Michelle Brown was flushed and out of breath for an unusually long time after she won the 400-meter race June 3 at the track and field Meet of Champions at South Plainfield High.
The air was humid and the sun was blazing as she summoned the energy to speak.
"I think I'm the first girl in history to win three straight 400s at the Meet of Champions," the Seneca senior said.
Brown was clocked in 55.52 seconds, a shade slower than the 54.49 she recorded to win the state Group 3 title a week earlier at South Plainfield. But she won, and that's always a priority for her.
Brown is The Inquirer's girls' track and field athlete of the year in South Jersey.
The sprinter can't imagine losing as an individual or as a team. So when she grabbed the baton as the anchor in the 4x400 relay in the South Jersey Group 3 race three weeks ago and the state Group 3 race a week later, the 18-year-old attacked the course with her usual ferocity.
Winning the relay at sectionals and placing second at states were huge, because the points decided the team titles and Seneca repeated as the South Jersey and state Group 3 champion.
"I've exceeded by far my expectations, and it has gotten me into an amazing college [Notre Dame]," Brown said. "I'm so fortunate to have the support of family, friends and teammates and coaches."
Seneca coach Francine Siedlecki pointed out that Brown is in some elite company when it comes to multiple wins in an event at the Meet of Champions: Willingboro's Carol Lewis in the long jump, and Haddonfield's Erin Donohue in the 1,600 and 3,200.
Both were Olympians.
"Definitely," Brown said when asked if she aims to compete in the Olympics some day. "I'm going to see how I do in college and hopefully that can prepare me for it."
Notre Dame sprint coach John Millar has big plans for Brown, who also won the 100, 200 and 400 at the South Jersey Group 3 championships. He said he heard about Brown's gutsy races from a lot of people. More than once, Brown gutted out wins in races that went down to the wire in the 400 and 4x400.
"Talent is one thing, but being a great competitor sets you above," Millar said.
Brown's preparation for competition also sets her above. In addition to training, she studies her opponents.
"She knows her competition, names, times, everything," Siedlecki said. "She tells me, 'This is who I have to watch.' I open the book, and she's right on the money."
- Bill Iezzi