Lots of speedy athletes will compete at the Meet of Champions in track and field Thursday at South Plainfield High School.

Lots of them will win races, too.

But only one boy and one girl will be considered the fastest in the state: the winners of the 100-meter dash.

"It's the most pure race for speed," Eastern senior English Gardner said. "It's my favorite race."

Gardner on the girls' side and Timber Creek junior Damiere Byrd on the boys' side have their sights set on emerging from the final track meet of the season with the title as New Jersey's fastest runner.

Both are No. 1 seeds in the 100 meters.

"In the past year, people are always asking me, 'Who is the fastest in the state?' " Byrd said. "I could never say that I am. That's my goal."

Byrd has the fastest qualifying time. He won the Group 3 state title in 10.68 seconds.

Byrd also won the 200 and 400 at the Group 3 state meet, but said he will compete only in the 100 in the Meet of Champions.

Byrd's top competition should come from Long Branch junior Miles Shuler-Foster (10.73) and two South Jersey runners, Oakcrest sophomore Fabian Santiago (10.73) and Egg Harbor Township senior Tejay Johnson (10.83).

Johnson won the Meet of Champions 100 last year in 10.67. He has been battling a hamstring injury this season, and he finished second to Santiago at the Group 4 state meet.

"I know I have to get off fast," said Byrd, a football star who has a recruiting trip scheduled to South Carolina in mid-June. "I have to hold form all the way through."

The girls' 100 should offer a rare chance for the winners of the last three Meet of Champions races to meet on the track for the first time.

Gardner won the 100 as a freshman (11.62) and as a sophomore (11.88). Gardner missed her junior season because of a knee injury.

In Gardner's absence, Immaculate Conception freshman Myasia Jacobs won the 100 last season (11.72). She also won the 200, which Gardner won in 2008.

This season, Gardner and Jacobs are co-No. 1 seeds in the 100 (11.80), and Jacobs is the top seed in the 200 (23.75) and Gardner is No. 2 (24.04).

Gardner said she plans to run both the 100 and 200.

"My comeback season has been pretty successful," said Gardner, who will attend the University of Oregon on a track scholarship. "I'm looking forward to finishing strong."

Meet of Champions Preview

Thursday at 3:30 p.m. at South Plainfield High

Boys' Athletes to Watch

The 1,600-meter race is loaded, with 11 guys who ran faster than 4 minutes, 13 seconds at the states, including Ocean City's Mike Schoedler (4:12.63). Haddonfield's Ben Potts (4:16.83) and Colin Baker (4:18.04), who set a school record with a second-place time of 4:09.30 last June, should be in the mix, along with Cherokee's Steve Burkholder (4:15.49) and Shawnee's David Forward (4:17.61).

Washington Township's Devon Carter is the No. 1 seed in the 110 hurdles (13.96), with Camden's Syteek Farrington (13.97) right behind him. Carter is the third seed in the 400 hurdles (53.84), just behind Penns Grove's Stephon Bell (53.82).

Haddonfield's Jon Vitez (9:20.30) and Matt Nussbaum (9:21.73) could challenge in the 3,200, and Haddonfield's Michael Rivard (15 feet), Eastern's Don Banks (14-0), and Seneca's Sam Maira (14-0) are among the top seeds in the pole vault.

Washington Township's Steve Morrone is the No. 3 seed (1:53.61) in the 800.

Girls' Athletes to Watch

Seneca's Michelle Brown is the top seed (54.49) and defending champion in the 400. She is the sixth seed in the 200 (24.87).

Eastern's Genevieve Okoro is the top seed (39-3) in the triple jump, Willingboro's Vanessa Arientyl is the No. 2 seed in the high hurdles (14.38), and Clearview's Cassandra Lenkowski is the third seed in the 400 hurdles (1:01.86).

Highland's Megan Venables is the No. 2 seed in the 3,200 (10:33.25), and Kingsway's Chelsea Ley, who has been battling injuries, is the defending champion. Delsea's Brianna Hunt is the third seed in the high jump (5-6), and Kingsway's Taylor Johnson is the third seed in the discus (129-5).

Haddonfield's Marielle Hall is the third seed (4:48.73) in the 1,600.

- Phil Anastasia


Contact staff writer Phil Anastasia at 856-779-3223 or panastasia@phillynews.com.