Unlike last season when four girls had an equal chance to take home the state’s biggest cross-country prize, there are only two favorites heading into the 37th NJSIAA Meet of Champions.Thompson vs Ley (2006-2008)
The bigger question is whether one or both of them will knock down the Holmdel Park course record when the starter’s gun sounds on Saturday at 10:45 a.m.
On the defending champion’s ticket is Lanie Thompson, an Oregon-bound senior from Voorhees in Glen Gardner, Hunterdon County. She won the M of C title last year in 18:02, but has since lowered her Holmdel personal best to 17:56, clocked when she won her third straight state Group 3 title last week.
On the challenger’s ticket is junior Chelsea Ley, a junior from Kingsway, a Woolwich Township school in Gloucester County. Ley owns the state’s fastest time of the season at Holmdel of 17:43.1, turned in Oct. 4 at the Shore Coaches Invitational. She was second to Thompson in the Group 3 race in 17:59.
The biggest mental hurdle for both girls to overcome is all the chatter about breaking the course record of 17:35.5, set in 1983 by Janet Smith of J.P. Stevens, who can’t believe the record is still hers.
This is the 25th anniversary of the record, set in the ’83 M of C when Smith won her third title before moving on to enjoy an All-America career at North Carolina State.
``I’m shocked that it is still there,’’ said Smith, who now goes by her married name Janet Leet. ``Records are meant to be broken, times are meant to improve. To have it last this long is something I would never have expected.’’
Ley made it clear to everyone after the Shore Coaches meet that she was aiming to break the course record in either the group meet or the M of C. But last Saturday Ley got caught up in chasing other runners in the Group 3 race and wasn’t able to overcome a slow start. She and Thompson went through the mile in 6:10 and the two-mile mark in 12:05.
She vowed after the Group 3 race to refocus her efforts on what she=2 0does best, which is chase the clock and not the lead pack.
Another mental hurdle which stands before Ley is how to beat Thompson, who has simply refused to lose in the last two years on New Jersey’s trails.
In fact, Thompson has not been beaten in a N.J. cross-country race since Nov. 18, 2005, when she placed seventh in the M of C as a sophomore.
Thompson owns a 6-0 advantage in head-to-head battles with Ley in cross-country, and the Voorhees star is 11-0 against Ley when all indoor and outdoor track matchups are included.
Ley can’t count on Thompson to chase the clock and history because Thompson’s modus operandi is to hang with the leaders and make her move late with one of the state’s strongest kicks. Obviously, it has served her well.
Thompson is aiming to become the state’s ninth back-to-back M of C girls’ winner.
The M of C lost some of its luster when Southern Regional coach Brian Zatorski announced after the group meet that senior Jill Smith, the 2007 M of C runner-up in 18:03, will not compete due to injury.
Smith re-aggravated a left ankle injury while running side-by side with Katie Kellner of West Windsor-Plainsboro South with three-quarters of a mile left in the race. Kellner won in 18:19; Smith eventually finished eighth overall in 19:14. Zatorski said Smith originally hurt her ankle while winning the South Jersey, Group 4 race Nov. 8 in Delsea.
Earlier this season, Smith, a 2:05 half-miler and an All-America in track, made the decision to end her cross-country career at the M of C and thereby pass up the Foot Locker Northeast Regional at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx and the Nike Northeast Regional in Wappinger Falls, N.Y.
2006 XC Shore Coaches Invitational: LT 1st, 18:50.3; CL 4th, 19:44.4
2006 XC Group 3: LT 1st 18:43.8; CL 9th, 19:39.4
2006 XC M of C: LT 7th, 18:34.2; CL 32nd, 19:26.0
2007 OT Group 3 1,600: LT 1st 4:54.31; CL 5th, 5:04.13
2007 OT Group 3 3,200: LT 2nd, 10:43.53; CL 3rd, 10:43.78
2007 XC Group 3: LT 1st 18:18; CL 2nd, 18:19.4
2007 XC M of C: LT 1st 18:02; CL 3rd, 18:08
2008 IT M of C 3,200: LT 10:42.82; CL 3rd, 10:48.12
2008 OT Group 3 1,600: LT 1st 4:53.60; CL 7th, 5:04.81
2008 OT Group 3 3,200: LT 1st 10:44.60; CL 3rd, 10:48.12
2008 XC Group 3: LT 1st 17:56; CL 2nd 17:59