NJ native Sam Mattis got the Garden State off to a great start by becoming the first winner of the meet by capturing the men's discus on the opening day of competition on Thursday.
Mattis, a 2012 graduate of East Brunswick High and a 2020 Olympian, had to rally to win his second US national title (he also won in 2019). Mattis, competing for the New York Athletics Club, was trailing Turner Washington of Arizona State, by one inch, 215-3 to 215-2, when he unloaded a 216-3 on his fifth attempt to defeat Washington by one foot.
With the victory, Mattis has qualified for the U.S. team that will compete at the World Championships (August 19-27 at the National Athletics Centre, in Budapest, Hungary).
This wasn't the first time Mattis came up big with the pressure.
Mattis, who set the still-standing NJ high school discus record with a 218-4 in 2012, also had to rally on his fifth throw to make the 2020 U.S. Olympic Team when he sent the saucer 204-2 to place to secure the third and final qualifying spot. Mattis, the 2015 NCAA discus champ while at UPenn who owns a personal best of 225-4, placed a very strong eighth in the discus with a 209-7 at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
There were lots of NJ stars in action on Thursday.
Keturajh Orji, a 2014 graduate of Mount Olive High, came up agonizingly short in her attempt to win a seventh U.S. outdoor title. Orji, who set the meet record of 47-10.50 last year, finished second with a leap of 47-4.25, just .25 behind rival Tori Franklin, who won with a mark of 47-4.50. Orji, a two-time U.S. Olympian and the U.S. record holder in the TJ, did qualify for the World Championships. The top three finishers in each event qualify for the U.S. National Team (as long as they've met the World Athletics standard).
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Several NJ stars advanced with strong performances on Thursday.
Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone (Union Catholic-Class of 2017) ran the fastest time in the first round of the women's 400 with a 49.79 to move on to Friday's semifinal round. McLaughlin-Levrone, the world record holder and reigning Olympic champ in the 400 hurdles, has decided to just focus on the flat 400 for this meet.
Athing Mu (Trenton High-Class of 2020), the 2020 Olympic champ in the 800, finished third in her 1,500 heat in 4:10.33 to advance to Saturday's final. Mu has elected not defend her 800 title at these championships.
Ajee' Wilson (Neptune-Class of 2012) ran 2:00.32 to place third in her heat and Olivia Baker (Columbia High-Class of 2014) ran 2:00.13 to finish fourth in her heat as both advanced to Friday's semifinals of the women's 800. Wilson, a 2-time Olympian who was second to Mu last year, won the 800 at the 2022 World Indoor Championships.
English Gardner (Eastern High-Class of 2010), a 2-time Olympian and an Olympic gold medalist in the 4x100 relay in 2016, also advanced to the semifinals of the 100m dash by running 11.12 to place third in her heat. The semis and the final of the 100 are on Friday.
Villanova's Sean Dolan (Hopewell Valley High-Class of 2019) ran a season-best 1:46.95 to place fifth in his 800 to move into Friday's semifinals. The 800 final is scheduled for Sunday.