A.J. Brooks lined up for the Group 4 55-meter hurdles Saturday in lane 4, with the fastest hurdler in the country just to his right in lane 5.
That was Christopher Serrao of East Brunswick, who ran a U.S.-leading 7.29 at Group 4 sectionals earlier this month.
It was no contest.
Brooks ran away from Serrao and everybody else in the race, winning his first state title and matching his lifetime best of 7.54. Navonn Barrett of Trenton ran 7.71, edging Serrao for 2nd. Serrao placed 3rd in 7.74.
That made Brooks Eastern’s first indoor state champion in eight years, since Mikhail Micheaux won the 55 in 2014 in 6.60 and Eastern’s first state champ in the 55 hurdles since Preston Beckley ran 7.79 to win the 1993 race at Jadwin Gym over Willingboro’s Kenny Wade.
A far cry from Brooks’ last indoor state meet, when he placed 13th in the high jump and didn’t even qualify in the hurdles. That was two years ago, and Brooks has come a long way since.
They’ll all meet again next weekend at the Meet of Champions, but for Brooks it’s the culmination of a season that’s seen him lower his PR from 8.24 from last year in the only 55 hurdles race he ran during an abbreviated season down to 7.54, which is fastest by any South Jersey hurdler this year and fastest from all the groups at states.
Shamali Whittle of Nottingham is the No. 2 seed going into Meet of Champions with a 7.56 from the state Group 2 meet. Whittle is also ranked No. 9 nationally in the 55 with his 6.33 at sectionals.