Morgan Spann never even gave track and field a thought before she enrolled at McNair Academic High School in Jersey City a little more than three years ago.
“I just wanted to go out for a sport,” Spann said. “I liked running, so I decided to try track.”
Little did Spann know that she would eventually carve out a career that would rank among the very best athletes in the school’s fine track and field history – although she had to survive a few bumps in the road along the way.
After Spann joined the Cougars’ program, veteran head coach Matt Hogan believed that she had the makings of becoming someone special.
“She always had a good runner’s body,” Hogan said. “I wasn’t sure that she’d be a good sprinter, but I always thought she could develop nicely, because she was tall and had a nice stride with some natural speed.”
Spann remembered entering the McNair Academic gymnasium and seeing all the records and accolades that were bestowed upon the greatest athlete in the school’s history, namely former Hudson Reporter Female Athlete of the Year Leslie Njoku.
“I thought what Leslie did was definitely unattainable,” Spann said. “But I thought if I kept working at it, I could maybe do well and give a go at it. She held all the school and county records. If I tried hard, I could reach for the stars.”
Spann had a very solid sophomore year and was moving her way up the ranks when disaster struck during her junior year.
Spann contracted a series of respiratory infections that left her hospitalized for weeks at a time.
“It never seemed to get right,” Hogan said. “She spent so much time trying to get healthy and then back in shape. She would come back, then go back into the hospital, then come back.”
Spann tried to endure the frustration of constantly being sick.
“It was nasty,” Spann said. “It took me a long time to get back to 100 percent. I missed a lot of practice and I just couldn’t get myself to feel right.”
After missing most of her junior year to the illness, Spann was determined to come back this year better than ever.
“It’s all I wanted to do,” Spann said. “I wanted to get back into it and go harder than ever before.”
Hogan could sense that Spann was ready for business this year.
“She really came on,” Hogan said. “She put in more distance work, which every runner needs. She just needed the mindset that she could do it. She likes to run. She’s into it. She just had to make it her priority.”
Spann doesn’t compete during the cross country season because she’s not a fan of long distance running, but she did some training during the fall and realized then that she had finally recovered fully.
“I started training during cross country and I felt a lot stronger,” Spann said. “It gave me an idea of what I could do.”
Recently, Spann competed at the Hudson County Track Coaches Association championships at Lincoln Park and turned the event into her own little personal playground.
Spann won the 100-meter dash in 12.3 seconds, the 200-meter dash in 25.0 seconds and the 400-meter run in 58.0 seconds. She almost made it a quadruple gold-medal winning day, missing winning the triple jump by just ¾ of an inch.
But from being in a hospital bed last year to a three-time county champion a year later is a remarkable metamorphosis.
And for her efforts, Spann has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week.
Spann followed up her county performance by winning two medals at last week’s NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I championships. Spann was second in the 400-meter run with a personal best time of 57.87 and was third in the 200-meter dash in 25.84. Spann now heads to the overall Group I championships this weekend.
Spann was limited at the state sectionals because she suffered a slight groin in competing in the triple jump in the county meet.
“We decided to treat her with kid gloves,” Hogan said.
Spann not only captured gold medals in three events in the county, but she managed to break the school record in the 200-meter dash in the process. Yes, it was a record that was held by Njoku, who went on to have a fine career at Georgia Tech.
“I went to the county meet with a positive attitude,” Spann said. “I was either going to go hard or go home. It’s my senior year, my last chance. I wanted to be able to take them all if I could.”
As for breaking Njoku’s record?
“Wow!” Spann exclaimed. “I never thought that was possible. It feels great. I’ll try to go after her 400 [meter run] record next. It was a great meet, because I got a PR [personal record] in all four events. It showed me that the hard work had paid off.”
Hogan couldn’t believe that Spann would develop into a three-time county champ.
“I always thought she had talent, but I wasn’t so sure she’d be able to win three events,” Hogan said. “She’s very versatile. We put her in once at the [Jersey City] city meet in the long jump and she won that. If she ever learned to hurdle, I think she’d be good at that as well. She’s only going to get better in the triple jump.”
Spann has already committed to attend Monmouth University in the fall, where she will compete for the track and field team there.
“In my mind, Monmouth is getting a steal,” Hogan said. “She’s definitely going down as one of our best. She ranks in the top two or three in the school in the 100, 200 and 400, as well as the triple jump and the 55 [meter dash indoors]. She’s definitely left her mark.”
“I can’t wait to go to Monmouth,” Spann said. “I’m really excited. It should be great.”
Spann said she can’t believe all that has transpired in her life in the past year or so.
“All I wanted to do was get healthy again,” Spann said. “It was such a tough time for me. I never really thought this could all happen.”
In that respect, then the last 18 months has truly been a great time Spann for the McNair senior. – Jim Hague.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.