By Tim Morris |
For Middletown High School South cross country standout Maddie Brand, running your hardest when the stakes are the highest is her top priority.
“What I’ve learned during my career is you go hard when the time is right,” she explained.
Not all races are important. But for Brand, the Monmouth County Championships on Oct. 17 at Holmdel Park was one of the important ones. The time was right for her to push herself and see how fast she could run. As a senior, it was a race she had been pointing to all year.
“I wanted to get the county championship,” she explained. “I won the freshman race and I wanted to win it as a senior.”
She did by out-dueling Matawan’s Rachel Kenny.
“We pushed each other the whole way,” Brand said after the race. “At two miles I wanted to go strong and pushed myself.”
And she ran to a new Holmdel Park personal best, 18:39, in claiming her first cross country championship.
“It feels amazing,” she pointed out. “I’m very happy with the time. One of my goals was to get under 19:00.”
Brand’s time moved her into the all-time Shore Conference Top-20 at Holmdel Park, and now she’s the second fastest in school history, only behind state champion Cate Guiney’s 17:59.
Brand credited her teammates with helping her achieve this success.
“Without my teammates I wouldn’t have made this progress,” she said. “This (championship) was for all of us. We all run for each other.
“The girls on the team are all best friends,” she added. “Everyone cares so much for the sport and each other. Everyone wants the same thing.”
Brand and the Eagles have a lot to look forward to as the NJSIAA championships approach quickly. Led by Brand and Kathleen Shay – who placed fifth at the county championship posting a 19:35 – the Eagles set a team average record time at the championships,19:55, one second faster than the 1998 state championship team’s average. This year the Eagles finished second behind defending champion Colts Neck, 61-75. Colts Neck and Middletown South are ranked No. 2 and 3 in the Nike National Northeast Regional rankings according to DyeStat, an online cross country outlet.
“I’m very excited about what is to come for us,” said Brand.
Brand and the Eagles are working on finishing the season by running their best in November. She noted coaches Bill and Kathleen Clifton arranged a schedule which didn’t have the harriers pushing hard in September. The county meet provided an opportunity to go hard for the first time this season, and the results were very promising, to say the least.
On top of learning when to appropriately push herself, Brand has discovered how to use some races as training runs. When working a certain portion of the 3.1-mile run during a meet, Brand might push the pace mid-race, or work on her finishing kick at another. At the county meet, she went hard from the start, something she will have to do at the state meets.
In addition to testing different race tactics in hopes of helping her run better, Brand put in mileage this past summer with teammates so she could be stronger at the end of the season.
Illness at the end of last year prevented the Middletown South runner from finishing as strong as she would have liked. It’s given her added motivation for this season.
“I want to prove that is not who I was,” she said of last November.
Based on what we saw at the county championships, Brand is well on her way to proving that. And after having tasted a county championship win, she doesn’t want to stop there.
“I would love to win more races,” she said, referencing the state sectionals on Nov. 4, where the Eagles are defending champions.
Besides her current running form, Brand has one more thing going for her: she’s made her college decision. Earlier this month, Brand committed to the University of Michigan to continue her running career. Now the pressure is off and she can just focus on her running.
“I definitely wanted to make my decision early,” she explained.
An official visit to Michigan made the decision easy for the Eagle harrier.
“After I made my visit I was crazy in love with Michigan,” she said. “I liked the whole aspect of Ann Arbor as a college town. I liked the coaching staff and the girls on the team.”
On top of her success in the fall, Brand is equally accomplished in track and field. She’s won state sectional titles at 800 and 1,600 meters and medaled at the Meet of Champions in the 1,600 meter at both indoor (fourth place) and outdoor (sixth place). Her personal bests are 2:13.67 for the 800 meter and 4:56.53 for the 1,600 meter.
As accomplished as she is in cross country, Brand admits she prefers track.
“I really, really like track,” she pointed out. ”I like watching the sprinters and throwers and being part of relay teams.”
But, cross country does have one thing she likes.
“There’s something about the team camaraderie of cross country,” she said.
That companionship enjoyed by the Eagles could make this season a special one for Brand and her teammates.
This article was first published in the Oct. 26-Nov. 2, 2017 print edition of the Two River Times.
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