Being a competitive person is something Matt Bogdan thrives on. Bogdan, who is a resident of Howell and a 2021 graduate of Colts Neck High School, would tell you his attitude is what brings out the best in him on a cross country trail or on a track during a race.
During the spring of 2020 when athletes were sidelined during the coronavirus pandemic, Bogdan learned how to compete with himself. He kept running to stay in shape and to prepare for the opportunities he hoped to have during his senior year in high school.
His training efforts during a lost junior season paid off in a terrific senior year at Colts Neck.
Bogdan capped his 2021 spring campaign by winning the 2,000-meter steeplechase national championship at the Outdoor Nationals, Presented by Nike, in Eugene, Ore., on July 3. His winning timethe race which included hurdle jumps and water jumps was 5:49.94 (2,000 meters is approximately 1.24 miles).
“It’s really surreal,” Bogdan said in an interview. “I have put in a lot of hard work over the last couple of years to get here. The goal last year was to win this (national) race. For it all to come together in my last race as a Colts Neck Cougar and to win it means a lot.”
Bogdan’s national championship time of 5:49.94 is the second fastest time in New Jersey history for the 2,000-meter steeplechase. He was 0.02 seconds behind the record set by Mount Olive High School’s Steve Slattery when Slattery won the national title in 1998.
Colts Neck boys cross country coach Jim Schlentz was able to watch Bogdan win the steeplechase in Oregon on a livestream of the race.
Schlentz coaches the boys and girls distance runners during the winter and spring track seasons and he has helped train Bogdan for the 2,000-meter steeplechase since 2019, which was the first time Bogdan qualified for nationals.
As he watched Bogdan clear the last hurdle with the finish line less than 100 meters away, Schlentz knew his standout runner had a national championship within his grasp.
“Everything clicked for him in Eugene,” Schlentz said. “He finally had that signature race where everything clicked for him. Seeing him get over that last hurdle and win was a magical moment. It was brilliant.”
Schlentz said it was great to see Bogdan flash the “biggest smile” the coach has seen from the young man as he crossed the finish line first.
It meant a lot to Schlentz to see Bogdan achieve the excellence he worked so diligently to achieve throughout his high school career.
Schlentz watched Bogdan struggle during his sophomore cross country season. But the young man kept working and became one of the top runners in his class in New Jersey by the end of the following spring season.
Schlentz knew it was not easy for Bogdan, like many other athletes, to lose the 2020 season to the pandemic, but he credited Bogdan for continuing to work hard and not losing sight of what he could accomplish when sports resumed in 2021.
“He has a passion for running and wants to be good at it,” Schlentz said of Bogdan. “He had a great senior season.”
During the 2020 cross country campaign, Bogdan won the Central Jersey Group III state sectional race on Nov. 14 in Jamesburg. He ran a time of 15:49 to win the 5-kilometer race (3.1 miles).
Bogdan also won the 2020 Monmouth County cross country championship in a time of 15:53.50 at Bucks Mill Park in Colts Neck.
Bogdan then moved into the 2021 spring track and field season. At the Monmouth County Championships at Middletown North High School, Bogdan won the 1,600-meter race (1 mile) and the 3,200-meter race (1.98 miles). He ran the 1,600 in 4:16.89 and the 3,200 in 9:32.93.
At the Central Jersey Group III state sectional championships that were held on June 4-5 at Jackson Liberty High School in Jackson, Bogdan won the 1,600- and 3,200-meter races, and he ran a leg on the Cougars’ winning 4 x 800-meter relay team. The relay team’s winning time was 8:31.75.
At the Group III state championship meet the following weekend at Pennsauken High School, Bogan won the 1,600- and 3,200-meter races in times of 4:16.31 and 9:21.56, respectively.
“To win both of those (races) meant a lot to me,” Bogdan said. “Everything was finally clicking toward the end.”
Bogdan ran a personal best time of 4:12.64 in the 1,600-meter race at the New Jersey Meet of Champions on June 19 in South Plainfield to place fifth. It was the only individual race Bogdan did not win during the spring of 2021.
Running a personal best in the 1,600 was a good time for Bogdan to build on as he prepared to compete in the 2,000-meter steeplechase at the national meet in Oregon.
After a couple of “great” weeks of training with Schlentz, Bogdan was ready to roll when he touched down in Oregon and he ended his high school career by winning a national title.
As he hugged his father, Mike, after the race, Bogdan was able to embrace the moment he had long sought: stamping the title of “National Champion” in front of his name.
“It’s really awesome with everything that went on,” he said. “It showed my toughness. I always knew I could do it.”
Bogdan plans to continue his running career at North Carolina State University.