Two is a number Lacey Township High School’s Danielle Leavitt heard a lot of this cross country season.
She has won the South Jersey Group III title, the Shore Conference Championship and the Ocean County Championship crown for the past two years.
The junior, who has only been running cross country for two seasons, was also the top finisher among all local girls at the Cherokee Challenge, the South Jersey Championships and the Shore Coaches Invitational.
She won the girls Division 3 race in 18 minutes, 32 seconds at the South Jersey Championships, took second in the 3,200-meter junior class race in 11:24 at the Cherokee Challenge and finished third in 19:29 at the Shore Coaches Invitational.
Leavitt is The Press Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year for the second consecutive time.
“This is really surprising,” Leavitt said. “This makes me feel really happy with my performances and has given me a big confidence booster. It’s a great feeling to know that all my efforts were recognized.”
All three of her repeats where exciting to watch.
At the South Jersey Group III meet, Leavitt had the fastest time, 18:23, in her group by 24 seconds and the fastest of the entire meet by 18 seconds as she led the race from start to finish.
She pulled up and away from the pack in the last mile to cover the 3.1-mile course at Ocean County Park in 17:53 at the conference championships and won by 24 seconds in 18:38 at counties.
“There’s a lot more competition now so I was a lot more nervous competing this year,” Leavitt said. “Coming out with those titles again meant so much. I’ve been working and training a lot harder than last year and it’s nice to get out what I put in and see all the hard work pay off.”
Leavitt admits that her success last season made this year more of a challenge.
“It was definitely different this year,” Leavitt said. “A lot of people were calling me the favorite because of last year and expected me to run really well which added a lot more pressure and I’m not really that good with a lot pressure.”
Some may beg to differ and even Leavitt knows that her success from last year gave her a new push for this season.
“Every night before a meet, I would look at my medal from that meet last year and tell myself, ‘I’m so much stronger than last year and if I could do it then, I can do it now,’ ” Leavitt said. “In the end I used it and it was great to see the same outcome. It made me feel really good about myself.”
Last year, the 16 year-old Forked River resident finished fourth at the state Group III championship in 19:07 and qualified for the Meet of Champions.
She couldn’t look at her medal from 2011 the night before states because she spent it in the hospital.
Leavitt came down with an infection and missed a whole week of practice before the championship meet. Despite going to the emergency room the night before, Leavitt still tried to race at Holmdel Park.
“I was in so much pain I couldn’t even finish,” Leavitt said. “I wasn’t as strong as I wanted to be toward the end, but I’m not letting it get to me. I know that if I was healthy I’d be a main competitor. I’m definitely the strongest I’ve ever been.”
All in all, Leavitt views the entire season as proof that she can only continue to get better. Her success from the past two years have only made her more confident, competitive and thirsty.
“I want to be one of those competitors who people expect to win and I’ll keep working until I get there,” Leavitt said. “There’s plenty of time to improve and I’m only halfway done.”
She already has come a long way the last two years. Her only plan is to continue the success she has made for herself.
“When I first started I never thought I’d be where I am today,” Leavitt said. “It’s good knowing I’m still a top contender and capable of improving. I take it a lot more seriously now and I’m ready for a really good winter season. I’m just going to come back and show everyone who I am and what I’m capable of.”
Team of the Year
The Ocean City team broke a three-year streak and became the first Cape-Atlantic League girls cross country team to qualify for the Meet of Champions.
The Red Raiders finished third in the state at the Group III championships at Holmdel Park with 124 points. MaryKate Brelsford (15th), Epiphany Grisbaum (19th), Bridget Flynn (22nd), Erin Meyers (38th) and Rachel Stremme (68th) led O.C.
The Red Raiders went on to finish 14th at the MOC in the team scoring with 328 points.
Ocean City, No. 3 in The Press Elite 11, is The Press Team of the Year.
“We’re very happy with how the season went,” coach Trish Henry said. “The girls worked extremely hard and push each other every day. We did the best we could every time to represent Ocean City High School as best as possible.”
The girls also won the Cape May County Championship, finished the regular season undefeated (9-0) and clinched its second straight American Conference crown.
“The team was very competitive and they enjoy training and competing,” Henry said. “They do it for each other, which is great as a coach to know that all the girls are concerned about the team more than the individual. Anytime we can do our best makes us happy.”
Coach of the Year
After many seasons of success, first-year coach Mike Falciani continued Buena Regional’s tradition and then some.
The Chiefs finished the season undefeated, 10-0, and won its second consecutive National Conference crown.
Falciani also led the girls to their first Atlantic County team title since 1998. Buena beat defending champion Egg Harbor Township by 11 points.
Falciani is The Press Coach of the Year.
“It’s overwhelming and very awesome,” Falciani said. “After everything we’ve accomplished as a team, the girls were hoping that I would get coach of the year in some form.”
Falciani previously coached at St. Joseph for 12 years. This has been the most successful season.
“It’s 13 years of hard work being honored,” Falciani said. “I had a number of different emotions. It was hard to leave St. Joe, but it was a new start and it has been amazing. (The team) has worked so hard and they have achieved so much. I’m very proud of them.”
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