Malachi James dominated the sprints, Danny Mikay was a surprise winner, Max Zuckerman put on a sensational show, and Chris Serrao, Joe Licata, Kyle Rakitis, and Bryce Tucker were repeat winners at the 53rd NJSIAA Meet of Champions on Saturday on a wind swept Franklin High School in Somerset.
Although the meet was missing several big stars who were competing at National Championship meets and the gusty winds hurt many times, there were still plenty of memorable moments.
Malachi James of Willingboro took a knee after he crossed the finish line first in the 200-meter dash in a wind-aided 21.88 to complete a very impressive sprint double. James, the only boy to win two individual events on the day, captured the 100 earlier in wind-aided 10.54.
"I was thanking God,'' said James. "I fractured my hip playing football back in September, and I was told I probably wouldn't be able to run indoors and outdoors. But I never gave up, and kept working hard and was finally able to comeback in May, and I just feel blessed to back running. So to win both of these races is something that means a lot to me. I overcame a lot to get here, and I'm just thankful that God has watched over me.''
With his two victories, James became the first sophomore boy to win two events at the M of C since Nick Vena of Morristown won the shot put and discus in 2009.
HURDLING INTO THE RECORD BOOK
Chris Serrao of East Brunswick, who always comes up with his best performances when it matters most, did it again on Saturday when he blasted his way over the barriers on the way to his second straight title in the 110 hurdles, stopping the clock at a wind-legal 13.73 to break his own Middlesex County record of 13.77 that he ran in the trials at the Group 4 meet last week.
The Rutgers-bound Serrao, who placed third in the 400 hurdles at Friday's New Balance Nationals, came back later to win his second gold medal when he ran the second leg on East Brunswick's victorious 4x100 relay that ran 41.48, which broke its own Middlesex County record of 41.49 and is No. 3 in meet history.
Serrao's busy weekend will continue on Sunday when he runs on EB's state-leading 4x400 at the New Balance Nationals. EB, which has ran its NJ No. 1 3:15.65 to win the Group 4 race, is targeting the Middlesex County record of 3:12.41 set in 1997 by Metuchen.
Max Zuckerman showed once again how much ice water he has in his veins when the senior at Pascack Hills cleared 15-6 to clinch the pole vault title, and then made 16-0 on his first attempt to break the Bergen County and North Jersey record!! The former Bergen County record of 15-9 was set in 2019 by another star from Pascack Hills, Liam Landau.
Zuckerman, who took three tries at 16-5 in an attempt to break the meet record of 16-4.75 set last year by East Brunswick's Brian McSweeney, is just the fourth vaulter in meet history to clear 16 feet.
Zuckerman, who made 15-6 last week on his first attempt in a jump-off to win the Group 2 title over Connor Munson of Westwood, said he doesn't let the pressure bother him.
"I seem to do well when I have some pressure on me,'' said the Northeastern-bound Zuckerman, whose previous best of 15-8 came in the 2021 outdoor season. "I just try to relax and picture myself making it, and that works well for me.''
What made Zuckerman's performance even more impressive is that it came in very difficult conditions as a strong headwind gave most vaulters difficulty.
"I never would have thought my best day would come on a day like this,'' said Zuckerman, who will vault at Sunday's New Balance Nationals. "But I just blocked the wind out of my mind, and everything came together.''
RUNNING IT BACK
Kyle Rakitis of Kingsway, who won 1,600 last year, had targeted the meet record of (4:07.31 by Chris Marco of Toms River South in 2012), but after a 2:03.54 first 800 that saw him pushing out front into the strong wind, the University of Virginia-bound standout decided to ease off the gas a bit and just focus on get the win, which he did in 4:14.50.
"I wanted to got for the record, but the wind was really strong, so I just ran to win over the last couple laps to cement my legacy and become just the fifth guy to go back to back,''' said Rakitis. I'll be going for a much faster time tomorrow at New Balance Nationals.
SHOCKER IN THE CIRCLE
Dannyl Mikay was one of the biggest surprise winners of the meet as the senior at Demarest came up with a 18-foot personal best throw of 196-5 to score the upset victory in the discus.
"I'm am very surprised,'' said Mikay, whos previous best of 178-11 came when he won the Group 2 title last week. "But I've had some big throws that have been fouls, so I figured if I made some adjustments I could get a a really big throw like this.''
Just about all the top finishers had huge personal best throws, which was due in large part to the strong winds.
Benjamin Shue of Bergen Catholic, the state leader and the national freshman record holder with a 196-8, had an off day and finished sixth with a 186-3.
BACK TO BACK
Bryce Tucker wanted to get prepared for running the rounds at the USATF U20 Championships June 23-25 at Hayward Field in Oregon, so he used the last couple days to simulate what it will feel like.
The experiment was a big success.
Tucker, a junior at Pennsauken, placed fourth in the 400 hurdles in 53.01 on Friday at the New Balance Nationals, and came back to win his second straight M of C 400 IH title in 53.57. Tucker also ran a personal best of 14.22 in the 100 HH trials on Saturday before placing third in the final in 14.27.
Tucker, whose PR of 52.17 came when the 400 hurdles came at the 2021 M of C, could become the first boy to ever win three straight M of C titles in the IH next year.
Joe Licata of Gill St. Bernard's unloaded an outdoor PR and NJ No. 1 of 64-8, which just missed his over PR of 64-11, to win the shot put for the second straight year. Jason Nwosu of Delsea, who came into the meet with a NJ No. 1 63-2.50, finished second with a 62.7.50.
Licata, who is headed to Princeton, finished his career with three M of C titles. He also won the indoor M of C title in the shot put this past March.
SETH'S BIG KICK
After running 3,100 meters, it all came down to a sprint to the finish in the 3,200 between Seth Clevenger of Haddonfield and Jacob Heredia of Clifton. Clevenger, a senior, had just a little more left in his legs and was able to edge Heredia, 9:07.10 to 9:07.46. Clevenger is the first boy from Haddonfield to win an M of C title.
Clevenger, who ran the first 1,600 in 4:30.50, closed with a 61.28 final 400 to secure the victory. He will be back in action in the mile at Sunday's New Balance National Championships.
Robert Paneque of Jackson, the state leader with the Shore Conference record 208-6 he threw to win Group 4 title, couldn't come close to a new PR because of the elements, still managed to do enough to win the javelin with a 189-9. Austin Hudak of Hammonton was second with a 184-11. Tyler Zawatski of Freehold Township, the defending champ, didn't compete because of an injury to his hand.
Paneque, whose best last year was a 165-4 in his first season competing, and Zawatski are both entered in the javelin at Sunday's New Balance National Championships.
One of the best races of the meet was the 800 between juniors Collin Boler of Delbarton and Gabriel Rodriguez of Union. Rodriguez led for the first 750 meters, but Boler, who ran 56.92 for the final 400, was able to squeeze past Rodriguez just before the the line to win, 1:54.01 to 1:54.19.
Alex Sadikov had the most dramatic finish of the day as the junior from Ocean Township dove across the line to win the 400 in 49.41. Morristown sophomore Jason Meza was second in 49.60.
Joseph Oduro became South Plainfield's first boys champ when he soared 48-1.75 to win the triple jump. The Brown-bound Oduro also placed fourth in the long jump with a 21-11.
Senior Jordan Hartley of Watchung Hills leaped 22-7.75 to defeat Chace Pearson of Timber Creek by one inch. Pearson won the LJ at the indoor Meet of Champions.
Senior Jeremy West of Hamilton West finished first in the high jump when he was the only competitor to clear 6-6.