When a student applies to such high-octane academic colleges as Duke, Harvard, Princeton, Rutgers, Michigan and Northeastern, one might not consider him a blue collar guy.
But make no mistake. Elliot Bangerter is as determined and gritty as they come when competing in track and field. Don’t let the fact he has a 4.0 grade point average and takes undergraduate chemistry courses at Princeton University be misleading. He’s far from just a scholar.
“He’s tough,” Hopewell Valley Central High indoor distance coach Aaron Oldfield said. “He’s got everything you want. Obviously he has heart. He’s a good competitor and he’s a nice surprise.”
Bangerter went through so many health issues his first three years in high school it would have been easy to give up running as a senior and just focus on being smart.
But the England native still battled and became one of the Bulldogs’ top five runners in cross country last fall. He finished fifth in the 800 meters at the Mercer County indoor meet and, on Feb. 15, took third in both the 800 and 1600 and was on HoVal’s sixth-place 1600 relay team at the NJSIAA Group II Central meet in Toms River. The top six finishers advance to states.
“This year my goals were kind of just to drop my times,” Bangerter said. “It’s really my first season I haven’t been injured. It meant a lot to see the work I’ve been putting in this year amount to something.”
It is something he has relentlessly strived for, despite the injury gods constantly messing with him.
“I’ve had a concussion, a back injury, just a whole collection, really,” he said. “It was definitely difficult. I wasn’t sure what my potential was because I’d never been able to see it. Definitely this year seeing myself improve a lot was really motivating.”
Oldfield felt Bangerter finally began to show his potential midway through cross country season.
“At the beginning of the summer he was running pretty good,” Oldfield said. “He got hurt and went away on vacation. It took him a little while to get that level back when he came back. We didn’t have a lot of depth this year in the fall. He came through in the end and solidified that top five.
“He’s really kind of come on this year. Obviously last year you had Sean Dolan and Will Titus and Sean O’Connor. The year before that you had some other really good kids. I guess there wasn’t an opportunity for him to really shine. Now all eyes are kind of on him, so to say.”
Bangerter was born in Marlow, a southern England town an hour outside of London. He joined a running club at age 9 that was started by his neighbor, who won the unseeded heat of the massive and prestigious London Marathon.
“She helped set up programs in school so I joined that,” said Bangerter, who still has a strong English accent. “I’ve always been somewhat athletic. In England you would go out at recess and play football (soccer) with all your friends, so I thought I’d try running.”
He moved to America at age 11 and said “it was definitely different but it was good to meet new people. I really like it now.”
He ran track at Timberlane and as soon as he arrived at HVCHS the injury problems started. It was Murphy’s Law for the poor guy. He skipped winter track because it was too tough on his knees and decided to try swimming.
Safe enough, right?
During a practice, as he was pushing off the wall, Bangerter became bang-header as he collided with a teammate, thus giving him a concussion.
Finally, this year, he has remained healthy and results are showing. He ran a 2:02 in the 800 at the CJ II race, and a 4:37 in the 1600.
“This year his leg speed has come along nicely,” Oldfield said. “He just lacks some experience. We saw that in the (sectional) mile. It was a tactical race, he went out super slow, but the second half of the race he was faster than the first half and not too many high school kids can do that.”
Oldfield feels that the 800 is Bangerter’s better race, which is why he didn’t run the 1600 in counties.
“The 16 comes before the eight,” the coach said. “Since he’s lacking the experience we kind of wanted to throw our eggs in that one basket in counties.”
Bangerter also won a few races in some small invitationals at Princeton University but because Hopewell ran mostly relays in winter competition, he did not have a huge opportunity to showcase himself during the regular season.
The Group II state meet will be held Feb. 28-29 and Bangerter is hoping to get the top-three finish or wildcard time necessary to advance to the Meet of Champions in at least one event.
“The 1600 looks more promising,” he said. “I’ve run a lot of 800s. I’m not sure how much further I can take that. I think I can get it down but I think I have a great chance in the 1600 of being more of a contender in our group.”
Oldfield and head coach Dan Johnson are hoping Bangerter can break his personal best of two minutes in the 800, and are looking for him to go under 4:30 in the 1600.
“He should have done that in the sectionals but again, it was a tactical race and he went out super slow,” Oldfield said. “He may do it at states. I wouldn’t be surprised if he had a real nice PR.”
While Bangerter would love to have more success, his favorite part of running is the camaraderie with his teammates.
“I love the group I’m with,” he said. “Talking to the guys or girls, running with them, talking with them about track or other things, in and out of school.”
With a mind like Bangerter’s be prepared to talk about anything. He has taken a number of advanced placement courses and ran out of chemistry courses to excel at in high school. A teacher recommended him for the program at Princeton, and he is taking two semesters of Ivy institution undergraduate work this year. He got an A in his first semester.
“It’s interesting, it’s different,” Bangerter said. “It’s not as one on one. You can go talk to the professors, but the lectures have 100 or so kids in them. And you have different teachers for labs.”
Bangerter hasn’t narrowed down a career yet, saying he is looking into the sciences, business or engineering. “Just not English,” he said. “I don’t like writing too much.”
His academic success has led to the aforementioned college applications, and he has also applied to some schools in England. While his future looks bright, he still shows a dogged determination to prove he is a standout runner. His sectional success certainly helped.
“It’s motivating to keep going for more,” he said. “I’ve still got groups and spring to get better. All this has definitely told me you gotta keep going with it; and you do get out what you put in. Sometimes it’s not gonna be apparent right away but it will come back around.”
Especially if you’re tough enough to stick with it.