Olivia Shafer competed as a healthy runner this fall.
Compared to that, everything else she achieved was a bonus.
The Egg Harbor Township High School junior won the Atlantic County and Cape-Atlantic League championships. She finished 29th at the Meet of Champions. Shafer is The Press Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year.
“I’m beyond grateful to be healthy for once and compete in every meet,” Shafer said. “I haven’t had the best of luck.”
Shafer missed most of the 2017 season with a stress reaction in her right foot. She missed nearly all of last spring’s outdoor track and field season with mononucleosis.
“I was kind of upset I missed so much of the last year,” she said. “It was really disappointing for me, but I’m glad I was able to come back so strong this year.”
Not many in the state cross country community knew of Shafer before the season. Now, she’s known as one of South Jersey’s top runners.
“It’s really cool to be recognized,” she said. “Last year, I wasn’t very happy with my performance.”
Egg Harbor Township girls cross country coach Joe Lucchio said health wasn’t the only reason for Shafer’s success.
“She really prepared herself better,” Lucchio said. “She was much more committed to her summer training and building up her mileage. That really helped her stay healthy through the season.”
Lucchio said Shafer also is a team leader.
“She really makes the other runners on the team better,” he said. “They look up to her. She supports them and is always going out of her way to cheer for them.”
Lucchio said Shafer ran not only fast this fall but also smart.
“She had some difficult races,” the coach said. “Every coach gives a kid strategy. It’s just a matter of if they’re going to be mentally strong enough to handle it, especially in a 5K race where you’re really hurting. She always stayed very calm. Sometimes she didn’t get out fast in a race. She stayed calm and slowly built her way back up, while other kids would have tried too fast to get back to the pack, and they would have had a difficult race. She never panicked in a race.”
Shafer is the youngest of five sisters. She started running as a youngster after she tagged along to one of her sisters’ cross-country practices.
“I really like it,” Shafer said of being the youngest. “My sisters have taught me so many lessons in life. I really look up to them. I don’t know if I would be able to do as good of a job if I was older than them.”
Coach, Team of the Year
The Ocean City girls won their second straight South Jersey Group III championship. The Red Raiders also won the Cape-Atlantic League and Cape May County championships.
Ocean City finished the season ranked No. 3 in The Press Elite 11 and is The Press Girls Cross Country Team of the Year. Red Raiders coach Trish Henry is Coach of the Year.
Ocean City had a successful season despite having graduated three of their top seven runners from last year’s team. Sophomore Alexa Palmieri won the South Jersey Group III championship.
“The girls worked really hard over the summer and continued to work hard the entire season,” Henry said. “There were some newcomers who had immediate impacts. The team is very supportive of one another and the upperclassmen showed great leadership.”