Lauren Zodl began this cross country season known mostly as a nice distance runner from Pinelands Regional.
She finished as one of the best in the state.
The junior is The Press Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year. She won the Ocean County championship, finished second in the South Jersey Group II championship and fourth in the state Group II championship. Zodl was the top Press-area finisher in the Meet of Champions when she finished 18th.
"It was really exciting to be up there with the top runners and to improve so much from the year before," Zodl said. "I got my times down and everything was great."
Zodl could have won even more races but she competed in the same enrollment group as Briana Gess, one of the nation's top runners. The Haddonfield runner won the South Jersey and state Group II championships and the Meet of Champions.
"I enjoyed it," Zodl said of running against Gess. "It's competition. It's definitely more exciting if there's somebody to chase. She's such an amazing runner. She's an inspiration to keep running faster."
Zodl grew up in Tuckerton playing soccer. She started to run in seventh grade and didn't run cross country until she got to high school.
"All my friends were out running, " she said. "I just though it would be great to stay shape. It turned out the sport was really for me."
Zodl made a name not only for herself but also for her school this fall.
Pinelands is the most southern school in the Shore Conference. The Wildcats often get overlooked when it comes to sports.
Zodl was the first Pinelands runner to win the Ocean County championship since Amy Beykirch, who went on to run at North Carolina State.
"To be compared to Amy and all her accomplishments is great," Zodl said.
Zodl had some success last spring. She won the South Jersey Group II 3,200-meter championship in outdoor track and field. But like many distance runners she prefers cross country to running in circles around a track.
"You get to run in the woods and every course is different," she said.
Besides running, Zodl also has a passion for surfing. She can be found in the ocean off Beach Haven riding the waves year-round.
"It (surfing) is connected to cross country," she said. "You're in the woods running by yourself and it's kind of like that out on the water. It's peaceful. You're alone with your thoughts and you can kind of unwind."
Team of the Year
The Ocean City girls cross country team came together during a trip to Florida in October.
The Red Raiders competed in the Disney Cross Country Classic in Orlando.
"They spent a lot of time together," Henry said. "Team bonding is essential. All these girls put the team before the individual."
The Red Raiders finished No. 5 in The Press Elite 11. They are The Press Team of the Year.
Ocean City finished the season with 24 straight dual meet wins, dating back to 2010.
Senior Bridget Flynn, the South Jersey Group III champion, and junior Epiphany Grisbaum, the Cape-Atlantic League winner, led the Red Raiders.
"They're a great group of girls who cared about each other and the sport," Henry said. "They enjoy the idea of competition and training together."
Coach of the Year
Trish Henry sounds as if she has a dream coaching job.
Henry coaches the Ocean City girls cross country team. The Red Raiders finished 9-0 in dual meets, and won the Cape May County, Cape-Atlantic League and South Jersey Group III championships.
Henry is The Press Coach of the Year. Henry's career record is 92-6 in 11 seasons.
"They're a great group of girls," Henry said. "They're polite. They're friendly. They're unassuming. It's always easy when they get after it during races, and they go hard, but they joke around and have fun, too."
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