by Andrew Garda

COLUMBUS—Montclair Kimberley Academy  track and field coach Tom Fleming, who passed away in April at the age of 65, stressed putting your best out there at all times, regardless of circumstances.

It was with that in mind that Cougars long distance runner Billy Massey managed one last record before he leaves for college.

Massey placed third in the boys 1600-meter race by posting a time of 4:12.50, which was 5 seconds better than his previous personal best and a school record. It won’t surprise anyone who has followed the Cougars runner during his four-year career to find out that the person whose record he broke is himself.

At the NJSIAA Sectional meet on May 26, Massey ran a 4:17.13,  beating the old MKA school record of 4:17.6, which was set by Oskar Nordenbring in 2004.

This past weekend, Massey blew that record out of the water as everything he worked on all season came together in that race.

“It’s a great feeling. I couldn’t ask for a much better way to end my season,” Massey said after the race. “I’m very happy.”

Fleming’s death naturally loomed large over the Cougars’ season, but Massey said it wasn’t a weight to carry, but an inspiration to use, and helped him top his record on Saturday.

“I think today was just about going out there and running for Coach Fleming,” Massey said when talking about his approach to his final race as a Cougar. “To do the best I can as one of his last athletes competing at Meet of Champions. I’m just happy I could do that for him.”

Ask anyone associated with the MKA track and field team and they’ll tell you that Fleming always stressed putting in the hours to improve, and that some sweat now will lead to glory later.

Massey definitely put in the sweat this season, especially over the past week leading up to the 1600-meter race on Saturday.

Interim coach Alden Basmajian said they worked hard on the pace for the shorter race, choosing to compete in the 1600-meter over the longer 3200-meter. The strategy they worked out lent itself more to the 1600-meter, and when it turned out to be a sunny and hot day, competing in the shorter race proved to be a good decision.

Hard work also led to a 10-second improvement in Nick Wilson’s time for the 1600-meter as well, and he placed 13th on the strength of a 4:20.97 performance.

Massey has more than once credited training with his teammates as a reason he has pushed himself so hard and done so well, but it’s clear that works both ways. Wilson’s 10-second drop came over the course of two tough weeks of training.

Including Massey and Wilson, three other Cougars competed on Saturday, with Anna Schaller finishing the girls 3200-meter with a time of 13:09.62, Davis Cook posting an 800-meter time of 2:03.59 and Matt Petrocelli clocking in at 10:45.71 in the boys 3200-meter.

None of them placed in the top half of their races, but all continued to show improvement leading up to the Meet of Champions, and performed well on Saturday.

For Massey, there are new challenges to tackle as he heads to Amherst College in the fall.

“I’m excited for harder competition,” he said on Saturday. “I’m ready to run fast and compete with college guys.”