Jalen Jones was New Jersey’s 26th-fastest half-miler going into the Meet of Champions.
Now he’s a Meet of Champs medalist.
Jones, a Burlington Township junior, made a stunning breakthrough Saturday, shaving nearly three seconds off his 800-meter time and placing fifth in the 49th annual Meet of Champions at the Bubble.
Jones ran 1:56.46 and was the No. 2 South Jersey finisher and the No. 2 underclassman, finishing just 2-100ths of a second behind Clifton junior Kevin Heredia. Who in turn finished just 1-100th of a second behind Egg Harbor Township senior Eric Barnes, who was third in 1:56.43 (in a different race).
Old Bridge’s Rey Rivera won the race in 1:52.18, fourth-fastest time in meet history (and fastest ever by a non-South Jersey runner).
But Jones was the biggest surprise of the race and maybe one of the biggest surprises of the meet.
Jones ran 2:00.62 last spring as a sophomore and dipped under two minutes this winter with a 1:59.32 for fifth at states.
That’s fast but only earned him a No. 15 seed in the Meet of Champions and ranked 26th in the state going into Saturday.
So Jones was relegated to the second of three sections, but Heredia was also in the race and the two ran fast enough to bump all but three of the finishers in the fast section.
Jones is Burlington Township’s first medalist at the indoor Meet of Champions in at least 20 years. His time is No. 8 on the all-time Burlington County indoor performance list.
As far as I can tell, Burlington Township’s previous school record in the 800 was 1:57.75, set by Eriq Morris at the 2009 Burlington County Open at Maple Shade. Morris was second to Ryan Garvin.
Morris went on to win sectionals but placed 11th at states and didn’t make it to Meet of Champions.
Burlington Township’s most accomplished half-miler is Shaun Davis, who won the 1996 state Group 1 title outdoors with a 1:59.77. Davis was a three-time BCSL Freedom Division champ in the 800 and a two-time high jump winner.
That 1996 Burlington Township team, led by Davis, Louis Smith, Charles Richardson, Keith Johnson, Eric Bennett, Kevin Koveleski and George Sills, won the state Group 1 team title.
Here is the updated Burlington County indoor 800-meter run list, with all half-milers who have broken 1:58:
1:54.80 … Marvin Lewis [Willingboro], 2001
1:55.14 … Zach McBride [Lenape], 2001
1:55.19 … Isaiah Curbeo [Rancocas Valley], 2016
1:55.84 … Matt Poskus [Cinnaminson], 2007
1:56.02 … Dave Sitzer [Cherokee], 2000
1:56.2h … Roger Lawyer [Willingboro], 1988
1:56.37 … Ian Waterhouse [Rancocas Valley], 2005
1:56.46 … Jalen Jones [Burlington Twp.], 2017
1:56.52 … Rob Novak [Bordentown], 2005
1:56.69 … Sean Watson [Willingboro], 1996
1:56.71 … Wayne Riley [Willingboro], 1997
1:57.41 … Ahmad Rutherford [Willingboro], 2003
1:57.51 … Ross Staudt [Cherokee], 2012
1:57.60 … Tom Long [Cinnaminson], 2016
1:57.5h … Greg Honsby [Rancocas Valley], 1974
1:57.81 … Drew Viscidy [Cherokee], 2012
1:57.82 … Tyler Somers [Cherokee], 2011