MAPLEWOOD/SOUTH ORANGE – When Lisa Morgan took over the Columbia High School indoor and outdoor track and field program, she had one goal in mind: to restore its rich and proud tradition.
Eight years later, Morgan accomplished that mission and more.
But it’s an end of an era. Morgan stepped down as head coach following the end of this past indoor season. Morgan made her decision in late August after accepting the head coaching position at Bloomfield College for this spring season. She coached the CHS boys’ and girls’ cross-country teams in the fall. In an email to the News-Record, Morgan said she will remain as the CHS head boys’ cross-country coach as she restored its program history in just two years. “I made a pact with my seven guys during the cross-country season, that I would stay on for at least the next two years and see them through. I started with them as freshmen in 2014 and I told them to make a pact to stay together for the next four years and they could be good enough to win a state title. I want to honor that commitment with them.”
Under Morgan, the CHS track and field program has been one of the most dominant in the state and the country, with numerous team and individual championships and records on the conference, county, state and national levels.
These achievements were special to Morgan. That’s because CHS is her alma mater.
A 1985 CHS graduate, Morgan was part of the great Cougar track and field teams under legendary coach Len Klepack.
But the program began to wallow in mediocrity after Klepack left CHS in the late 1990s.
Morgan, who continued her track career at the University of Kentucky and had coaching stints at East Orange High School and Seton Hall University, was hired in November 2007 to coach the CHS teams.
Since then, the Cougars have simply been a powerhouse, and Morgan created her own legacy.
The girls’ team each year won county, sectional and Group 4 states titles, both indoor and outdoor. In 2010, they took it to the next level in bringing home the first National Team Title in Columbia High School history.
But for all of that remarkable success, Morgan is most proud of the fact that she has helped dozens of her athletes achieve athletic scholarships to continue their careers on the collegiate level. In all, Morgan has sent 65 of her athletes to college in cross-country, track and field or both. “I am such an advocate of higher education, and when I can help kids get into the schools of their choice doing what they enjoy and having their God-given talent support it, is so rewarding for me. Whether they received partial or full scholarships, helping them live their dreams keeps me smiling. I thank God everyday for blessing me with the talent to manage this. It’s truly awesome.”
The most famous athlete who Morgan coached at CHS is Olivia Baker, who won every single 400-meter event in state competition throughout her entire career, which includes both the state indoor and outdoor Meet of Champions for all four years. Baker also was the first athlete in meet history to win four gold medals at the 2013 state outdoor Meet of Champions during her junior year. Baker, who also excelled on the national and international levels, currently is a sophomore at Stanford University where she has continued her track and field success.
The following are team titles for the CHS girls’ team.
- Essex County Relays (indoor season): 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016.
- Essex County Individuals (indoor season): 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014.
- Essex County Relays (outdoor season): 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015.
- Essex County Individual (outdoor season): 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2014.
- State Group 4 Relays (indoor season): 2013, 2014.
- State North Jersey Section 2, Group 4 (indoor season): 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014.
- State Group 4 (indoor season): 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014.
- State North Jersey Section 2, Group 4 (outdoor season): 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014.
- State Group 4 (outdoor season): 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014.
- National Team Title 2010
The Cougars’ streak of five straight Group 4 state outdoor titles ended last spring when they finished second, just three points behind winner Lenape.
Morgan also has served as a national head coach. This summer, Morgan will serve as the head women’s coach for the World Junior Championships in Poland, having been selected by USA Track and Field’s National Committee from a pool of more than 1,000 applicants of college and high school coaches.
In addition, Morgan has worked with such greats as Ajee Wilson, Mary Cain, Candace HIll, Sydney McLaughlin, Nicolette Dunbar and Samantha Watson, just to name a few.
Morgan will continue to run her camps and free events (Run Jump Throw) at Underhill Field this summer.
The following is a glimpse of a few of Morgan’s high school coaching highlights:
- Only HS Coach in US History to win back-to-back Penn Relays Championships, 4×800-meters 2013 and 2014
- Only coach in the country to have US No. 1 times in distance medley relay, 4×800, 4×400, 4×200 in the same season (indoor 2014).
- Coached Columbia HS Girls to four consecutive New Jersey State team titles, 2010-2014.
- Coached the Gatorade Player of the Year for Track and Field (Olivia Baker, 2013).
- Coached several New Jersey Meet of Champions winners.
- Coached 45 High School All-Americans, 2008-present.
- Coached more than 25 Essex County Individual champions.
- 20 school records set in only three years, 2010-13.
- First and only high school track coach in New Jersey history to be selected to coach a TEAM USA National team (appointed coach to five different national teams).
- 2016 IAAF World Junior Track and Field Championships, TEAM USA Head Coach.
- 2015 Team USA Head Coach, IAAF World Youth Championships (Cali, Colombia).
- 2014 IAAF World Junior Track and Field Championships, TEAM USA, Assistant Coach.
- 2013 IAAF World Youth Championships, Donetsk, Ukraine. Head Manager/Coach.
- 2011 Team USA Distance Coach, IAAF World Youth Championships (Lille, France).
Some of Morgan’s awards and recognitions include:
- 2015 New Jersey State Coaches Hall of Fame inductee.
- 2014 Newark Athletics Hall of Fame inductee.
- Penn Relays High School Coach of the Year/Honorary Referee Award Recipient, 2013.
- National Federation of High Schools Coach of the Year: 2011 and 2013.
- Essex County Girls Coach of the Year: 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014.
- New Jersey State Coach of the Year: 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014.
- Only coach in Essex County history to receive Coach of the Year honors for both girls’ and boys’ teams in the same season, (indoor 2009).