SOUTH PLAINFIELD - For Ocean City's Brett Johnson, just competing in Thursday's 1,600-meter race at the NJSIAA Meet of Champions was a nice feeling.
As for winning it and setting a meet and school record in the process?
"It was definitely double the joy," the junior said.
Last year, Johnson won two gold medals the weekend of the sectionals but suffered a stress fracture the following Monday and was unable to compete in groups or the MOC.
He made up for lost time, clocking a time of 4 minutes, 9.03 seconds to break fellow OC grad John Richardson's 2003 meet and school record of 4:09.20. Johnson entered the meet taking dead aim on his friend.
"First and foremost was to go after a 4:09, J.R.'s record," Johnson said. "I was hoping someone would get out fast, nerve them a little bit, so they would go out quick.
"My original goal coming in was 4:05. But that didn't happen, so I had to take the lead because I didn't want the race to go too slow."
Thus, Johnson set the pace, which is something he's not comfortable with.
"Really not a big fan of dictating tempo," he said. "It's too much work. It was playing with my mind too much. I was worried about quarters and stuff like that, and I wasn't focusing on the race that much, which probably was a bad idea."
Johnson did not get the 4:08 he wanted but still had enough to replace Richardson in the record book. The fact he had to do so while running in the uncomfortable position of frontrunner made the effort even nicer.
"It makes you feel awesome, knowing I can go out and dictate the pace," Johnson said. "I was kind of hoping [Liam Tansey] from Morris Hills would hold the pace for the first 400, 600 and I could take it from there.
"Luckily that wasn't the case. I think if I'd have gone out slow, I would have been real frustrated trying to catch up and expended too much energy in the second and third laps and not had anything in the fourth."
First at Seneca.
There are certain achievements that can never be duplicated, and Michelle Brown came up with one Thursday.
The sophomore became the first track and field athlete in Seneca history to win a gold medal at the MOC when she clocked a 54.14 in the 400 meters.
"It's awesome," Brown said. "If you told me last year this would happen, I definitely wouldn't have believed you. I didn't even place last year in the 400, but I've come so far this year, and it paid off.
"Last year, I was a freshman and didn't really know how to run the race. This year, I'm a lot more experienced in it, so that helped."
Brown said her expectation coming in was to run a personal record. She missed that but will take the trade-off.
"I knew it was going to be tough," she said. "I knew it wasn't going to be given to me and that I'd have competition, which is good. It helped me in the end."
Just don't ask Brown to discuss how her strategy unfolded during the race.
"I went blank the whole time until the last 50 meters," she said. "It didn't go as smoothly as last week [in winning the Group 3 meet], but I'm happy with the way I did."
Absegami's Demetrius Rooks went from unknown to unstoppable over the space of one year.
After reaching the MOC in the 4x400 relay as a sophomore, Rooks "got taken out real early" last year and never even got to Frank Jost Field.
But on Thursday, he was the first gold medal-winner of the night after claiming the 400 hurdles in 53.31.
"This feels great because nobody knew me at first," said Rooks, who has yet to lose a 400 hurdle race. "I came out of nowhere and just started winning.
"I'm very surprised. I knew I was going to have an OK season but not have the season I'm having now. I just worked with my coaches, and it's helped me."
Rooks went into the race not knowing or caring what anyone else's times were.
"I didn't know anything," he said. "I just tried to run my race and hope it was fast enough. If you know something, you might try to do something you don't normally do, and that might turn out to be a bad situation."
South Jersey boys dominated in the relays as Absegami won the 4x400 in 3:15.77 with Santiago Galeano, Rooks, Ford Palmer and Geof Navarro. Winslow, Delsea, Cherokee and Pleasantville finished second, third, fourth and fifth, respectively, and Egg Harbor Township was seventh.
In the girls' 4x400 relay, Camden, Millville, Willingboro, Lenape and Woodrow Wilson finished second, third, fourth, seventh and eighth, respectively.
The top eight finishers in each event earned medals. Here is a list of other South Jersey medal winners:
Kingsway's Robert Page (1st, 10.76), Absegami's Geof Navarro (2d, 10.92), Bridgeton's Charles Allen (3d, 10.97);
Egg Harbor's Tejay Johnson (2d, 21.79), Navarro (4th, 21.98), Winslow's Darin Washington (5th, 22.11); Allen (8th, 22.15);
Delsea's Udochi Okoro (8th, 49.64);
Absegami's Ford Palmer (4th, 1:53.83); Washington Township's Xavier Fraction (7th, 1:55.16);
Shawnee's Dave Forward (4th, 9:10.28).
Camden's Matt Marshall (7th, 14.70), Egg Harbor's Stevenson Cajuste (8th, 14.73);
Highland's Anthony Brown (7th, 54.39).
Timber Creek's Montez Blair (2d, 6-10), Pleasantville's Na'im Lyons (7th, 6-6);
Cajuste (4th, 44-10½), Lindenwold's Perry Asare (6th, 44-8);
West Deptford's Dan Batdorf, Highland's Eddie Zubrzycki (tie, 2d, 14-6);
Cajuste (1st, 23-3¼, Moorestown's Bryan Burnham (2d, 22-9¾, Cherokee's Chris Steliga (4th, 22-3½, Camden's Syteek Farrington (5th, 22-¼), Allen (8th, 21-6¾.
Washington's Kwabena Keene (4th, 57-2);
Holy Cross' Frank Allen (3d, 163-6), Millville's Marvin Logan (7th, 158-0);
Vineland's Jose Ramos (8th, 182-10).
Eastern's English Gardner (1st, 11.88), Deptford's Audrey Wilson (2d, 11.95), Palmyra's Rajeanna Marigna (6th, 12.26), Camden's Assante Johnson (8th, 12.40);
Gardner (1st, 24.34), Marigna (5th, 25.14); Washington Township's Jackie Dim (6th, 25.25); Rancocas Valley's Morgan Gordon (7th, 25.28);
Wilson (3d, 55.30);
Millville's Brooke Kott (6th, 2:12.83);
Haddonfield's Greta Feldman (7th, 2:12.85); Williamstown's Maria Ruiz (6th, 4:00.70); Shawnee's Casey Doyle (8th, 5:02.55);
Kingsway's Chelsea Ley (3d, 10.27.90);
Dim (3d, 1:01.83); Camden's Kamice Smalls (7th, 1:03.30).
Dim (5th, 17-½), Camden Catholic's Serifat Junaid (6th, 16-10), Pleasantville's Dominque Best (7th, 16-7¾), Camden's Jamie Jones (8th, 16-7½);
Cherokee's Rachel Montague (4th, 38-0), Northern Burlington's Ariel Woodward-Stephens (6th, 36-8), Glassboro's Della Sartor (7th, 36-8).
Pennsville's Lindsay Minch (6th, 129-6), Glassboro's Shamire Rothmiller (7th, 126-0).