By Tim Morris
When Colts Neck High School’s Jordan Brannan won his first NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group III championship it was a big deal to the standout. To the Cougar, it meant that he was now one of the big guys — one of the best distance runners in the state.
Two weeks later, Brannan is now the best of the big guys as the top 3,200-meter runner in the state for the indoor track and field season. Employing his pre-race strategy to perfection, the junior ran away from the field with a long-sustained sprint over the final 650 meters to win the Meet of Champions (MOC) title Feb. 27 at the John Bennett Indoor Athletic Complex in Toms River. Brannan turned in the fastest 3,200 time of the year, 9:14.94, in his victory.
“It’s unreal,” he said of his MOC triumph. “It still hasn’t sunk in yet.”
What was real was that Brannan was ready for a big race in Toms River. He had run a personal best of 9:19.60 the week before in winning the Group III state title. That came after running a time of 4:22.20 in the 1,600.
“At the state meet, I had run 9:19 off a double,” he said. “I was going to be fresh at the MOC. I was going to do whatever I had to [in order] to win. I felt I was in the best shape of my life.”
Brannan also had the confidence of his head coach, Jim Schlentz.
“He told me I had more weapons that anyone else in the race and made me confident,” Brannan said.
The race unfolded as anticipated with Millburn High School’s Matt Grossman and Cherry Hill High School East’s Aaron Groff setting the pace. They ran a modest, but decent, time of 4:41 for the first 1,600 with all the contenders, including Freehold Township High School Group IV champion Jake Konig, running in a pack behind them.
“It was not my job to push it,” Brannan said. “Early on, Grossman and Groff did the work. I was going to let them tire everyone out and then deliver the knockout punch.”
Brannan did have a Plan B. If the pace was real slow, he would move with 1,000 meters to go and make a long drive to the finish. He didn’t need a Plan B because the pace was honest enough and with 800 meters to go, Goff took off and opened up a gap on the field. Only Brannan went with him. When Goff stepped off the pedal after 100 yards, Brannan was just getting going. He kept pushing as Goff backed off, and he delivered the knockout punch to the field.
Maintaining his kick over the final 650 meters, Brannan had the others running for second. He ran his last 800 in 2:12.
Grossman won the battle for second (9:15.99).
“At the finish line, I was thinking this is unreal,” said Brannan, who joined the Cougars’ legendary Craig Forys as the only Cougars to win the indoor MOC 3,200.
Brannan knows that the victory puts him on a whole new level. Runners will now take aim at him, and he’s ready.
“Now I know I can compete in the big meets,” he said.
Freehold Township’s Ciara Roche would not change anything about her 1,600 performance at the MOC, even though she finished second to West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South’s Christina Rancan. The race turned into a 50-meter dash in the homestretch.
“I think the race played out like I wanted,” she said. “I have no regrets with how I ran the last 100 meters. It came down to who was the fastest in the last 50 meters, and she had the edge on me.”
Roche, who hadn’t lost a 1,600 this winter, had the consolation of running an indoor personal best of 4:51.18 behind Rancan’s 4:50.85.
The Cornell University-bound Roche turns her attention to the outdoor season and running the Girls High School Mile at the Penn Relays.
Ryan Tomkins, whose upset win in the high jump at the Group III championships was key to Colts Neck winning the team title, earned a medal at the MOC. The Cougars’ standout jumped 6-4 to finish fifth.
Other notable results from Freehold Regional High School District indoor track and field boys athletes were: Konig (9:29.10) and Colts Neck’s Anthony Russo (9:29.11), 11th and 12th in the 3,200; Colts Neck’s Zach Czipkay, 15th in the 1,600 (4:23.96); and Marlboro High School’s Kwaku Amponsah, 15th in the 55 hurdles (7.83). For the girls, Marlboro’s Danielle Spano was 12th in the 200 (26.56) and St. John Vianney High School’s Monica Heil, who lives in Manalapan, was ninth in the 400 (58.92).