Rachel Belmont marched to her own beat on the trails this fall, and that beat often was far faster than the rest of the band.
Without someone to push her locally, the Bishop Ahr High School junior breezed to the Greater Middlesex Conference gold medal and raced the clock with success at every turn, culminating in a school record-tying time of 19:18 at Holmdel Park in the NJSIAA Meet of Champions.
Her season ends, fittingly, as the runaway choice for Home News Tribune Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year.
“The race I believe is only fun if you have someone pushing you,” said Belmont, an Old Bridge resident. “It’s great to win titles and come in first, but personally I would rather get a really nice time coming in second than take first with a time I’m used to running.”
It’s a sentiment felt by true believers in this sport, and Belmont often achieved the best of both ambitions. She opened the campaign with a 40-second victory at the Thompson Park Class Meet, covering the 3.1-mile course in 19:33. Then came a 17-second triumph in the Varsity D race of the Shore Coaches Invitational, along with a Holmdel Park time of 19:43.
Next was her favorite second-place finish, an 18:58 effort in the Fall Classic at Thompson. South Hunterdon’s Kelly Shaffer provided the push, winning in 18:50.
“I was extremely happy to break 19 at Thompson,” Belmont said. “It’s something I thought about for a long time. I didn’t think it would happen this year.”
Then came the GMC meet and a whopping 56-second margin of victory as Belmont crossed the line in 19:05 at Thompson. Alone again, naturally — but not for long.
“We knew at the state meets she would be pushed to her max,” Bishop Ahr coach Yancy Munoz said. “That’s what helped Rachel reach her peak.”
Belmont placed third in the Non-Public A race with a Holmdel time of 19:23, earning a berth in the Meet of Champions that had eluded her by one maddening place in 2011. At the MOC she tied Anjelica Brinkofski’s school record of 19:18, which was good for 32nd place.
“Rachel stepped up and worked hard to be successful,” Munoz said. “Because of her work ethic she made it look easy.”
With an eye toward track season — the oval is her first love — Belmont skipped the cross country regional circuit as Munoz implored her to rest.
“I suggested at least two weeks off, but that’s not Rachel,” her coach said. “I said, ‘Go to a pool, swim, relax.’ She’ll take a day or two, but she won’t take more than that.”
Munoz added, “Would I love to have a whole team like her? Of course.”