FRANKLIN TOWNSHIP - Danielle Leavitt brings the attitude of an unproven runner to every championship cross country race.
The Lacey Township High School junior easily won her second straight South Jersey Group III title Saturday morning. Leavitt ran the 3.1-mile course at Delsea Regional in 18 minutes, 23 seconds. Marie Schiffhauer of Seneca finished second in 18:47.
Leavitt emerged as one of the state's top runners last season. She was the favorite Saturday, but that didn't mean she was blas� about the victory.
"This means a lot," Leavitt said. "A lot of people tell me if I won a race last year, I should be able to win it this year. But I know that's not the case. I'm happy for every title I own. I don't take anything for granted."
Leavitt's performance highlighted a standout meet by local athletes. The top 10 individuals and top 5 teams in each enrollment group qualify for the state group championships on Saturday (Nov. 17) at Holmdel Park (Monmouth County).
The Pleasantville and Ocean City boys and the Ocean City and Buena Regional girls were among the local teams to qualify for Holmdel. Louis Corgliano of Hammonton, Matt Nelson of Barnegat and Lauren Zodi of Pinelands Regional topped the local individual qualifiers.
Leavitt led the Group III race from the start and pulled away as the race wore on.
"I wanted to start a little faster for this race and either build or maintain off that," she said. "I kept pushing and pushing."
Leavitt's time was the fastest of the South Jersey meet by 18 seconds.
But Leavitt said she didn't feel great during the run. She missed two days of running two weeks ago because of Hurricane Sandy. When she returned to serious training last week, her legs felt so fresh she pushed herself hard.
"I got carried away, and I felt all of it (Saturday)," she said. "I was a little sore. I was like 'keep going, keep going.' "
Leavitt will be one of the contenders for the state Group III race at Holmdel.
She admits the hilly Holmdel course is not her favorite. Leavitt's best performances have come at Ocean County Park or Delsea.
"I have bad memories (of Holmdel)," she said, "but I hopefully I'll be able to push myself and qualify (for the Meet of Champions on Nov. 21)."
The cross country season for the Pleasantville boys used to be about getting in shape for track and field.
Now, it's about competing for championships.
Pleasantville finished second in Group II. Perennial power Haddonfield edged the Greyhounds, 52-56.
"The closer the score the worse it feels," Pleasantville coach Alan Laws said of the second-place finish.
Twins Jacob (fourth in 16:04) and Isaac (fifth in 16:17) Clark led Pleasantville. Nelson of Barnegat finished third in 16:03.
Pleasantville has long been one of the region's top track and field programs. But the Greyhounds haven't had much cross-country success.
"The mindset was always geared toward track and field," Laws said. "But these guys just wanted to compete in cross country. They like the team aspect of it."
Laws said he also changed his coaching style.
"I used to have the attitude that we'll just use cross country to get in shape," he said. "But now we want to be competitive and once we got to a (high) level we wanted to see how far we could take it."
The Buena Regional girls also finished a frustrating second to Haddonfield in Group II. Haddonfield outscored the Chiefs, 27-38.
The future, however, is promising for Buena. The Chiefs' first five runners were all underclassmen. Freshman Kristin Siegel finished fourth in 20:13.
In Group III, the Ocean City girls finished second to Seneca. But Ocean City had the fastest average time (19:47.60) of any local team. Epiphany Grisbaum (19:17) led the Red Raiders.
Also in Group III, Zodi, a sophomore, continued her excellent season. She finished fifth in 19:09. Only Leavitt ran faster among local girls.
The boys Group III race was also one of the day's fastest. Corgliano finished second in 15:38 - the fastest time of any local boy. Kyle Kroon of Toms River South won in 15:24.
Kingsway regional beat Ocean City 64-77 for the team title. The Red Raiders average time of 16:40.20 was the fastest of any local team. Kevin Scott (seventh in 16:12) led Ocean City.
In Group IV, the Southern boys and girls each finished third. Jillian Smith (seventh in 19:29.49) led the girls, while David Marino (14th in 16:44) paced the Southern boys.
Contact Michael McGarry:
Teams and local runners who qualified Saturday for the state group championships at Holmdel Park (Monmouth County). The top-10 individuals and top-5 teams in each enrollment group qualified.
Teams: 1. Pitman, 27; 2. Pennsville 65; 3. Haddon Township 72; 4. Gloucester City 100; 5. Maple Shade 113
Individuals: no locals qualified
Teams: 1. Haddonfield 27; 2. Buena Regional 38; 3. Cedar Creek 101; 4. Middle Township 114; 5. Woodstown 120.
Individual: 4. Kristin Siegle, Buena, 20:13; 5. Alex Walsh, Middle Twp., 20:17; 7. Lisa Testa, Buena, 20:38; 8. Gina Testa, Buena, 20:47; 9. Geena DeFoor, Buena, 20:50
Teams: 1. Seneca 44; 2. Ocean City 65; 3. Moorestown 111; 4. Kingsway Regional 120; 5. Lacey Township 135.
Individuals: 1. Danielle Leavitt, Lacey, 18:23; 5. Lauren Zodi, Pinelands, 19:09; 7. Epiphany Grisbaum, Ocean City, 19:17; 8. Mary Kate Brelsford, Ocean City, 19:33; 9. Bridget Flynn, Ocean City, 19:37
Teams: 1. Lenape 65; 2. Toms River North 66; 3. Southern Regional 103; 4. Shawnee 124; 5. Cherokee 169
Individuals: 4. Abby Shafer, Egg Harbor Township, 19:21.59; 7. Jillian Smith, Southern, 19:29.49
Teams: No local teams
Individuals: 10. Joshua Greenberg, Cape May Tech, 17:27.79
Teams: 1. Haddonfield 52; 2. Pleasantville 56; 3. West Deptford 115; 4. Sterling 121; 5. Woodstown 131
Individuals: 3. Matt Nelson, Barnegat, 16:03; 4. Jacob Clark, Pleasantville, 16:04; 5. Isaac Clark, 16:17; 8. Ryan Herlihy, Middle Township, 16:47; 9. Dagoberto Arias, Pleasantville, 16:50
Teams: 1. Kingsway 64; 2. Ocean City 77; 3. Toms River South 101; 4. Delsea Regional 116; 5. Highland Regional 134
Individuals: 2. Louis Corgliano, Hammonton, 15:38; 6. Mark Kundrotas, Hammonton, 16:11; 7. Kevin Scott, Ocean City, 16:12
Teams: 1. Washington Township 86; 2. Cherry Hill East 103; 3. Southern Regional 117; 4. Lenape 132; 5. Egg Harbor Township 159
Individuals: 7. Salman Khalid, Absegami, 16:32