WESTFIELD, NJ — Westfield High School junior Matt Meusel ran a little bit in middle school, but ultimately joined the cross country team his freshman year because he thought it would be a great way to meet people and have something to do after school.

For this week’s Ron Bansky and Associates Allstate Westfield Athlete of the Week, the sport ended up being so much more. With his passion and dedication, he has become a very successful runner throughout the running seasons, recently qualifying for two spots in the winter track NJSIAA Meet of Champions (MOC) to be held Saturday. He earned a wildcard spot in the 1600 meter event, as well as a spot as a member of the 4x800 team.

“Qualifying for the MOC in two events is definitely not common,” head coach Chris Tafelski said. “He has always been a strong miler, and now that he's committed to the indoor season as well, it's fun to see where that might take him.”

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Because the two events are close together and would not allow for enough recovery tim, Meusel will only compete at the 1600 event in the MOC. Meusel's 4:23 time from the State Group 4 meet last Friday is the second-best time ever run by a Westfield junior for the 1600 indoors, according to Tafelski.

Meusel attributes a lot of his success to his work ethic . This was the first season that he locked in solely on running, not even allowing himself to play his other favorite sport, basketball, which he has played each winter since elementary school.

“I definitely didn't take this sport as serious freshman year as I do now, and besides getting faster, which happens to everyone who puts the work in every day, I've learned to live my life a little differently,” he said. “It's not always easy being a runner because some sacrifices have to be made sometimes to make sure the training you put in doesn't go to waste. That's the biggest thing I've learned, to realize that hard work pays off and that discipline is what's going to bring you to that next level.”

Tafelski applauded his efforts and successes.

“Matt's a really tough competitor,” he said. “Indoor track racing is much more physical than cross country and outdoor track. Matt's physical strength is a huge asset for him. His work ethic in training is the key to his success this winter. As long as he keeps preparing for training and competition as well as he does, he will continue to develop as a runner.”

Going forward, Meusel said he will try to not focus too much on his times, because that often trips runners up.

“My goal is always to just compete every day,” Meusel said. “People get caught up in times too often. I'm a victim of it myself, but fast times come by just competing and giving everything you have every single day. Our team has a lot of potential, such as in the 4x800 and our distance team has a ton of guys that are on the path to have a huge outdoor season. I'm just going to keep working every day and I know if I stay on my current path the spring season will be a success.”

Meusel also gives a lot of credit to his coach.

“People should know how much work coach Tafelski puts into our program,” Meusel said. “He is the one who has kept me on the right track and has given me enough information not only about running, but just life in general that could last a lifetime.”

Next fall, Meusel will be a captain of the cross country team.

“I'm excited to be a captain and take on that new leadership role for cross country and if the same happens for track, then that's great,” he said. “If not, then so be it, but it's a great feeling to know your teammates trust you and want you to be their captain.”

Tafelski believes Meusel will fit well in the role.

“As a future captain, his commitment to his training and his performance in competition go hand-in-hand,” Tafelski said.  “As a coach, that's the number one thing you want the younger kids on the team to see first hand.  Matt's example already makes him a great leader on our team.”

After three years of running memories and success, Meusel is more than happy that he went out for the team freshman year.

“It's turned out to be one of the greatest decisions of my life because I've grown so much, not only as a runner but also as a person through some of the people I have met,” Meusel said.

Eric Storms is a student at Westfield High School participating in a journalism program with TAPinto Westfield.

The Allstate Westfield Athlete of the Week is sponsored by Ron Bansky & Associates Allstate Agency. Now located 502 East Broad St., the agency has been protecting local families and business owners for over 15 years. Call them at 908-301-0711 for a new auto, home or life insurance quote this week and if you mention the Allstate WHS Athlete of the Week they will make a $25 contribution to the Westfield Boosters Association! To learn more, visit ronbansky.com