They make runners constantly wonder where they are and when they’ll strike. They remain a threat no matter how far off the pace they may fall.
That’s because Brett Johnson and Robby Andrews possess New Jersey’s most wicked wheels, which makes them the best closers in the state and key figures in Saturday’s Meet of Champions race at Holmdel Park.
Last Sunday, it seemed as though Andrews, a senior at Manalapan, was headed for a runner-up finish in Group 4 when he trailed Mark Leininger of Colts Neck by 40 meters with less than a mile remaining. But Andrews summoned his lethal kick and reeled in Leininger to win in 16:10. Andrews ran the final 1.1 miles in 5:14.
Meanwhile, Johnson, a senior at Ocean City, nearly pulled off the same great escape. He was seven seconds behind Tyler Udland of Millburn in the Group 3 race with a half mile to go and charged through the downhills in the back woods to get on Udland’s heels. But Johnson, who ran the last 1.1 in 5:10, didn’t quite have enough, falling five seconds short, 15:36 to 15:41.
``He’s dangerous when he’s close because he can finish so fast,’’ said Udland.
Johnson and Andrews are the two best milers around. Last spring, Johnson won the M of C 1,600 in a meet record 4:09.0 and ran a state junior class record 4:08.51. Andrews was second to Johnson at the M of C in 4:11.65.
``I have enough confidence in my kick that I feel I catch just about anyone if I am close enough, except Robby,’’ said Johnson. ``It would be tough for anyone to catch him.’’
Johnson said he knows what he did wrong last Sunday vs. Udland.
``I learn from my mistakes and I know I can’t let a guy like Ty get a 10 second lead on me,’’ said Johnson. ``I have to keep it a little closer . If I do that I like my chances.’’
Johnson did say that Udlanad, the M of C 3,200 last spring, caught him a little off guard with a burst of his own down the final straightaway.
``I was surprised with how wll he respond,’’ said Johnson. ``I thought maybe I could break him if I stayed with him for a few steps, but he ran great race and deserves all the credit.’’
Udland feels the pace will be around 5:10 for the opening mile and sub 10:20 at two miles, a bit quicker than last week’s Group 3 race (5:15 and 10:24).
Johnson feels that would benefit him.
``Honestly, I feel that if it is faster it will be harder for them (Udland, Doug Smith of Gill St. Bernard’s and Joe Rosa of West Windsor North) to hold on that last mile,’’ said Johnson. ``I will run the race I have to. I don’t run hard and then hold on and I don’t let others dictate what I am going to do. I have a plan and will stick to it. I’ll have a lot left at the end.’’
A lot of people aren’t looking at Andrews as a major contender because he hasn’t run under 16 at Holmdel. His best time on the course is 16:02, which he ran to place fourh at the M of C a year ago
``I will be ready,’’ said Andrews. ``I haven’t been training to just finish somewhere in the top five. I’ve been training to win.’’
It sure would be interesting to have both Johnson and Andrews within striking distance during the late stages of this one. It could make for one of the most exciting and fastest finishes in meet history.