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National Scholastic Indoor Championships
March 13-15, 2009 - New York Armory

Chelsea Ley:
"I feel like I'm in a dream."

by Rich Bevensee

NEW YORK NY 3/15/09 -- The last few months have been pretty frustrating for NJ distance star Chelsea Ley.

Rewind to the middle of cross-country season in mid-October, when she ran 17:43 at Holmdel Park, New Jersey’s state championship course. She was the fastest in the state and just eight seconds off the course record. The junior from Kingsway High in Woolwich Township NJ predicted the record could be hers by season’s end.

At the NJ Meet of Champions in mid-November, however, Ley not only fell short of the record, she placed second in the meet to fellow Foot Locker national finalist Lanie Thompson of Voorhees, Glen Gardner NJ. 

Then came the NJ indoor M of C Feb. 21. Ley had high hopes despite coming back from an extended rehabilitation period for her aching right knee, but those hopes were dashed by a fourth-place finish in the 3,200 meters. 

Ley never gave up hope for finishing her junior campaign on a positive note.   She continued to rehab her knee and pointed to the 26th National Scholastic Indoor Championships to make her last indoor appearance a successful one.

Ley finally got what she was looking for this past weekend. In a performance that rivals the best in many years for a distance runner at this meet, Ley completed a rare double when she captured the two-mile title in 10:33.57 at the New Balance Track and Field Center at the Armory.

Two days earlier, Ley won her second straight 5,000 crown in 17:17.03.  Ley is the first girl to win both titles since Alissa McKaig of Concordia Lutheran High School in Fort Wayne IN completed the feat in 2003.

``I couldn’t be any happier,’’ Ley said. ``I feel like I’m in a dream. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d win two national titles in a row. Any double is a hard double. In fact, I think any race here is difficult. I never took anything for granted. I just can’t believe I have two national titles.’’

Much like her 5-K battle on Friday afternoon, Ley had to eliminate Elizabeth Briasco of Jamaica NY to win the two-mile title.   Briasco had built a five-second lead 1,600 meters into the race, but Ley slowly carved into that cushion and knocked it down to two seconds at the 2,000 mark. On the 14th lap of the race, or the 2,200 mark, Ley caught Briasco and
left nothing to chance. Surging early and often, Ley built an eight-second lead just 400 meters after first passing Briasco.

Briasco finished second in 10:47.74, and Michelle Moriset of Troy MI earned third place after winning the unseeded heat in 10:54.51.

Briasco said that unlike the 5-K, she entered the two-mile with plans to win it.  ``I don’t change my strategy based on who is in the race,’’ Briasco said. ``For the 5-K, my plan was to stay in front for as long as I could. But this race, I wanted to win. On Friday I felt like I was holding back, so today I ran as hard as I could for as long as I could, and it worked for the first mile.’’

``I saw her fading back toward me and it gave me a little hope,’’ Ley said.  ``When I took the lead I didn’t want to give her any hope at all.’’

Ironically, Ley’s two-mile time ties her for NJ #6 all-time with Colts Neck senior Briana Jackucewicz. It was Jackucewicz’ 5-K national record time of 16:43.02, set in 2004 when she was a seventh grader, which Ley was chasing on Friday.  In that race, Briasco joined Ley for a steady pace before Ley pulled away comfortably with 800 meters left. Briasco finished second in 17:24.08 and Caroline McDonough of Darien CT placed third in 17:37.84.

photo by John Dye