pushing the pace,'' said the Virginia Tech-bound Stock. "It's the way I race and it's worked out well for me. If it's not broke, don't fix it.''
Stock, who came back later to split 49.7 as the anchor on the runner-up 4x400, said his biggest target it to try to go sub 1:50 on the much faster banked track at the New Balance Nationals at the NY Armory next week.
"That's a big goal for me, and I know there will be great competition next week, so I'll be trying to drop my time as much a possible and see what happens.''
BROSNAN STRIKES DOUBLE GOLD
After Langon and Barna bypased this race to run the 3,200, Shane Brosnan was a huge favorite to grab his first M of C title.
Brosnan became the only double winner in the boys competition when he came back later to split 1:54.9 on the anchor leg to bring Union Catholic across the line first in the 4x800 in 7:57.36.
The Rutgers-bound Serrao, who won the 110 hurdles at the M of C last June, was upset last week in the Group 4 race when he placed third. Serrao had issues with his steps to the first hurdle last week, which he corrected on Saturday.
That's not all!!
About 15 minutes after the hurdles, Serrao ran 6.49 to place third in the 55 dash!!!
THIRD TIME IS THE CHARM
Bryce Tucker, who came up short in his attempts to win the 400 and the hurdles earlier in meet when he placed second in both, blasted a 48.0 anchor leg and came from behind to catch Westfield to give Pennsauken the victory in 3:23.84, the fastest time in the state this season. Westfield was second in 3:23.93, the second fastest time in the state this winter.
This is the second M of C gold medal for Tucker, who won the Meet of Champions title in the 400 hurdles as a sophomore last spring,
Seton Hall Prep, which came in to this race as the fastest 4x400 team in the state, had some misfortune when its third runner crashed to the track and they weren't able to finish the race.
Sophomore Alex Saldana (2:04.9), senior Myles Plummer (1:56.9), junior Caudell Cajuste (1:59.9), and Shane Brosnan (1:54.9) teamed up to give Union Catholic the victory in 7:57.36, No. 5 in meet history, No. 2 in NJ this season, and the 10th fastest time in the U.S. this winter.
Ridge crossed the line second, but was disqualified. That moved Summit up to second in 8:05.73, and Westfield to third in 8:12.18 to give Union County a rare 1-2-3 sweep.
Damarion Potts gave up basketball this season to focus on becoming a better high jumper.
On Friday, that decision paid off when the junior at South Brunswick became the best high jumper in the state when he soared over the bar at 6-9 to finish first. Jaden Johnson of Timber Creek, the triple jump champion, finished second at 6-2. Rutgers-bound Dillon Page of Cherry Hill East, the outdoor M of C HJ winner last June, placed fifth at 6-2.
The 6-9 by Potts betters his previous personal best of 6-8.25, is the top mark in NJ this season, and is tied for No. 7 in the nation this season.
HISTORY IN THE HORIZONTALS
Timber Creek never had a Meet of Champions winner before this year, but that all changed when seniors Jaden Johnson and Chace Pearson each put on sensational shows to sweep the horizontal jumps for Timber Creek.
Johnson got the Timber Creek jumping party started when he soared to a PR of 46-9.50 to smash the meet record!!! Johnson's 46-9.50 broke the record of 46-3.25 set in 2020 by Floyd Whitaker of Highland, and is No. 2 in the state this season and No. 25 nationally. Johnson, whose previous best was 46-5.25, also placed second in the high jump with a 6-2.
After Johnson's historic victory, it was Pearson's turn to star on the runway.
Pearson, who came into the competition with a PR of 22-6.25 from last spring, exploded to a new PR of 23-3 to take home the long jump championship. Tyson Lowe of Fort Lee finished second with a 22-10.50
The 23-3 by Pearson is No. 2 in NJ this season, No. 25 in NJ history, and No. 28 in the nation this winter.
Joe Licata of Gill St. Bernard's completed a rare family double by launching the shot put 62-6.75 to join his brother, C.J., as a Meet of Champions winner in the shot put. CJ, now starring at Princeton University where Joe will attend next fall, won the 2018 indoor M of C shot put title. Senior Jason Nwosu of Delsea was second with a 60-2.
Joe and CJ are just the second brother combination in meet history to win titles. The DiGiorgio brothers are the first to accomplish the feat as the bombers from Bayonne boast three brothers who combined to win shot put titles - Kevin in 1997 and '98, Glenn in 2001, '01 and '02, and Steven in 2005.
Licata, who is ranked No. 1 in the state and No. 9 in the US this season with the 63-8 he threw at the Non-Public B Championships, is now the No. 12 thrower in meet history with his 62-6.75, an inch behind CJ's 62.7.75.
FLAIR IN THE AIR
Hillsborough has had its share of great track and field athletes over the years, but a M of C title is something that has eluded the boys program.
But that's not case anymore after junior Brian O'Sullivan continued his torrid season in the pole vault by clearing 15-0 to become Hillsborough's first boys champ ever. Connor Munson of Westwood was second at 14-6.
O'Sullivan, the state leader with the meet record 16-0.25 that he made at the Central Jersey, Group 4 meet, has now cleared 15-0 or higher in eight different meets this season, and he is undefeated vs. NJ competition this winter.