C.J. Bailey wasn’t about to let a mere stumble ruin his day at the Ocean County Track and Field Championships. Not with the stage set so perfectly for the Jackson Liberty senior who wanted to go out on his home track and on his own terms.
Bailey, the Shore’s premier long sprinter, recovered from his misstep during the 400 hurdles in time to win the race on Thursday at Jackson Liberty. Although he wasn’t thrilled with his time of 55.86 that resulted, it was good enough to put him ahead of second-place finisher John Furlong of Southern’s time of 56.19.
“I fell over the second-to-last hurdle and that really messed me up,” Bailey said. “I broke my focus and got too ahead of myself and I tripped but I had to finish strong. I couldn’t go out like that. Not on my home track. I still have a few times set in my head that I want to achieve.”
That’s the type of competitor Bailey is, one who isn’t satisfied with anything less than his best performance and one who made it all the way to the NJSIAA Meet of Champions in the 400 hurdles as a junior. He decided to forgo the 400 — a county title he won as a junior — with goals of winning the 400 hurdles and setting a school record in the 100.
“C.J. wants to win every time and that’s what sets him apart,” Jackson Liberty coach Todd Engle said. “Certain kids have that certain fire, and I think that is lacking a lot these days. Most kids just think things are good enough, but C.J. isn’t like that. He wants to beat everybody every time. He set the bar for this program as far as how much you have to push yourself. When other kids see that a bar can be set, they try to shoot for that. He wanted to go out with a county record or school record and that’s why he wasn’t very happy with his time in the 400 hurdles.”
There was nothing resembling a stumble from Bailey in the 100, where he followed his heat of 11.09 with a blazing 11.03 gold-medal performance in the final, which placed him a ahead of Barnegat’s Paul Wickwire (11.11) and Toms River North’s Ricky Carberry (11.13). The time was a school record. He’ll be back on Saturday to compete with his teammates in the 4×400.
“It was just great,” Bailey said. “To actually do it on my home track makes it even better. I was able to leave my mark.”
Lacey senior Danielle Leavitt went through the day uncertain that the meet was going to be held, with rain falling in the morning. As things turned out, she was able to run the girls 1,600 in what she called “ideal running conditions.”
“Everyone likes running in the cool conditions so it worked out well,” Leavitt said. “Even though I wasn’t really sure the meet would be held today, I just had to keep preparing myself as if the race was going to happen. If it ended up being canceled, then so be it, but I just kept hydrating throughout the day and preparing myself to run a good race.”
Her time of 4:57.26 was not only good enough to win the race, more than 5 seconds ahead of second-place finisher Chelsea Smith of Toms River South (5:02.55), it set a meet record, breaking the mark of 4:58.67 set by Lorena Adams of Manchester in 1997.
“I was just hoping to break 5 (minutes) today,” said Leavitt, who won the race for the third consecutive year. “Knowing I got the meet record was such a great feeling and a great way to end my senior year.”
The time was an outdoor personal best and a half-second off her best indoor time.
“The first lap was faster than I usually come out and I felt very comfortable,” she said. “I was nervous how I felt later on in the race but on the third lap, when I heard my split time and still felt pretty comfortable, I knew it was a day I was going to run fast and I was happy to carry it out.”