Marisa Ruskan of Bridgewater-Raritan validates decision with prolific season

Marisa Ruskan of Bridgewater-Raritan validates decision with prolific season

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Marisa Ruskan of Bridgewater-Raritan validates decision with prolific season

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Looking back on it, there is no doubt: Marisa Ruskan made the right decision.

Once torn between continuing her lifelong pursuit of soccer and exploring her aptitude for distance running, Ruskan chose the latter and in two years blossomed into one of the most decorated harriers in Somerset County history.

This fall the Bridgewater-Raritan High School senior won the Somerset County, Skyland Conference and NJSIAA Group IV gold medals and earned a spot at the Foot Locker Nationals. She is the Courier News Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year.

“I literally have thought about that so many times this season. It’s amazing how it was such a hard decision for me,” Ruskan said. “I’m so glad I decided to run cross country. Of course it would have been interesting if I had two more years, but that’s the way it was meant to be.”

She’ll have four more years at the University of Richmond, which is getting one rugged competitor.

“Clearly she’s an innately talented runner, but she’s also intensely competitive,” Bridgewater-Raritan coach Rich Marton said. “She hates to lose. She is fierce when the gun goes off.”

That was clear down the stretch of her biggest wins. In the Somerset County meet, Ruskan rallied late to overtake Montgomery senior Jillian Kelly, clocking a Somerset County-record time of 17:56 on Pleasant Valley Park’s 3.1-mile course. She did the same thing a week later at the Skyland Conference meet, covering Natirar Park in 17:49 as Kelly and Hillsborough senior Kelly Janokowicz pushed her wire to wire.

At the North 2 Group IV race in Greystone Park, Ruskan won by 13 seconds in 18:13. At Holmdel a week later in the Group IV meet, she edged Janokowicz by four seconds to break the tape in 18:21.

Ruskan credited her local rivals with helping her excel. Janokowicz finished second at the Meet of Champions and earned a spot at the Nike Nationals.

“I think it would be kind of weird not to have the competition because that’s what I’m used to,” she said. “With (former Bernards standout) Dana Giordano last year and Kelly and Jillian, I have a bunch of girls to run with and every race is competitive. That just adds to how much I’ve improved.”

Ruskan ended up sixth at the Meet of Champions in 18:23, then placed eighth at the Foot Locker Regionals to earn a trip to San Diego for this weekend’s nationals.

It’s a long way from life as a soccer midfielder, but that turned out to be a key part of the journey.

“All those years playing soccer, the strength in her legs allowed her to respond very well to the type of rigors in cross country,” Marton said.

Ruskan agreed.

“I don’t think I would be the runner I am today without soccer,” she said. “On the soccer field I was never the biggest or the strongest but I was usually the fastest. That was my advantage, that and endurance. As a midfielder I would go up for offense or back for defense—I was running all the time, never stopping.”

She’s still going, just without the ball.

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