Seneca's Michelle Brown, the top 400-meter runner in the state, will be racing from meet to meet this summer in an effort to realize her potential.
"I don't think I hit my peak yet," said Brown, who won the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association's Meet of Champions' 400 in 53.72 seconds Thursday at South Plainfield High.
"It will come at nationals. I can run a 53 low or faster."
The Meet of Champions record is 53.15, set by Neptune's Stephanie Saleem in 1985. Brown, a junior, will be back next year.
Brown, who is modest about her track achievements, is cautiously optimistic about her future.
"My goal is to try to go to the Olympic trials and see how I do," she said.
Today, Brown, The Inquirer's girls' track and field athlete of the year, is scheduled to arrive in San Juan, Puerto Rico, as part of the National Scholastic Sports Foundation team. It will compete in the Caribbean Scholastic Invitational on Saturday.
On June 20, Brown and teammate Mary Bohi, who together scored 50 points to help Seneca win the Group 3 state title, will compete in the Nike Outdoor Nationals at North Carolina State.
In the World Youth Track and Field trials June 30 and July 1 at Eastern Michigan University, Brown is seeded second in the 400. If she wins or places second, she'll qualify for the World Youth Championships July 8-12 in Italy.
If the 17-year-old athlete from Shamong does well there, she could be entered in the National Junior Olympic meet, July 28 to Aug. 2, at North Carolina State.
In addition to the 400, Brown runs the 100 and 200 and is part of the 4x400 relay team. In fact, she was the top seed in the 200 and the second seed in the 400 at the Meet of Champions.
Not long after beating the top seed, Oakcrest's Nijgia Snapp, in the 400, Brown ran the 200, in which her seed time was 24.17. She finished fourth in 24.60. Paramus Catholic freshman Myasia Jacobs won in 23.99.
"There was not enough recovery time," Seneca coach Francine Siedlecki said. "She was so jubilant after the 400 that I said, 'You don't have to run the 200.' It was gutsy."
Brown said she enjoyed the 400 the most because she finds it more challenging than the 100 or 200.
"The 100 and 200 are pure speed," said Brown, who placed second in the 100 in 12.19 and won the 200 in 24.17 at the Group 3 state meet. "The 400 is endurance and skill, and harder to win. I feel more accomplishment there. It is my best event."
Part of that skill has to do with strategy. Brown is known for coming off the pace to sprint past her rivals in the stretch. But that didn't work against Snapp in the indoor Meet of Champions on Feb. 22, when the Oakcrest senior won the 400 in 55.74 and Brown was second in 55.88.
In the Meet of Champions race, Brown, after consulting with Siedlecki and assistant coach Heather McNamara, started fast in Lane 5 to make up the stagger before the first curve and take the lead.
"You have to learn what strategy can get you the best time," Brown said. "You need to think about it."
A good student, Brown also is thinking about college, specifically, a Division I school. She has visited Penn State and Villanova and is talking to Stanford.
"I want to go to a Division 1 school because the competition is more challenging," Brown said. "I want it to be a challenge."
Just like the 400.