LAKEWOOD - Lauren Zodl ran among the leaders during the Ocean County cross country championships Thursday afternoon.
"Look," an official said, "the Brick Memorial girl has caught (the leader)."
Zodl is a junior at Pinelands Regional. Brick Memorial and Pinelands both wear green uniforms.
Zodl won the race going away.
"What school do you go to?" a spectator asked after she finished.
If Zodl continues to run like she did Thursday, recognition won't be a problem. She covered the 3.1-mile course at Ocean County Park in 18 minutes, 3 seconds. Danielle Leavitt of Lacey Township - the two-time defending champion - ran 18:19 to finish second.
Pinelands is the most southern school in the Shore Conference. The Wildcats often get overlooked when it comes to sports.
"A lot of people don't know us," Zodl said of her school. "Our shirts just say 'P.' People just say, 'Come on green.' Pinelands - they'll know the name soon."
In the boys race, Southern Regional won its fourth straight title, outscoring second-place Toms River South 51-73. Kyle Kroon of Toms River South ran 15:37 to win the individual title.
It shouldn't have been that much of surprise that Zodl won the girls race. She won the South Jersey Group II 3,200-meter championship in outdoor track and field last spring. Zodl finished second at the South Jersey Open last weekend.
"I was really excited to come (the county meet)," she said. "It's a great race with a lot of competition."
Leavitt took the early lead. It appeared as if she might win easily. But Zodl caught her after the first mile.
"I wanted to catch up to (Leavitt). But I didn't know if I could do it," Zodl said. "She's such a good runner."
Once Zodl drew even, she and Leavitt ran shoulder-to-shoulder for the next mile But Zodl then pulled away just past the two-mile mark.
"I decided to go for it," Zodl said. "I was feeling great."
The victory boosts Zodl's confidence for the rest of the season. She ran a personal best. Zodl ran 19:02 to finish second to Leavitt at last year's county championship.
"This is exciting," Zodl said. "My goal was just to run a good time even if I didn't finish at the top. But overall it was great. I got a good race and a good time."
In the boys race, Southern Regional ran as a pack. The Rams put five runners across the finish line before any other team even had three across. Nick Nocco (seventh in 16:28) led Southern, followed closely by Sean Howley (eighth in 16:29) and Cody Raynor (ninth in 16:32).
"We don't have a No. 1 runner," Southern coach Scott Baker said. "I like to say we have five No. 2s. They're interchangeable."
The Southern seniors have never lost a county championship or a dual meet during their high school careers.
"We want to keep that tradition going," Baker said. "You build a program around tradition. Now it's on the little guys - the freshmen and sophomores and juniors - to see what they're going to do next year."
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